Diversity in the Legal Profession
Thomas Fagan, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion with the Ministry of the Attorney General for Ontario, is one of two recipients of the 2011 Hinton J. Lucas International Award for Promoting Diversity in the Legal Profession.
The award, presented by A Call to Action Canada, will be presented to Fagan at ACTAC’s fourth Annual Conference in Toronto on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. Fagan shares the honour with Yolanda Coly, the Senior Director of Advocacy and Development at the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, which is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
ACTAC was co-founded by Joy Casey and Nicky Huq to encourage in-house counsel to take a leadership role in advancing diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession. More information is available by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 416-368-3847.
When Janet Bomza started her own immigration firm in the mid-1990s, she put her father’s name on the letterhead.
Bomza felt she needed the name of her father, a sole practitioner himself, to lend legitimacy to the firm on both its letterhead and its web site.
She has since removed his name. “We’ve come a long way,” she said. “There really was an assumption that male lawyers could do it better.”
About 16 years later, the largely women-dominated Bomza Law Group has carved out its niche in the business immigration field. But getting there wasn’t easy, particularly since many of the traditional venues for networking with clients — a drink after work, a golf game or a sporting event — aren’t as easy for women lawyers.
“It was really hard,” she said, noting the firm got a big break when a colleague recommended it to a large corporate client and then set about establishing a reputation for cost consciousness.
Bomza was speaking at the conference on diversity in the legal profession organized by A Call to Action Canada in Toronto last week. She was part of a panel on promoting women- and minority-owned law firms, an area where the U.S. legal profession has been significantly more active.
In that country, the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) has been working to bring together companies that use legal services and its member firms in order to open up new opportunities.
The goal is to have companies commit to spending five per cent of their outside legal budget at women- and minority-owned firms, said Yolanda Coly, NAMWOLF’s senior director of advocacy and development.
So far, the organization has signed up 200 Fortune 500 companies and public entities. It also has almost 100 women- and minority-owned firms that benefit from networking opportunities at NAMWOLF’s annual meeting in order to grab a share of the corporate legal work available.
NAMWOLF’s work differs from that of the U.S. Call to Action organization, which focuses on efforts by in-house counsel at large corporations to direct their legal budgets to firms with better records on diversifying their legal staff.
In Canada, A Call to Action is working on both aspects and is currently planning activities around creating a list of women- and minority-owned firms here, a task that co-founder Joy Casey said is taking time “because there’s no easy way to find them.”
Canada is also catching up to the United States in terms of organized efforts around diversity in the legal profession, a fact evidenced by the significant presence of U.S. lawyers from companies like Accenture Inc. at the conference last week. But things are happening.
As the keynote speaker, Ratna Omidvar of the Maytree Foundation, pointed out, Toronto’s DiverseCity research project is wrapping up a study of 20 law firms, Crown prosecutors, judges, and law schools to look at the representation of diverse groups in senior leadership positions in the legal profession.
She wasn’t yet able to release the results but said, “I can tell you that there’s lots of room for improvement.”
At the same time, a group of 40 general counsel in Canada came together this month to sign onto Legal Leaders for Diversity and Inclusiveness, a pledge to promote diversity by considering it in their hiring and purchasing practices.
But Casey, who welcomes the new effort, nevertheless points out the lack of “teeth” behind the pledge through consequences for law firms that aren’t doing enough on diversity.
The idea is that companies would terminate their relationship with those firms, something Casey acknowledges has been an issue as A Call to Action works to expand beyond the seven signatory companies it currently has.
There really was an assumption that male lawyers could do it better,’ says Janet Bomza.
To me, it’s fundamental,” she says, adding the idea is that such consequences would be a “last-step measure.”
In the meantime, while diversity is a popular notion in Canada, there are controversial aspects such as questions around quotas and whether allocating work to women- and minority-owned law firms takes away from lawyers of diverse backgrounds already working at the big Bay Street institutions.
It’s a question that offends Coly. “How dare they?” she responded when panel moderator Joel Stern mentioned how that question came up at a recent U.S. discussion. “All we’re asking is for the opportunity to fairly compete for your outside legal dollar,” she said.
“We’re not even charging you as much,” she added.
For his part, Stern noted that part of the issue is what he called the big firms’ atrocious record of hiring women partners and those from minority groups in the first place.
At the same time, he said that under a framework of allocating five per cent of companies’ legal budgets to women- and minority-owned firms, there’s room for both them and their traditional counterparts to thrive.
Omidvar, too, addressed the question of quotas for achieving diversity. She differentiated, for example, between quotas and targets, something she said is more about setting a goal that firms can measure themselves against. “A target is not a quota,” she said.
Nevertheless, many of the participants at the conference, including Omidvar, Bomza, and Coly, noted that despite the many efforts going on, real progress takes time. “We haven’t gone as far as I would have hoped,” Coly said.
In his online article for Canadian Lawyer in January of this year, Joel Stern, deputy general counsel and director of legal services North America for Accenture’s legal group, issued a challenge to Canadian lawyers.
As he had done in his keynote speech at A Call to Action Canada’s Summit in November 2009, Stern challenged Canadian law departments and law firms to build on the successes achieved in the U.S. and leverage what they have learned about promoting diversity and inclusion in the profession.
His message was reinforced during Accenture’s presentation at our second annual conference a couple of weeks ago, when he also encouraged us to learn from mistakes made in the U.S. and improve on the U.S. Call to Action by breaking new ground.
We fully intend to take Joel and others up on their generous offers to help us do just that.
A Call to Action Canada is an initiative started in early 2009 to advance diversity in the legal profession. ACTAC is inspired by the Call to Action, which was set in motion in the U.S. in 2004 by several chief legal officers at some of the largest U.S. and international corporations. Frustrated with the lack of progress for women and minority lawyers, they drafted a mission statement directed to senior in-house counsel, encouraging them to use their economic power and leverage as clients to ensure that their legal services suppliers demonstrate real progress on diversity or risk losing the business. Approximately 100 chief legal officers became signatories to that commitment on behalf of their organizations.
ACTAC’s mission statement has been adapted from the U.S. version. Corporate signatories pledge to:
(a) make decisions regarding which law firms represent their companies based in significant part on the diversity performance of the firms;
(b) look for enhanced opportunities for those firms which positively distinguish themselves in this area and end or limit retainers with firms who consistently show a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse; and
(c) look for opportunities to direct work to firms which are controlled by, or have a substantial number of, partners who are women or minorities.
Our mission statement is supported by such progressive corporations as Accenture, Deloitte, DuPont, and Royal Bank of Canada.
In response to Stern’s challenge and the valuable input from many others already involved in this effort, ACTAC is driving a number of initiatives to encourage and promote direct and strategic action by:
With the help of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) in the U.S., whose managing director Yolanda Coly was also a presenter at the April 2010 conference, we encourage companies and law firms to direct a percentage of their work (including co-counsel, referral, and conflict work from law firms) to firms controlled by women and minorities.
The Canadian women and minority law firms web site will help ensure organizations can find experienced and diverse lawyers to suit their needs.
The advice from our colleagues in the U.S. is that, to be effective, diversity and inclusion programs need to have a buy-in from all levels of the organization, have clear and measurable personal and organizational goals, that progress must be tracked and measured, and that success should be rewarded.
Measuring success inevitably raises the issue of metrics and collecting law firm demographics. The October 2009 issue of Canadian Lawyer had a focus on diversity. In her column from the editor’s desk in that edition, Gail Cohen challenged law firms to “be brave” and show their numbers. The response to the challenge has been resounding silence. The idea of disclosing their demographics sends shivers through the major firms — and with good reason.
However, as our U.S. supporters know, programs that get measured get done and metrics are an essential part of measuring progress. It will not be a surprise to anyone in the profession in Canada to learn that the demographics of women and minorities at the upper levels of major firms are still dismal at this point.
ACTAC holds that we need to start the process of collecting data now and is working with others who are developing tools designed to gather and analyze such information. The purpose is not to attack firms on their current numbers but to establish benchmarks so progress can be tracked.
Moreover, how can any organization really understand its people and create a truly inclusive environment to attract and retain the best talent if it does not try to know who its people are?
Speaker after speaker at ACTAC’s conferences have argued eloquently and passionately that fostering diversity and creating an inclusive culture are not just the right things to do but are also smart business practices.
We encourage Canadian in-house counsel to become signatories to ACTAC’s mission statement and we welcome the active support and commitment of all lawyers in making sustainable change a reality.
Joy Casey is an independent practitioner, focusing on commercial litigation and employment law and also general counsel to Aurora Holdings Co. Ltd. and is the co-founder of A Call to Action Canada. For more information on the initiative, go to acalltoactioncanada.com.
Originally reported by the Canadian LawyerContinue reading
Law departments urged to terminate relationships with firms that show no interest, or lack of compliance – in support of their commitment to legal diversity
(Toronto, ON) November 18, 2009: Managing partners of several Toronto-based law firms, and senior legal officers of several major global corporations, will congregate on November 19th, in support of A Call to Action Canada’s initiative, Promoting Diversity in the Legal Profession. Beginning at 8:30 AM, the summit will be taking place at the The University Club of Toronto, 380 University Avenue.
This event is being held “in an effort to promote diversity in law firms, and encourage legal practitioners to raise the bar and change the way business is conducted,” says Joy Casey, a Lawyer and founder of A Call to Action Canada. “We intend to actively seek out opportunities to direct work to firms which are controlled by, or have a substantial number of partners who are women or minorities.”
The mission of A Call to Action Canada is straightforward – to provide a forum designed to support in-house counsel in taking leadership roles to advance diversity and inclusiveness.
The commitment of this group is exemplary, as their message is demonstrated by their mandate; to terminate relationships with outside law firms which show a lack of interest or commitment to being diverse and inclusive.
Delegates participating in this event include representatives from corporations such as Accenture, Dell, Dupont, and RBC, in addition to representation from prominent law firms, which include Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Fraser Milner and Heenan Blaike LLP, and others. Other participating organizations include The Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council, CAMSC; an organization that facilitates procurement opportunities between major corporations and aboriginal and minority suppliers.