Futures and diversity: What changes will you make?

  • July 01, 2015

The fingerprints of equality seekers in the legal profession are to be found all over the CBA Legal Futures Initiative’s final report, issued last August.  The recommendations in the report support enhancing the diversity of our profession through a number of mechanisms, including:

  • Law firm compliance with diversity-related principles that reflect legal and ethical requirements
  • Uniform collection and publication of quantitative and qualitative data about the demographic composition of all legal service providers as well as law students entering and exiting law schools
  • Expansion of law school admission criteria to consider factors that would include an applicant’s life experience
  • Mandating that law society governing boards include appointed members selected through a process designed to fill gaps in experience, skills and diversity

Already we are able to point to progress being made in these areas.  The recommendation relating to appointment of law society directors, for example, is being implemented in Manitoba where the provincial government recently introduced a number of amendments to The Legal Profession Act.

The proposed amendments included in Bill 19 include altering the composition of the governing body of benchers to provide for a more diverse and representative body.

Law Society Past President Karen Clearwater explained in the May 2015 issue of Communiqué 2.0 that the Benchers considered how to address a lack of diversity, in skills, experience, gender, culture and more, around their table. The solution they came to was two-pronged:

  1. Increase the appointed lay representation around the table; and
  2. Fill in gaps in skills and diversity through a mixture of appointed and elected benchers.

The provisions of Bill 19 reflect this thinking. The number of lay benchers has been increased from four to six, while the number of elected benchers representing geographic regions has been decreased. Importantly, and following upon the recommendations from the Futures report, four new unelected positions have been created for appointment by the benchers themselves, using a new process that takes into account new criteria to be established by the benchers, such as “the need for representation by region, demographics, type of law practice, or professional, leadership or management skills.”

A similar approach is already in place in Nova Scotia, where the Barristers’ Society has three member-at-large positions, reserved to fill demographic gaps that have been identified within Council, including gender or sexual orientation, geographic representation, race, practice area, and practice venue.

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society is also leading the way in the adoption of entity regulation.  Along with law societies in Alberta, Ontario, and Manitoba, the Barristers’ Society is examining how to make regulation broader and more proactive in ensuring ethical conduct by lawyers.  The Barristers’ Society is guided by its regulatory objective to promote diversity, inclusion, substantive equality and freedom from discrimination in the delivery of legal services and the justice system. Their approach to entity regulation will likely show progress towards a more diverse and equitable profession – and can serve as a model for other jurisdictions.

In setting out its roadmap for the future, the CBA Legal Futures Initiative acknowledged that the legal profession needs to become more diverse to better reflect the population it serves – but that the market alone cannot correct the continued homogeneity of our profession.  Reform of the profession will not reach its full potential unless we change the very fibre of the legal profession.  And that kind of meaningful inclusivity will not occur until we make changes in the ways we educate, train, and regulate lawyers – can you help us get there?