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

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By Barbra Bailey, Director of Policy

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 Canadian legal profession is also becoming increasingly diverse and is now comprised of many equity-seeking groups.  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.  However, 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.

In order to better understand the makeup of the membership of the Law Society of Saskatchewan and how it changes over time, it is important to establish some baseline data.  In order to do this, the Law Society began asking members to voluntarily self-identify as members of equity-seeking communities in 2017, through a survey delivered as part of the annual renewal process.

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.

In order to measure changes in the makeup of our membership, the Law Society will continue collecting data through the annual renewal process on a voluntary basis.

The importance of data

The Benchers of the Law Society of Saskatchewan have identified the increase of equity, diversity and inclusion in legal service provision as a priority.  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.  In this way, having a diverse bar serves the public interest.   The information collected through the survey will help the Law Society to both measure changes in the diversity of our profession over time, and develop and monitor equity initiatives.

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.[1]

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. [2]

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.” [3]

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.

In January 2017, the Law Society of Saskatchewan re-established the Equity & Diversity Committee (the “Committee”).  The Committee’s Terms of Reference state that it 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.

The Committee determined that an important first step in fulfilling its purpose was to become informed about the issues affecting equity and diversity in the legal profession and to establish baseline data about the makeup of the profession in Saskatchewan.  The Committee therefore decided to begin collecting demographic data from members on a voluntary basis, using the categories developed jointly by the other jurisdictions in Canada that collect this data.

How the data will be used in Saskatchewan

As part of the annual renewal process, members may choose whether to complete a short survey which asks members how they identify with respect to gender, race, sexual orientation, disability and language.  The survey is conducted through Survey Monkey so that the results cannot be associated with a member’s Law Society profile.  Members who wish to identify with some of these communities or traits but not others may choose to answer only certain questions.

Members will then be asked to click one of two boxes, stating that they have either completed the survey or that they have chosen not to complete the survey.   The survey results will be confidential and will only be available in aggregate form.  In no way can they be used to identify any individual lawyer and the Law Society will not be able to determine which members took the survey.

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 our members and prospective members are and what type of needs they might have.  To support these efforts, the Committee has invited members to share their personal experience as members of equity-seeking groups in either entering, practicing in, or remaining in the legal profession in Saskatchewan.  To expand upon this understanding, the Committee plans to consult with the membership more widely in 2019 about any experiences they have had with respect to equity, diversity and inclusion issues within the legal profession.

The aggregate statistics collected through the both the annual renewal process and the upcoming consultation will help the Law  Society of Saskatchewan to enhance the representation of diverse  communities in the profession, to better understand demographic trends provincially  and nationally, to develop programs and initiatives within the mandate  of the Law Society of Saskatchewan to address issues relating to equity and  diversity in the profession, to identify any arbitrary barriers to entry and advancement and to promote equity and diversity in the profession  generally.  We would appreciate your participation to help us carry out this important work.

[1] Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Data;   Statistics Canada, 2011 Census Data; Statistics Canada, 2016 Census Data

[2] CBA Legal Futures Initiative, “Contributing Perspective: Demographic Trends” at p. 13

[3] CBA Legal Futures Initiative, “Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada,” at pg. 26

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

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