Towards diversity in the law

  • Michelle Mann

The face of the legal profession — and the society it serves — is constantly changing and evolving. In response, the CBA has identified equity and diversity as one of its strategic plan’s fundamental themes, and the CBA Standing Committee on Equity has developed a new Equity and Diversity Guide and resource manual for the legal profession.

“Ten years after the Touchtone Report was published,” says Janet Oh, an in-house lawyer with Lavalin-SNC group in Montreal and chair of the committee, “we were still being asked by members what tools exist to help increase diversity and equity within the legal profession.

“We decided to develop a guide, holding consultations across the country with lawyers from different backgrounds, and struck an advisory committee to assist in drafting.” The guide, a first of its kind for the profession, “strives to be a practical self-assessment tool for law firms, other legal organizations and government, to see how they can promote diversity in the workplace,” says Oh.

Mary Jackson, chief legal personnel and professional development officer with Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto, and a member of the guide’s advisory committee, says the guide provides practical advice on promoting diversity and equity, including the leadership to be shown for recruitment efforts, personal development and mentoring.

“Diversity has to cut through all your operations in order to be successful,” Jackson says. “The business case for diversity is already made. This guide speaks to how do you actually do it. It is the first step in thinking about and analyzing your approach to diversity.”

Jackson points to diversity in law schools as a major driver, noting that “these individuals are pushing us to think about assumptions we are making and how to be inclusive. Clients are changing as well, so it’s important to think about how to relate to this changing client base.”

The guide is being distributed throughout the profession alongside the CBA’s “It’s About Respect” video series on gender, race and disability discrimination. Says Oh: “We are trying to assist law firms and organizations so that they can become leaders within their fields, by achieving and promoting diversity within so that it becomes part of the core business plan.”

Michelle Mann is a freelance writer.