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Non-white lawyers feel alienated, report finds

|Written By Julius Melnitzer

Despite the steady increase in the number of racialized lawyers practising in Ontario, many continue to feel alienated from the dominant culture of the profession and believe they’re often not getting the same opportunities for advancement as their peers.

‘We hired a consultant to examine the barriers that existed and the progress that was being made, including engagement with groups like the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers,’ says Josée Bouchard.

That’s just one of the findings in a consultation paper presented to Convocation on Oct. 30. The report is the work of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s challenges faced by racialized licensees working group. The LSUC created the working group in 2012 to study the challenges faced by racialized lawyers and paralegals and consult on strategies for enhanced inclusion at all career stages.

Ontario’s legal profession has seen a steady increase in the number of racialized lawyers in the last two decades. They accounted for 12 per cent of the profession in 2009, 17 per cent in 2010, 21 per cent in 2011, and 23 per cent in 2012.

Despite the obvious progress, anecdotal evidence and some research demonstrate that barriers remain. “We decided to embark on a more organized effort,” says Josée Bouchard, director of equity at the LSUC. “We hired a consultant to examine the barriers that existed and the progress that was being made, including engagement with groups like the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.”

More particularly, Convocation asked the working group to identify challenges faced by racialized licensees in different practice environments, including entry into practice and advancement; look at factors and practice challenges faced by racialized licensees that could increase the risk of regulatory complaints and discipline; consider best practices for preventative, remedial, and support strategies; and, if appropriate, design and develop preventative, remedial, enforcement, regulatory, and support strategies for consideration by the equity and other committees.

The working group discovered racialized lawyers believed discriminatory behaviour and assumptions were “common features of their everyday professional experience.” They also believed their sense of alienation and lack of opportunity sometimes forced them to enter sole practice even when they felt unprepared to do so. Finally, many racialized lawyers lacked a strong professional network and weren’t aware of or didn’t have access to the mentoring they desired.

Racialized paralegals faced even greater challenges, reporting even lower success rates in finding suitable employment than lawyers.

To address these issues, the working group is considering recommending the adoption of several internal programs including enhancing the equity compliance program, conducting an internal equity audit, collecting more internal data, and developing a more diverse and inclusive public image for the LSUC.

Prof. Michael Ornstein of York University, who authored a report on race and gender for the LSUC in 2010, believes the profession has made considerable progress on the issue but says there’s still lots to do.

“We’re only now beginning to deal with the complexities of the issues,” he tells Law Times. “There’s a lot of progress in the general sense but there are still real structural barriers around the internal character of the profession, things like entry to and partnerships in big firms who tend to be heavily institutionalized.”

To outsiders, the rituals that imbue big firms can have a “certain strangeness” that may seem archaic and unfair, he notes.

“It has a lot to do with the style of interaction, the way in which interviews take place, the inherent rewards for people who have cultural capital characterized by such things as having lawyers for parents or upper-class upbringings. Going to law school, for example, doesn’t erase the difference between poor people and people of real privilege. By the same token, nobody can escape their culture.”

Further complicating the issues is the fact that racialized lawyers aren’t a homogeneous group.

“Averages are not very useful,” says Ornstein.

“You may find that there are certain groups of non-whites who have done very well and are not facing the same barriers that other racialized professionals are facing.”

The report bears Ornstein out. Statistics collected by the working group shows black and South Asian lawyers are proportionately more likely to be in small and sole practices while they’re proportionately much less likely to be in medium and large firms.

By way of example, about 47 per cent of white lawyers and 47 per cent of Chinese practitioners tend to be in firms with four or fewer lawyers while 75 per cent of black lawyers fall into this category. At the other end of the spectrum, only about eight per cent of black lawyers work at firms with more than 100 lawyers. That compares to about 23 per cent of white lawyers and 21 per cent of Chinese lawyers.

In discussing the report at Convocation last week, Bencher Avvy Go spoke about the difficulties racialized students have in securing articling positions in Toronto.

“Because we live in a diverse society, sometimes we forget that racism exists,” she said.

Bencher Janet Leiper noted some lawyers think they’re “immune to prejudice” because of their education.

“However, we are human like everyone else,” she said.

The law society is inviting input on the report presented to Convocation last week. It will be accepting written submissions until March 1, 2015.

  • Not asociopath
    Interesting that in Medicine and engineering the issue of diversity is less pronounced (google it). Why? Because subjective judgment is less at play. You are either smart enough to be a doctor or engineer or you are not. In law, if you have B average based on strictly curved 100% finals you have a shot at interviews and once there its subjective. And wow you aced that arts undergrad to get in law school in the first place. Sure you worked hard, but you are not smart enough for medicine.

    "“Of course, employers are looking for people who have the baseline of skills to effectively do the job,” said study author Lauren A. Rivera, an assistant professor of management and organizations and sociology at Northwestern University. “But, beyond that, employers really want people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend and maybe even their romantic partner. As a result, employers don’t necessarily hire the most-skilled candidates.”"
  • Shibil Siddiqi
    A brief comment is hardly the place to provide instruction in basic sociology or human rights, or to explain why "racialization" is a richer idea than simply dividing the whole world into 2 categories of "white" and "non-white". Lawyers ought to understand the power and nuance of language. Not only is this a competence issue in a profession based on finding meaning in language, lawyers have a specific professional responsibility to respect and uphold human rights laws. When lawyers publicly display a basic lack of understanding of appropriate language when discussing "racialized" persons, they not only fail to respect human rights laws and principles but serve to diminish them. So please educate yourselves; your ignorance is making the rest of us look bad as well.
  • Jim Gurs
    The Nextions study found that law firm partners demonstrated an unconscious or implicit bias when evaluating the writing of a male African American associate. The Nextions team and five partners from five different law firms created a research memo from a hypothetical third-year litigation associate deliberately inserting 22 errors. The memo was distributed to 60 partners from 22 law firms who had agreed to participate in a “writing analysis study.” ...

    For half of the evaluating partners, the cover email indicated that the writer was African American, while the cover email for the other half indicated that the writer was Caucasian. Both of the hypothetical writers were named Thomas Meyer and both attended NYU Law...

    The African American Thomas Meyer received an overall 3.2/5.0 rating, and the Caucasian Thomas Meyer received an overall 4.1/5.0 rating..."
  • Mohammed Mohammed
    The bias was pro-Jew rather than pro-white. The surname Meyer for a white man gives a strong indication he is jewish, while a black man with that same surname would be presumed to not be jewish.

    The greater alienation in the legal profession is the jewish partners very subtly discriminating against non-jewish associates while being more collegial to jewish associates.
  • NIGEL SCHILLING
    What the hell is a "racialized: lawyer or paralegal?
    Who came up with that ridiculous label?
    I am white, am I not racialized/
    If you mean not white, say so.
    If you mean not Christian, say so.
    As for Avvy's comment, articiling students of all races are having a difficult time finding positions.
    As far as I am concerned, there is one human race, priod.
  • Racialized Lawyer
    [quote name="NIGEL SCHILLING"]
    As far as I am concerned, there is one human race, priod.[/quote]

    Dear Mr. Schilling,

    Thank you for pointing out that this is all merely a matter of ridiculous labels since the only race that matters is the human one. I suddenly feel 100% better, knowing racism doesn't exist, and that those events I experienced and derogatory terms I've heard used were merely humans having a bad day.

    It would seem, though, that you've missed your calling. Imagine if you were to turn your mind to medicine, you could announce that disease is all in the mind of the sufferer, and instantly cure cancer, Alzheimers, and perhaps even Ebola. I envision a Nobel prize in your future.

    Or, perhaps not... I suspect that at a minimum the Nobel Committees require nominees to inhabit consensus reality rather than other planets...

    Regards,

    A brown person who doesn't define her existence in terms of what she is not.
  • John Willis
    Our (Stratcom) report for the WG addresses these questoins explicitly starting on page 21. And the chart on pg 26 confirms that you are not teh only 'white' licensee who may consider themselves 'racialized' (exactly why 'non-white' is not an equivalent term, to David Barret's point above)
    http://www.stratcom.ca/wp-content/uploads/manual/Racialized-Licensees-FINAL%20REPORT_March2014.pdf
  • David Barrett
    Step 1 - stop using garbage terms like "racialized", say what you mean. Non-white. If you can't even say the truth without hiding behind weasel words there is no chance of a real solution.

    Step 2 - get rid of the people that have turned this issue into an industry and want problems to perpetuate so that their jobs, positions, and contracts continue on forever.

    Step 3 - deal with the issue of quality and capability in a truthful manner. Some lawyers are simply bad. It's not their colour, they are simply bad lawyers and no one wants them except retail clients that do not know better.
  • A. Vespry
    Just once, I'd like to hear the suggestion that --given the majority of the world's population are shades of brown-- the real truth in language would be "non-brown" people and the rest of us.

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