For Women in Law By Women in Law

Discussing Racial Barriers that Exist Within the Legal Profession

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Guest Blogger, Jaeda Lee, shares her feedback on a session she attended on discrimination and systemic racism within the legal profession. Originally published on March 17, 2021. To read more about Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022, click here

I recently attended a virtual town hall on the topic of discrimination and systemic racism within the Canadian legal profession. The event focused on both the barriers and solutions of the professional lives for Indigenous, Black, Asian, and other racialized and religious minority lawyers.

The town hall was hosted by the Canadian Bar Association and the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat as part of the federal government’s three-year anti-racism strategy, entitled “Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy”. This initiative was launched in June 2019 and is scheduled to actively run until 2022. During the 2 hour discussion, participants heard from Indigenous, Black, Asian and other racialized and religious minority thought leaders, in a robust live conversation to share their perspectives on various barriers that exist within the legal profession. The speakers identified a number of racial obstacles in the profession, including:

– entry to, and success in law school;
– cost of legal education;
– post-graduation debt;
– securing articles;
– the incidence of unpaid articles;
– securing a job after the call to the bar;
– promotion and access to mentoring;
– file assignment for young lawyers; and
– attrition rate of racialized lawyers.

This event made clear the ongoing resistance that is present within the profession and shone a light on the lack of comprehensive disaggregated race-based data to measure change, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Some of the insights and solutions provided by the panelists included:

– implementing anti-racism education at all levels of the legal profession, beginning with law students all the way up to the judiciary. This education must be ongoing and form part of legal professionals’ continuing education;

– widening the conversation around race and systemic barriers to include clients, both current and prospective, as many racialized clients have an increased lack of proper access to justice; and

– committing at the individual, organizational, and sectoral levels to work towards investing in specific actions and targets designed to remove systemic racism and create equitable opportunities for racialized communities, Indigenous Peoples, and religious minorities, within the legal profession.

While it is often difficult to identify and accept these racially and religiously motivated obstacles, I found the solutions offered by the panelists both optimistic and motivating. By attending events like these, we can better position ourselves to be allies to those facing discrimination in the legal industry which, I hope, will ultimately lead to equal opportunities for all legal professionals – regardless of race, religion or gender.

About the Author

  Guest Blogger Jaeda Lee

Jaeda Lee is an associate at Harper Grey LLP practicing in insurance and health law and a frequent guest to the Dear LiL Blog. An avid volunteer, Jaeda gives much of her time to the ACTS Water Charity, an organization focused on providing clean, accessible water to those who need it most.

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