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Editor's Desk - Fling open the doors

In June, we devoted the issue of Canadian Lawyer to women in the law. The idea behind that issue was to look at the strides women have made in the profession.

Lots has changed over the last few years; for example, the number of women managing partners had essentially increased by 600 per cent (which from two or three means the numbers are still low . . . ). Not that we shied away from looking at some of the still controversial aspects of women in the law, but it was more a look forward.

But the reality is there are still miles to go in the legal profession in Canada. In this month’s issue, we speak with Diane LaCalamita, a onetime Bay Street lawyer who is now suing her former firm for $12 million in a discrimination suit. Hers is the first suit of its kind to really become public and the litigation process is likely to bring out into the open issues that are not widely acknowledged.

Canadian law firms and their lawyers keep things close to the chest. In the U.S. and the U.K., it’s relatively easy to find out financial information such as revenues and profits. The information is splashed in the legal media every year. In the U.S., diversity information is also much easier to find.

Just a couple of months ago, the Human Rights Campaign issued its Corporate Equality Index, which gauges treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, consumers and investors. Sixty-four of the country’s largest law firms participated in the study and then publically trumpeted their firms’ high scores. Good scores in such measured studies have business benefits: they attract clients that value diversity and attract and retain lawyers who want to work in a place that values diversity.

In Canada, Blakes is the only law firm we’re aware of that has participated in a general survey of diversity in business. It was the only law firm named in Mediacorp’s “Canada’s Best Diversity Employees” for 2008, which is put out by the same company that puts together the annual Canada’s Top 100 employers (of which Blakes is also the only law firm member; Bennett Jones is the only law shop in the Report on Business’ Top 50 best places to work.).

That’s not to say that other law firms don’t have diversity programs or staff and lawyers from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, but none seem keen to be measured against each other or other businesses.

But anecdotally, the profession, particularly big firms, does seem to have a way to go. Working on a story about gay lawyers for our sister publication Canadian Lawyer Associates, it was almost impossible to find an associate at a Bay Street firm to talk about being gay in big law.

A meeting of Bay Street gay professionals, which was attended by many gay, lesbian, and bisexual lawyers, yielded no more open voices. In all my years in the legal press, I recall only ever interviewing one black person who was a partner in a major law firm. Speaking to law students last year, Quebec Judge Daniel Dortelus noted that of the 2,000 odd judges across the country, less than 20 are black.

Times are changing and there are some firms in Ontario that are now part of a Law Society of Upper Canada pilot program to track statistics on retention of women in the practice, but law firms need to open up more and be seen to be walking the talk of diverstiy and inclusion that many of them tout in their marketing materials. Don’t be afraid to be measured, it makes business sense in the long run.


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