Profession divided on mandatory collection of diversity data: report

Most participants in a Law Society of Upper Canada consultation process agree law firms should collect diversity data. But according to an interim report released yesterday, the profession is divided on whether that data collection should be mandatory.

Some believe mandatory data collection is crucial to advancing diversity and inclusion, while others believe it could halt progress already being made. “Some participants believe that mandatory data collection is crucial to advancing diversity and inclusion, while others believe that mandatory collection could halt the progress that is already being made by firms and legal organizations in the area of equity and diversity,” says the report, written by a working group tackling challenges faced by minority lawyers.

In the consultation process that followed a report revealing the barriers non-white lawyers face, some participants told the LSUC firms should be obligated to collect diversity data and the results should be made public to “shame” law firms that lack diversity.

Those against mandatory collections expressed concerns about a backlash from the profession while others said the method would be ineffective since the law society does not regulate law firms.

The working group also heard from participants about how best to improve the complaints process for lawyers who face racialized discrimination as well as how to improve cultural competence and understanding of unconscious bias.

The report cites many participants’ view that the profession must acknowledge white privilege and “understand how power operates to produce advantages for some and deny advantages to others.”

Lai-King Hum, the chairwoman of the Roundtable of Diversity Associations, participated in the consultation process. She says she was “heartened” to see the interim report using the term “white privilege.”

“It is an indication that the group is prepared to tackle the issues head-on, even if there may be controversy around the use of such terms,” she says.

Hum adds it is “encouraging that so many people are engaged and are taking these challenges faced by racialized licensees seriously.”

In the report, the working group says it believes it’s high time for significant change in the way the profession engages with diversity principles and practices.

“There is a role for the law society to play in ensuring that we can be a part of a turning point that leads to positive change for racialized licensees and the professions in general,” the group wrote.

The interim report also says a large number of participants were in favour of requiring licensees to participate in continuing professional development courses on cultural competence and unconscious bias. But others felt a mandatory CPD training would be “counterproductive” and instead suggested optional training.

The working group found there’s fear of repercussions in complaining about racial discrimination. Some participants suggested the law society create an anonymous system of receiving complaints, but those in small firms said it would be impossible for them to remain anonymous if they complain.

The working group will present a final report to Convocation in the fall with recommendations and implementation plans.

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