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On Diversity in the Legal Profession

Yesterday, at Convocation at the Law Society of Ontario, the newly elected benchers debated the controversial Statement of Principles (SOP), which requires lawyers to tell the Law Society in an annual report that they have written a statement that outlines their commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). It's a minimal requirement - you don't have to disclose the statement, but simply say that you have one. Still, it has raised a flurry of opposition and debate, with opponents likening it to compelled speech and even thought control.

Following the debate at Convocation yesterday, mostly through Twitter and briefly on the webcast, I was left feeling embarrassed at much of the discussion. After reflecting on it some more, I realized that this is really an opportunity and should be a call to action for lawyers, particularly those who don't necessary fall within the 'EDI' category (looking at you, white lawyers!) to step up and really focus on what needs to be done in order to move our profession towards a more inclusive space. We spent nine hours yesterday debating the validity of the SOP; nine hours which could have been much better spent actually reflecting and working towards change. So here are my suggestions of what we those with the most privilege can actually do with nine hours, to start.

1. Stop talking and listen.

During much of the discussion, it seemed that those opposed to the SOP hadn't really considered why it might be needed. So, instead, maybe set aside the issue of compelled speech and listen to what those who worked on the issue are telling you about why it's necessary. Read the report on Strategies to Address Systemic Racism in the Legal Profession. Read Joshua Sealy-Harrington's post on the SOP. Go follow some people on Twitter (Check out Atrisha Lewis, Omar Ha-Redeye, Elsa Ascensio to start) Follow Angela Chaisson's #DearSirs hashtag for an insight on sexism in the profession.

2. Start reading.

Instead of denying that systemic racism exists, try some reading first. Maybe start with Hadiya Rodrique's Black on Bay Street about barriers in the legal profession. Pick up Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers. Read Robyn Maynard's Policing Black Lives. Have a look at So You Want to Talk about Race. Then let's check back in about systemic racism. And then expand to issues of gender, sexuality, ableism, etc, etc, etc, and keep on reading. Google intersectionality and figure out how sometimes different points of discrimination can overlap. The point is to find points of view that are different from your own and reflect on whether your experience has been different, and if so, why.

3. Brush up on some case law.

We're lawyers, after all, so it only makes sense that we look to the courts for some guidance too. And, as Shakir Rahim noted on Twitter yesterday, the Supreme Court has already recognized that systemic discrimination exists in Canadian society! So go look at R v. Barton, R v. Parks and R v. Le and keep looking from there.

4. Think about your colleagues.

Who are you working with? Mentoring? Supporting? Do they come from the exact same background as you? Why is that? Reflect on how a diversity of opinions can be important in collaborating and coming up with solutions and maybe even serve your clients better.

5. Think about your clients.

Do they all look like you? If not, are you equipped to properly represent them in a competent way? Have you done any work to understand their background or the challenges they're facing?

We have a lot of work to do. And while the debate is a necessary part of the process, those with privilege should be spending their time and effort to work to be part of the solution.

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