An amended Rules of Professional Conduct was just one of 13 recommendations delivered by the Law Society of Ontario in a lengthy report designed to address issues of long-standing systemic discrimination in the legal system.
Entitled Working Together for Change: Strategies to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions, the report was approved at the law society's December 2016 Convocation. It was the result of four years of consultation and research by the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group. The group found that racialized lawyer licensees (those who are outside the dominant white culture) faced a variety of professional barriers to growth.
The report outlined five action areas: accelerating a culture shift; measuring progress; educating for change; implementing supports; and leading by example. As well, additional work was being considered for overhauling the law society's racial discrimination complaints system.
The report's consultative process was seen by the Law Society of Ontario as an opportunity to develop a positive change strategy, given that racialized lawyers had dealt with barriers within the profession for years. The group identified challenges involving entry into the practice of law and advancement within law firms, the challenges racialized lawyers faced that might increase the risk of complaints or discipline, best practices to support racialized lawyers in all areas, and the development of measurable, accountable strategies.
According to working group co-chair Raj Anand, a partner at WeirFoulds LLP, the need to create the report had been a focal point since the mid-1990s.
"The change of the legal profession in makeup has taken place in the last 20 years, with a lot of anecdotal evidence of racism, individual and systemic, and individual incidents and individual concerns" said Anand. "We must root out systemic barriers and create lasting change by adopting a tool box for the professions that will promote equal recognition and respect for all of our members." The working group engaged with more than 1,000 lawyers, law students, paralegals, articling students and members of the public, both racialized and non-racialized, and received written input from 45 organizations and individuals. Evidence drawn from the group's work included qualitative examples of stereotyping, a lack of mentors, the challenge of negotiating the culture of law firms, and fitting into the workplace. There was...