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Fernando Garcia

The next step for diversity: sharing our success

At the end of the month, I will be travelling to Dublin, Ireland. While yes, there will be an element of pleasure travelling around this beautiful country (how can I avoid the temptation), there is a more important reason for my travel. As part of DRI’s Conference, titled Hot Topics in International Dispute Resolution, there is a break out session focusing on women in the law. I have been invited to speak at this session and our panel will be specifically sharing our views and best practices on “Building and Maintaining an International Law Book of Business: To What Degree Does Diversity Play a Role?”

I must say I am very glad that this important discussion, relating to how and why diverse lawyers get hired, is starting to take place and is gaining wide-scale support both domestically in Canada and within the international legal profession.

A big part of my discussion in Dublin will focus on the incredible success that Legal Leaders for Diversity has had on advancing diversity and inclusiveness within the in-house counsel and the legal profession in Canada. It was almost six years ago that a great idea by a few visionary and influential general counsels was put into practice. Today, LLD counts on over 100 GC members from across Canada. The common glue that holds this association together is our common interest in advancing diversity and inclusiveness within the legal profession and our willingness to use our collective voice and our influential purchasing power to force change.  

At a high level, LLD seeks to advance diversity and inclusiveness by adopting, among others, the following commitments from all members:

* Promoting diversity within our own departments;
* Considering diversity in our hiring and purchasing practices;
* Encouraging Canadian law firms to follow our example;
* Promoting diversity initiatives at all levels in the legal and business community;
* Measuring the effectiveness of our efforts.

LLD and its members have helped move the needle and achieve clear results. Over the last six years, LLD worked with likeminded law firms to support the creation of the Law Firm Diversity and Inclusiveness Network. The LFDIN now counts with the support of over 35 signatories. LFDIN members, like LLD members, commit to hiring, supporting and developing lawyers from diverse backgrounds, as well as helping to develop outreach programs at law schools. Together, LLD and LFDIN also provide mentorship and networking opportunities for lawyers of diverse backgrounds and a forum for the sharing of diversity best practices.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that when your customers speak, it is important to hear them. Using purchasing practices to encourage and stimulate the discussion on advancing D&I may seem like a surface level, band aid solution, but there is more to this. By allowing diverse lawyers the opportunity to join and advance within law firms and to work on our files, we are bringing about change. By allowing law students from diverse backgrounds or with foreign training into law firms, they are gaining valuable work and networking experiences. Through our words and our actions, we are sending a message that this is important to us, as GCs, so it should be important to you too.

LLD also has a close relationship with numerous affinity groups across Canada like the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, Start Proud, the South Asian Bar Association, RODA, the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association, the Woman’s Law Association of Ontario and other like-minded diversity and community legal associations. Working together, our voices become amplified and reaching our common objectives becomes that much easier.

Too many times, the pipeline excuse has been used as an excuse. We have heard it said in many ways: “We would hire lawyers with diverse backgrounds, but we can’t find any,” ”There is no diverse pool of lawyers with a specialization in our area of practice,” or simply “We put job advertisements out there, but no diverse lawyers applied.” Unfortunately, these excuses are heard across corporate in-house departments, law firms and even judicial appointments. By working together with these affinity groups, we can now simply answer, “Here is your list of qualified diverse lawyers that you can start with and you are welcome.” Once in these roles, these groups are also critical in working with us and other associations to provide critical mentorship and networking opportunities.    

As LLD approaches its sixth year, we can look back and see that progress has been made. There is still much to do, but we are moving the needle and getting results. The more that we can spread this message domestically and internationally, the more we can create a movement, share our message and reach our common objectives. Happy sixth birthday LLD and I would like to propose that we now add another bullet to LLD members’ commitments: sharing our successes and working with our friends and colleagues south of the border and across the pond. Together we can work toward reaching that pot at the end of the rainbow.


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