Day: January 22, 2018

Collecting Demographic Data to Better Understand our Membership and Address Barriers in the Legal Profession

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By Ronni Nordal, Chair of the Equity & Diversity Committee, and Barbra Bailey, Policy Counsel

The Canadian legal profession is increasingly diverse and now comprised of many equity-seeking groups.  As one example, in Saskatchewan, we have seen an increase in the number of foreign-trained lawyers admitted to the bar through the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) process, with the number increasing from 5 in 2012 to 14 in 2017.  While we can guess from statistics collected in other Canadian jurisdictions that diversity is increasing in other ways, the Law Society of Saskatchewan has not historically collected data on the demographics of our profession.

We do have data that tells us that the Saskatchewan public is growing increasingly diverse.  Data from the 2016 Census shows that 16.3% of Saskatchewan’s population self-identified as being Aboriginal, compared to 14.7% in 2006.  Further, in 2016, 10.8% of Saskatchewan’s population identified as visible minorities, compared to 3.6% of the population in 2006.  Immigrants and non-permanent residents accounted for 11.65% of our province’s population in 2016, compared to 5.5% in 2006.  The number of self-identifying same-sex couples increased by 6.7% from 2011-2016.  The number of seniors (aged 65 and over) increased by 10.9% from 2011 to 2016.[1]

The importance of data

The Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) Demographic Trends Report, published in 2013 as part of the CBA’s Futures Initiative, reported on 13 trends in the Canadian legal profession.  One of those trends related to diversity, as follows:

According to the localized statistics available, progress on increasing diversity in the legal profession is not consistent with the make-up of the general population. An effort should be made to collect relevant data on a national basis.[2]

The CBA’s primary report of the Futures Initiative, entitled “Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada,” published in 2014, also identified limited access to the legal profession by members of diverse and equity-seeking groups as a barrier to change in the legal profession.  That report opined that lawyers from these groups could bring fresh perspectives and solutions to improving access to legal services in Canada and that, it is “important to develop models that facilitate an expansion of diversity within the legal profession, and to educate new types of lawyers who will be willing and able to innovate in meeting existing and unmet needs.”  The Futures Report also listed the absence of good data on the Canadian legal profession as an impediment to change.[3]

The Futures Report made a recommendation that law societies should uniformly collect qualitative and quantitative data about the demographic composition of all licensed legal service providers and publish the data in aggregate form.  The Report anticipates that the information collected could be used to “raise awareness of barriers, provide an evidence base for examining diversity issues, identify regulatory problem areas, and show varied progress towards better diversity and inclusivity.” [4]

To get a better picture of the diversity within their membership, several law societies collect demographic data about language, race/ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation/sexual identity in addition to data about gender and age. They do so by including self-identification questions in their annual membership forms.  To date, at least six other law societies collect different demographic data beyond gender and age: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and Nova Scotia.  The Law Societies Equity Network (LSEN) has developed common categories for comparing this data through the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, with the goal of creating a Diversity Profile of the Canadian Legal Profession.  This data can be used to both measure diversity and to develop and monitor equity initiatives.

The Law Society’s Equity & Diversity Committee

In January 2017, the Law Society of Saskatchewan re-established the Equity & Diversity Committee.

According to the Terms of Reference, the Equity & Diversity Committee (the “Committee”) shall assist the Benchers of the Law Society of Saskatchewan by:

  1. monitoring developments and providing advice on issues affecting equity and diversity in the legal profession;
  2. exploring and recommending actions and/or initiatives to be taken with respect to equity and diversity within the legal profession; and
  3. making recommendations for and supporting ongoing education and awareness training for members of the legal profession relating to equity and diversity.

In developing our Terms of Reference, we quickly realized that we were lacking knowledge and information in a number of areas including the most important question: “What are the issues affecting equity and diversity in the legal profession?”  The Committee strongly felt that before talk could turn into an action plan to remove barriers and challenges, it needed to have an understanding of the barriers that exist and who (on a general basis) is experiencing those barriers.

As a result, we set a plan in action to become informed.  The actions taken by the Committee have included hearing from a variety of individuals (with more to come) regarding their personal experience as members of equity-seeking groups in either entering, practicing in, or remaining in the legal profession in Saskatchewan.

The Committee also felt that, in order to understand the makeup of the membership of the Law Society of Saskatchewan, it was important to have baseline data about the membership.  In order to create a baseline, the Committee decided to ask members to voluntarily self-identify as members of equity-seeking communities through a survey, which was part of the annual renewal process in 2017.

Over 900 members responded to the survey.  Out of those responses, 6.5% identified as being First Nations, Métis or Inuit, 7% identified as being part of a visible minority group and 3% identified as being Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender.  With respect to language, 0.5% identified French as being their first language, with an additional 1% stating that they were fluent in both French and English.  A further 2% stated that their first language was something other than French or English.  Finally, 2% stated that they had a physical disability and 3% identified as having mental health issues.

How the data will be used

The survey results are confidential and will only be available in an aggregate form.  In no way can they be used to identify any individual lawyer.  The data collected through the survey, as well as the experiences we have heard about from members or those seeking to become members, will assist the Equity & Diversity Committee in fulfilling its purpose, as stated above.

The Law Society of Saskatchewan has collected data for many years about age, gender and type of practice of Saskatchewan lawyers.   Driven in part by these statistics the Law Society recently developed several resources that can be used by legal work places in the areas of parental leave, flexible work arrangements and mentorship with the aim of retaining lawyers who may require some supports in those areas.  The statistics showed that, although 49% of law students are women, only 37% of active lawyers in Saskatchewan are women and only 53% of those are in private practice, compared to 71% of male lawyers.   The initiative, called the Justicia Project, was done in partnership with volunteers from Saskatchewan law firms who saw a need for those types of supports for lawyers.

The Justicia Project has been met with positive feedback and the Law Society would like to develop further resources and programming for other segments of the profession who may be in need of supports, due to barriers they may face in their career based on their personal circumstances.  In order to address the need for initiatives that support our membership, we first need to know who are members and prospective members are and what type of needs they might have.

A legal profession that reflects the diversity of society provides opportunities for all people to seek representation from a lawyer whom they feel comfortable with.  This might include considerations such as having a common language, culture or life circumstances.  In this way, having a diverse bar serves the public interest.

We want to hear about your experience

The Committee is interested in hearing from any members who are willing to share their personal stories of barriers they have faced either when entering the profession or while a member of the profession.  If you have experiences that you would like to share, please contact Ronni Nordal (Chair of the Committee) at ronni@nordalleblanc.ca or Barbra Bailey (Policy Counsel) at barbra.bailey@lawsociety.sk.ca to discuss how we can best have a conversation that will help to inform the Committee.

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[1] Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Data, http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/dp-pd/prof/92-591/details/Page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=PR&Code1=47&Geo2=PR&Code2=01&Data=Count&SearchText=Saskatchewan&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=47;   Statistics Canada, 2011 Census Data, http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/details/Page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=PR&Code1=47&Geo2=PR&Code2=01&Data=Count&SearchText=Saskatchewan&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=47; Statistics Canada, 2016 Census Data http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/Page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=PR&Code1=47&Geo2=&Code2=&Data=Count&SearchText=Saskatchewan&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All&GeoLevel=PR&GeoCode=47

[2] http://www.cba.org/getattachment/Publications-Resources/Resources/Futures/DEMOGRAPHIC-TRENDS/demographicTrendsEng.pdf at p. 13

[3] http://www.cba.org/CBAMediaLibrary/cba_na/PDFs/CBA%20Legal%20Futures%20PDFS/Futures-Final-eng.pdf at pg. 26

[4] Ibid., p. 48-49.