Keeping Canadians in the dark about what the profession looks like today should make no one happy
The issue of diversity in the legal profession is contentious.
For diversity advocates, the legal profession’s conservatism can feel stifling. Advocates will often push for more — and faster — change for all our legal institutions.
For sole practitioners and lawyers at small firms especially, mandatory training and lectures from large institutions can feel like ideological re-education or a simple waste of licensing fees.
“Whether you agree with critical race theory and the prevailing politics of the [Law Society of Ontario] or not, the foray into the realm of ideological re-education should give everyone, most especially the public, cause for concern,” writes Jared Brown, in our November issue’s Back Page column. Brown argues that there is a lack of evidence that mandatory professional training, whether it is about diversity or anything else, is effective.
Diversity champions, on the other hand, would say the duty of law societies is to protect the public interest, and improving diversity is an important way to do that.
But how should that be done? Both Brown and diversity advocates would likely agree on one thing: proper data is key.
“We're challenging all firms to involve leadership directly in their [diversity and inclusion] efforts,” said Rebecca Bromwich, the national diversity & inclusion manager at Gowling WLG, at a recent keynote address at the Canadian Law Awards. “And a first step of that direct involvement is to move forward on tracking metrics of demographic data.”
And it is not just firms such as Gowling WLG that are calling for more data. The Law Society of Ontario will soon be publishing an “inclusion index” of law firms this year, according to bencher Atrisha Lewis, which will name law firms of a certain size and publish their numbers.
Not all law societies and law firms take this approach. Tilly Pillay, at the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, says that, because lawyers can choose not to answer demographic questions, “this data is not 100-per-cent representative of diversity within firms.”
But what everyone should agree on is the importance of transparency and evidence-based decision-making. Keeping Canadians in the dark about what the profession looks like today should make no one happy.