Stepping Up for Diversity: Law Societies Must Begin to Address the Challenges Faced by Racialized Lawyers and Paralegals

Author:Adam Dodek
Date:November 28, 2016
 
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Law Societies have a lot on their plates these days: ABS, access to justice, advertising, articling . . . and that’s only the first letter of the alphabet! It is critical that the work of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Working Group on the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees not get lost in all this regulatory alphabet soup. The report is important. It is groundbreaking. It is also controversial. And it is necessary. This report will be debated by Ontario’s benchers on December 2nd. The Law Society of Upper Canada has a real opportunity to exercise strong leadership on diversity in the profession.

The report is relatively short by Law Society standards (less than 40 pages) and contains a mere 13 recommendations. My uOttawa colleague Professor Joanne St. Lewis made the strong case for moving forward on the recommendations in her Slaw column here. I won’t repeat her arguments but only highlight a number of important elements of the report.

Some of the recommendations should not be particularly controversial: reviewing the Rules of Professional Conduct and amending it if necessary to reinforce the professional obligations of all lawyers and paralegals to recognize, acknowledge and promote principles of equality, diversity and inclusion consistent with the requirements under human rights legislation and the special responsibility of lawyers and paralegals (Recommendation 1); and develop model policies and resources to address challenges faced by racialized lawyers and paralegals (Recommendation 2);

What seems to sticking in some Ontario lawyers’ craw is the recommendation that every lawyer and paralegal will be required to adopt and to abide by a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally and in their behavior towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public. I am not sure why some lawyers oppose this (other than a knee jerk reaction against being told by the Law Society to do anything).

I am told that some lawyers or benchers have raised “free speech” concerns. This seems a bit far-fetched to me. The proposed statement of principles can be taken to be nothing more than a positive affirmation to abide by specific Rules of Professional Conduct and by the law. To the extent that it goes beyond this, the Supreme Court has clearly stated that Law Societies may validly regulate “negative speech”...

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