Lawyers and Students

What should ‘Diversity’ and ‘Inclusion’ look like in your Practice?

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By Barton Soroka, B.A, J.D; Merchant Law Group LLP

My name is Barton Soroka. I am a white, queer, cisgender man who graduated from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in 2017. While attending Law School, I was the LGBTQ Student Community representative on the Dalhousie Student Union, a member of OUTLaw—our LGBTIQQ2SA+ campus group, and served on our Law Student Society Executive as first year exec rep, VP External, and President.

While in school, I was surrounded by incredible people from all sorts of backgrounds. Black and Indigenous People of Colour, non-binary folk, trans people, queer men and women across the spectrum. I could spend every word of this post giving thanks, so I will single out Lee Staps. She was instrumental in radicalizing the way I exist. Thank you.

Today, I am going to invite introspection. Look at your firm, and yourselves, and think about what “diversity and inclusion”—three words plastered on every hiring notice in the country—mean to you.

Jaime Burnet (credited as Mary Burnet) wrote an excellent piece while articling at Pink Larkin in Halifax about “professional presentation” and its specific effects on queer legal professionals.

Jaime’s writing has stuck with me for years. It resonated when I asked a group of lawyers during a “Dress for Success Event” how they adjusted for their bias against individuals not being able to afford outfits that were up to standard, or dressing in a way that didn’t line up with tradition. I will forever appreciate the honesty that I received: “I don’t. I hire people who fit my client’s culture.”

My résumé is full of Queerness. I’ve represented, advocated, and protested for queerness and LGBTQ+ initiatives since I was in high school. And I’m thankful—most firms won’t throw out a résumé because I’m a queer man anymore. I’m not sure if that was true ten years ago. I doubt it was true twenty years ago. But I am concerned, whenever I put myself out there, that people will see “advocate” and“representative” and read “Social Justice Warrior”. That they’ll assume I won’t fit in with their client—or their firm’s—culture.

Lawyers need to eat and advocate, and in about equal measure. Without clients, we wouldn’t be able to do either. In certain markets, we think we know what our clientele will be—and assume the average Reginan is going to balk at the idea of Jon Lawsmith doing their intake with a fresh manicure of brightly painted nails. I’ve never seen the data to back it up, but studies are expensive and risk is… well, risky. When something has worked for a few dozen years (suits, ties, slacks), it seems like an unnecessary gamble. So when the person you’re interviewing clarifies that they use gender-neutral pronouns, or the person you code as a woman corrects you and says “it’s he”, or you see the side of the head shaved with a pattern tattooed under it, you know that they just won’t fit in.

It is not exclusively queer people who are asked to be different in a professional environment from the way they are in their private lives. Nobody wants to see the partner in a bathrobe. But today I’d askyou to look at your firms hiring guidelines. Do they talk about diversity and inclusion? If they do, ask yourself what exactly that means. That you would be happy to hire someone who was LGBTQ+, but only if you could barely tell that they were? Or does that mean that you’ll stand by the new lawyer if the client says they don’t want to work with a “fag”? I won’t tell you the magic checklist to become theperfect workplace—it doesn’t exist. There will always be people saying you haven’t gone far enough. But be honest about how far you’re willing to go. I encourage you to not only accept, but celebrate those who are different.

While I was in law school, I was surrounded by people who not only accepted my Queerness, but celebrated it. At my first year “Pith and Substance”—our annual variety show—I wore makeup, tights, and heels. I was surrounded by peers I had known for a few months, and professors from my classrooms, and members of the administration. After a few shocked looks, the rest of the night was nothing but compliments, photo requests, and some desperately required tips on eyeliner. And then my peers elected me to represent them as their VP External. They selected me to host Pith and Substance the next year. Not once did I have to deal with anything mean-spirited. I credit that to a bit of “crowd control”—people who might have wanted to say something rude, mean, or cruel saw other people staying positive and kept their thoughts to themselves.

I’m not asking for the courts to open themselves up that far. Yet. But I am asking you to think about what you’d do if someone you perceived as a man applied with rainbow painted nails, or someone you thought was a woman in a suit and tie, or someone who (heaven forbid) indicates their preferred pronouns during their interview—especially if they’re “they/them”. What you’d do if your Articling Student suggested that you upend your entire client onboarding process by putting a “pronoun” section on your intake form. Or if Adam came to your office in a skirt and finally told you her name was Eve, and correspondence should reflect that from now on.

Diversity and inclusion are not—in my opinion—accepting people who are different from you when you can’t tell. Don’t get me wrong, I stand in thanks for every man who brought their male partner and woman who brought their female partner to events in the past. Without you paving the way, I wouldn’t be able to suggest what I think the next steps should be. But to me, diversity and inclusion mean work. They mean going above and beyond candidates you would normally hire and accepting someone who might not win on your “softs”—someone who’s qualified, intelligent, and hardworking, but otherwise does not fit in with what you’d traditionally consider to be in your client’s “culture”.

I loathe to make an economic argument—I still think I believe that the “right” thing is the “moral” thing and should supersede the bottom line. But, I do have an economics background. I understand looking at every potential employee as a bundle of billables. Look at your current lineup of talent in the bullpen—what kind of clients your lawyers bring in. Maybe you’ll find that lawyers who look like certain people tend to get those folk as clients. I’d suggest to you that there’s a growing group of sexual/gender diverse folk who are looking for lawyers who respect their identities and support their community. Not to mention all the incredibly clever, talented, and already trained in argument LGBTQIA+ people graduating from law school every year. It’s not just—in my opinion—right to make room for genuine diversity. It’s a competitive advantage.

I’ve spoken a lot from personal experience in this article. If you think there might be something I’m exaggerating, maybe your local LGBTQIA+ colleague could give you their thoughts. I bet they disagree with something I have to say. And if there’s nobody in your office that can offer that perspective, ask yourself why not.

Mental Health and the Law – Let’s Talk About It

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By Jakaeden Frizzell, CPD Program Coordinator

It is no secret that lawyers live stressful lives. Stress is inherent in the job description and it has become part of the landscape. But for a profession built on sharp minds, are lawyers not due for a little TLC? Mental health is a major conversation in the world today because of the importance it holds for a person’s wellbeing. Beyond that, mental health directly affects a lawyer’s practice management and client relations – what great reasons to make it a priority.

I read an opinion article recently that confirmed for me the relevance of this discussion within the practice of law. I am proud to share that the Law Society of Saskatchewan and CBA Saskatchewan have collaborated to offer a skill building seminar for our members titled “Mental Health and the Law: Resilience in a High Paced Profession” on June 4 (Saskatoon) and June 5 (Regina).

Join us for the opportunity to learn from resilience trainers Stan and Nikki Johnson who instruct at the U.S. Army Master Resilience School at Fort Jackson. Attendees will also hear presentations from local practitioners throughout the day. For more information and to register please Click Here.

Bill 163, The Legal Profession Amendment Act, 2018

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On April 2, 2019, Bill 163, The Legal Profession Amendment Act, 2018, passed third reading. The Law Society is excited to move towards a more modern approach to regulation, and Bill 163 helps us do that. The amendments to the Act pursuant to Bill 163 are multifaceted and will positively impact the regulation of the practice of law and delivery of legal services in Saskatchewan.

The amendments enable the Law Society to implement several good governance measures which provide greater flexibility to control our own processes. Flexibility will allow us to respond more effectively and in a more timely fashion in order to ensure that regulation remains relevant to the provision of legal services as it evolves over time. This includes allowing Benchers to establish any committees they consider necessary, and to develop the supporting practices and procedures of those committees. As well, the regulatory processes relating to a member’s professional responsibility have appropriately shifted from the Act into the Rules. The amendments have also granted us the ability to develop Rules relating to our Board composition and our electoral process. Again, this provides the flexibility to ensure that we are effective, efficient and able to consider the adoption of any governance practices that, from time to time, the Benchers may determine will make us more effective, efficient or reflective to ensure the necessary skills or perspectives exist on the Board.

The Benchers will be discussing governance initiatives at our annual retreat in June. Following that, we will be consulting with the membership to receive feedback on ideas generated during that session.

Finally, as we reported in our January 2019 post, Bill 163 , enables the Law Society to implement the recommendations of the Legal Services Task Team. The Task Team released its final report in August, 2018 and included a number of recommendations on how to improve the regulation and provision of legal services in the province. The recommendations include:

  • providing greater clarity to service providers about what legal services are regulated;
  • expanding the list of exceptions to the prohibition against practicing law to recognize existing service providers;
  • providing the Law Society with licensing authority to allow service providers to practice law with a limited license on a case-by-case basis;
  • modernizing the legislation regulating legal services to provide more flexibility for future developments in this area;
  • creating guidelines to help educate the public about legal services; and
  • conducting pilot projects to help develop and test the recommendations.

The Law Society will implement the recommendations on a principled and incremental basis over time, first beginning with consultation and pilot projects to better inform the development of the regulatory framework that will serve the profession and, ultimately, the public interest.

The amended Act will not be proclaimed until we have completed this process and overhauled the Law Society Rules in accordance with the amendments. We expect this to be completed by the end of 2019.

We will update you as matters progress.

New Journal Issues- April 2019

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By Sara Stanley, Library Technician

Canadian Criminal Law Review
Volume 24, Number 1 (March 2019)

Revisiting the Conditional Sentence of Imprisonment After 20 years: Is Community Custody Now an Endangered Species? / Andrew A. Reid and Julian V. Roberts
Fighting the Culture of Complacency: A Comparative Analysis of Pretrial Delay Remedies in Canada and the United States / Myles Anevich
La saisie de données informatiques en droit criminel canadien / Laura Ellyson
Criminal Code Reform: Where Do We Stand? / Steve Coughlan
Breaking Bail / Jillian Williamson

National Insolvency Review
Volume 36, Number 2 (April 2019)

SCC Says Orphan Wells Cannot Be Ignored / Kyle Kashuba, Kevin A. Fougere, and Evan Dockinson
Redwater Redefines When a Regulatory Order is a Provable Claim / Jeremy Opolsky and Jon Silver

Commercial Insolvency Reporter
Volume 31, Number 4 (April 2019)

Receiver Gets Rapped: A Case Comment on Jaycap LTD v Snowdon Block INC, 2019 ABCA 47 / Jessica Cameron, Josef G.A. Krüger, Robyn Gurofsky, and Miles F. Pittman
Canada: Case Law Update: Key Employee Retention Plans in Canadian Restructuring Proceedings / Michael Nowina and Gillian Maharaj
The Bluberi CCAA Proceedings: Litigating Funding in Insolvency / Patrice Benoit and Geneviève Cloutier

Dean’s Forum on Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice

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By Melanie Hodges Neufeld, Director of Legal Resources and Communications 

The seventh meeting of the Dean’s Forum on Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice (the Dean’s Forum) was held on March 13, 2019. The Dean’s Forum is an initiative that engages justice community stakeholders in Saskatchewan, including the Law Society, in a dialogue about access to justice and the future of the justice system.

The associated Dean’s Forum course, unique to the College of Law, offers law students a rare experiential learning opportunity to contribute to justice policy alongside these stakeholders, who are leading members of the legal profession.

Students presented on and forum participants addressed two topics: “Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession” and “Meeting Saskatchewan’s Justice Needs with Technology”.

  1. Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession

Participants were divided into groups to engage in a breakout session focused on diversity and inclusion at private law firms in Saskatchewan The common themes that emerged from discussion included:

  • the role of education for law students and lawyers on themes including bias, leadership, and cultural competence;
  • that diversity and inclusion must be seen as core components of professionalism;
  • that leaders must create an environment in which people are safe and can flourish;
  • the importance of having support groups that are championed by the leadership of the organization;
  • that baseline data is necessary to estimate where the legal profession in Saskatchewan is headed; and
  • that celebrating positive steps taken by organizations and individuals is an important way to build momentum moving forward.

In response to these themes, the students created a syllabus on diversity and inclusion containing modules which could be extracted and incorporated into law courses, as well as educational sessions for lawyers. Here are the reports:

  1. Meeting Saskatchewan’s Justice Needs With Technology

This session was structured so that the Dean’s Forum attendees were part of a hypothetical ‘think tank’, tasked with ideating how to use technology to improve the legal empowerment of the public. The attendees were introduced to the ‘think tank’ by being asked to consider how to strengthen the public’s access to credible and centralized legal information online in a matter that would improve the public’s capacity to exercise their legal rights and responsibilities. The think tank was asked to identify any ‘pain points’ that a user might experience in trying to resolve their legal issue. Following this breakout session, the think tank once again broke out into groups to develop solutions or “ideate” surrounding these pain points. The below follow-up report outlines the important insights drawn from the discussions. The think tank found that it is in the public interest that the legal community embrace technology and in order for the legal community to do this effectively, the community needs to adopt a “start-up” mentality. This involves embracing the client-centred approach to creative problem solving and empathizing with the client. For more information, read these reports:

Congratulations to the Dean’s Forum for being this year’s recipient of the Provost’s Prize for Collaborative Teaching & Learning!

For more information, please visit the Dean’s Forum webpage.