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Gail J. Cohen

The future of law

In 2009, I embarked on a major project to look at the state of diversity in the law in Canada. At the time, there were perhaps one or two women managing partners of law firms of any size across the whole country; the number of black lawyers who were partners in Bay Street firms could be counted on one hand; and while many law firms had diversity initiatives, they often consisted of nothing more than a “muliticultural calendar.” In another issue, we wanted to write a story about being gay or lesbian in Big Law. Not one Bay Street lawyer would put their name to the story and talk about the issue. We had an associate from a national firm’s Calgary office on the record, but that’s as close as we could get even though law firms insisted that they were welcoming to all diverse groups.

That year, I attended my first Pride at Work gathering in Toronto. The organization brings together LGBT professionals and their allies from businesses all across the country and every year it holds a big bash during Pride Week in Toronto. In 2009, only one law firm — Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP — was willing to openly support the organization and is considered one of its founders. Looking at this year’s event, Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Norton Rose Canada LLP, and Thornton Grout Finnigan LLP have joined FMC as law firm sponsors of the event.

In mid-June this year, at the Canadian General Counsel Awards, Douglas Stollery, general counsel at PCL Constructors Inc., was honoured with a lifetime achievement award. He got a bit teary-eyed at the end when he thanked his same-sex partner for all his support over the years. It was all so normal. No gasps from the black-tied crowd, no whispers of shock at the tables full of in-house counsel.

Also over the last few years organizations promoting diversity in the legal profession have been increasing and growing. One of the most active is Legal Leaders for Diversity, a group of in-house counsel committed to increasing diversity in their ranks as well as in the law firms that serve them. It’s really still just a start. Canada is years behind other countries in its promotion and embracing of diversity, which is not just right but makes business sense, particularly in the global economic environment.

I’ll conclude by saying when I attended the year-end gala for the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers in the spring, what struck me the most, beyond the incredibly varied backgrounds of the attendees, is that most of them were young. Sitting beneath the stained-glass windows and wood panelling in the University of Toronto’s Hart House was quite a striking visualization of the future of law — young, diverse, engaged, and ready to take on the world.

  • RE: The future of law

    The Truth
    As an visible minority and reecnt call, I can tell you that diversity is nothing more than a word on Bay Street. The various "Diversity programs" on Bay street are toothless, and do not have any statistics to track progress.Unfortunately, the only group that has achieved some sort of progress are white women. But I hope this trend continues, so that Bay street firms continue their discriminatory hiring policies and continue to hire unqualified people based solely on the colour of their skin. I call this White Affirmative Action. The only acceptable kind it seems.
  • RE: The future of law

    Great note, Gail! Thanks for making it to the FACL Gala.