For more diversity in the legal profession

TheGlobeandMail.com – news/commentary/editorials
Published Tuesday, Jun. 07, 2011.

A more racially diverse legal profession and judiciary is a goal worth pursuing. It is important to have legal leaders who reflect Canada’s rapidly changing demographics. This would help law firms to compete successfully in the global economy and foster innovation, and help judges and Crown prosecutors overcome any subconscious biases, so that they can apply the law more equitably.

So far, the record is mixed. According to a comprehensive study released yesterday by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, 6.8 per cent of the 2,410 legal leaders in the Greater Toronto Area are non-whites, compared with 14.4 per cent of all practising lawyers and 49.5 per cent of the broader population. Representation was higher in governing bodies and law schools, and lower among partners at large law firms and Crown attorneys.

The legal profession is one of society’s most important pillars of democracy, as well as a pipeline to other leadership roles, including political office and corporate board appointments.

Candidates should advance into leadership roles based on merit and not skin colour. And yet research suggests that non-white law graduates face some biases in recruitment, hiring and retention, earn less money than their white counterparts, and are over-represented in community law clinics. Established networks and corporate culture appear to affect success in legal careers – and even judicial appointments.

“It’s not simply about equitable administration of justice, but perception of fairness and an opportunity for visible minorities to have access to power and influence,” says Wendy Cukier, a Ryerson professor and co-author of the report, who adds that the legal profession is even less diverse in other Canadian cities.

The profession has already undertaken a host of initiatives to improve representation. The University of Toronto law school has an outreach programs for under-represented youth. Legal Leaders for Diversity is a group of 40 in-house counsel at banks and large corporations that encourages diversity in hiring and contracting-out.

Diversity may be one of Canada’s most under-utilized advantages. It can lead judicial decision-makers to better understand and reflect the public they serve, and can help law firms compete in the global marketplace, where a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds is definitely an asset.

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