In light of the Maclean’s and Toronto Star’s recent articles about Asian students in Canadian universities — it’s certainly not “too Asian” yet in the legal community. Just when issues of diversity and the integration of visible minorities have landed again on the debate table, last weekend’s fourth annual Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers conference addressed these issues in the legal profession.
While these news articles were not directly addressed at the conference, many attendees and members were mindful of its implications of insularity and fear of academic success among Asian Canadians. Many of FACL’s conference members would agree that Asian Canadian visibility at law schools and hence in the legal profession is still relatively low. The aim as a professional organization is to dispel stereotypes by promoting diversity starting with engaging as Asian Canadians in the legal community and the community at large.
This year’s conference, “Building our Community: from Main Street to Bay Street,” was held at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, featuring keynote speaker Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. He addressed the impact of “trading liberty for national security” in the United States.
A presentation by Lee Akazaki, president of the Ontario Bar Association, inspired law students to pursue their dreams that can begin with “changing the way lawyers are trained” by first promoting diversity in legal education as a reflection of today’s practice in Canadian society.
Founded in 2007 by a group of Asian Canadian professionals over lunch in Chinatown, FACL is a growing organization formed for law students, lawyers, judges, practitioners, and community members and is affiliated with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association in the United States. Each year, a diverse group of self-identified Asian Canadian lawyers, including East Asians and South Asians as well as friends from other diverse groups, join together in cultivating, addressing, and celebrating accomplishments by diverse members of the legal community.
Moreover, FACL brings together the next generation of Asian Canadian and pro-diversity law students and lawyers. Annual workshops include panellists from members of many communities sharing their views about how they reached prominent positions at large law firms, government agencies, and legal clinics by offering their career tips and personal anecdotes in interactive sessions. This year’s workshops included technology and the law, rainmaker’s secrets, what it takes to make partner, Asian Canadians in the new human rights system, and many more.
The day’s events were topped off with another important aspect — great food! A Chinese banquet preceded by a sushi lunch and delicious samosas between workshops hosted new friendships along with fresh ideas for a more inclusive legal profession.
That said, you’re welcome to join in and help out with FACL’s next annual conference, mentorship program, and human rights advocacy — not just for Asian Canadians, but for all Canadians promoting diversity, not insularity, in the legal profession.
Tiffany Wong is a third-year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School in her hometown of Toronto where she was born and raised. She has a BA from McGill University with journalism experience in Canada and abroad and will be articling on Bay Street.