For the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, diversity is more than a buzzword. “It is absolutely critical that the public-interest regulator of the legal profession be a leader and promoter of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession,” says executive director Tilly Pillay.
That leadership role itself requires diversity. At present, for example, the NSBS is working with the judiciary to support hiring a clerk from the Schulich School of Law’s Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative. The clerkship will be counted as credit toward articling.
Another program, the Ku’TawTinu: Shared Articling Initiative, assists in preparing Mi’kmaq and Indigenous articling clerks for successful legal careers. “The goal of this initiative is to create positions that provide a well-rounded articling experience, often focusing on contemporary Indigenous legal issues,” says Pillay. “Clerks are encouraged to article in their own community and with both a public and private organization. The society will waive the bar admission fee for one student per year in this initiative.”
The law society also expects law firms to step up. There is a shared responsibility to make sure the legal profession is diverse and inclusive, says Pillay. That responsibility is echoed in the NSBS’s new model of legal services that requires all lawyers and firms to reflect regularly on how they are “committed to improving diversity, inclusion and substantive equality and ensuring freedom from discrimination in the delivery of legal services and the justice system.”
The society’s equity portal lends a helping hand to lawyers and firms in developing their cultural competence and building equity strategies with toolkits, model policies, a reference library, training videos and more.
Enhancing equity, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, a major element of the society’s strategic framework for 2016-2019, necessitates leading by example. “We model the behaviour we encourage lawyers, law firms and other partners in the justice system to follow,” says Pillay.
“We have a responsibility to support the administration of justice in Nova Scotia and, as such, must be leaders in addressing the changes that are occurring in both the delivery of legal services and the challenges that the public [is] facing in relation to access to justice,” she adds.
The issue of systemic discrimination within the profession and within the society itself was raised during the 18-month disciplinary hearing of Lyle Howe, an African Nova Scotia lawyer charged with professional misconduct and professional incompetence. While the panel that ultimately found Howe guilty determined there was no failure by the NSBS to accommodate the lawyer’s racial, colour or ethnic background, it did find that fewer witnesses could have been called — and the 10,000 pages of transcript reduced — if the society had acknowledged the “actual, systemic, and historic racism” the panel concluded does exist in Nova Scotia’s legal community.
NSBS is working to change that reality.