Law Firms Need to Re-invent Recruitment
and Embrace Diversity
Law societies and law schools do a great job of publishing lofty principles that that make for great reading while glossing over the reality of the situation on the ground. A recent example is the publication of the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) Statement of Principles. To quote:
Statement of Principles - Purpose
3-1. Require every licensee to adopt and to abide by a statement of principles acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public
Promote Diversity and Inclusion
To promote diversity and inclusion I agree to:
- review, understand and abide by any and all of my legal workplace’s policies that encourage diversity and inclusion on Human Rights Code or other grounds;
- encourage a culture of inclusion and diversity at my legal workplace, in order to help attract and retain the best talent and better serve my clients’ needs;
- support strategies in my legal workplace (and beyond it, where appropriate) that prioritize diversity and inclusion on Human Rights Code and other grounds in hiring, promotion and retention decisions;
- cooperate and engage in any efforts of the Law Society, my legal workplace and others to advance equality, diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in the broader community;
- A recognition that the Law Society is committed to Inclusive legal workplaces in Ontario, a reduction of barriers created by racism, unconscious bias and discrimination and better representation of racialized licensees in the legal professions in all legal workplaces and at all levels of seniority;
The Reality of the Lack of Diversity and Systemic Barriers in Law Firm Recruitment
Now, read about the real life law firm recruitment experience of Hadiyah Roderique, a woman of colour, in her recent Globe and Mail op ed article, “I would have to be twice as good to be considered equal” The conventional practice of law and its feeder JD legal education system are rampant with systemic barriers that impede the ability of visible minorities and the sons and daughters of the “precariat ” class, many of both cohorts being in the first generation immigrant category, to access the conventional practice of law; particularly with full service “Bay Street” law firms.
The “Speed Dating” Recruitment Process
The primary feeders for these firms are the Canadian law schools. Ms. Roderique, a former Canadian law school student and one-time lawyer, provides readers with an excellent rendition of the “speed dating” that the law schools orchestrate with law firms. Law schools are assigned a designated day on which recruitment representatives from the major law firms are assembled on location. Law students, attired in appropriate corporate style costuming, frantically “work the room” and desperately try to attract the attention of lawyers accustomed to conventional corporate and white middle/ upper class chatter. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have been brought up in that environment you’re already on first base as a member of the “chattering class” and good to go. If, you’re the daughter of first generation immigrants who are working hard to make ends meet, as was Ms. Roderique, then you have to play catch up. In other words, particularly if you’re a person of colour, you have to work twice as hard just to get noticed. Then once you catch one of the lawyer’s attention demonstrate you can “fit in” by “talking the talk” of middle class chatter; all within a matter of minutes. This is a classic example of a systemic barrier impeding the entry of diversified candidates into mainframe legal work that the law firms have unconsciously erected.
To bluntly paraphrase Ms. Roderique’s rendition of speed dating, she did what had to done to look the part by putting together a costume that would make her look as good as a potential white female professional, including straightening her natural afro curly hair, and memorizing “chattering class” talking points such as the best brands of aged scotch whisky. She made the cut and, ironically, as a young associate was put on the “speed dating’ circuit. Her recounting of how a bunch of lawyers, without any HR management training or supervision, would gather for post “speed date” discussions and render personal opinions on who should be hired reads like a great case study on systemic barriers to employment for a law school human rights course.
The Law School Role in Stifling Diversity
Of course, law firms are not solely to blame. The Federation of Canadian Law Societies (FLSC) criteria for an accredited Canadian law degree are two years of post -secondary education plus three years of legal education . However, Canadian law schools have artfully and artificially ratcheted up entrance requirements to four years of baccalaureate education plus three years of legal education. By adding on two additional years of undergraduate legal education they disingenuously market the Canadian undergraduate law degree as a close cousin to the U.S. JD and de facto graduate degree.
This attempt to give short shrift to the FLSC and mimic the American Bar Association (ABA) law school accreditation mandate creates a significant financial barrier for access to students who aren’t from middle/upper class families. A study done by Ontario law schools found that, with the deregulation of law school tuition, law students from families where parents had university education and middle and upper middle- class incomes were overrepresented in the law student population. In the context of the LSUC template, this translates into a lack of diversity in law school enrolment. In summation, Canadian law schools have erected a systemic barrier that assures law firms that the next generation of lawyers will be “people like us PLU”.
The International Legal Education Recruitment Barrier
During my tenure as a college law professor I encountered an increasing number of minority students, many the first- generation offspring of minority immigrant cohorts. They were outspoken in complaining that the generally acknowledged systemic barriers associated with the Canadian law school admission criterion of a high score on the ABA mandated Law School Admission Test (LSAT) that entailed coaching prep costs along with the length and cost of legal education was stacked against them; in legal parlance, a systemic barrier . I created Canada Law From Abroad (CLFA) as a mission driven organization to provide Canadian students with the option of enrolling in fully accredited UK three-year law degree programs directly out of law school and/or with two years of undergraduate education or in a two year “accelerated” law degree program with a baccalaureate degree. These are in name brand globally ranked law schools with comparable tuition to Canadian law schools. However, the overall cost of legal education is reduced with the abbreviated educational time lines. In addition, the LSAT is not recognized as a valid admissions criterion in the UK. CLFA eliminated two significant systemic barriers to legal education. Moreover, when they attend UK law schools they encounter an enrollment that reflects diversity among the student body and internationalization, contrary to the PLU cohorts that dominate the Canadian law school environment.
But the “fix” is still in. “Speed Dating” recruitment is a closed shop open by invitation only to Canadian law students with scheduling that takes place when abroad law students are abroad. Even internationally trained lawyers who have immigrated to Canada and have had their law degrees accredited by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) can’t get inside these doors as gate crashers.
The UK Demonstrates How to Bring Diversity into
Law Firm Recruitment
In an effort to promote diversity the UK Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has established the Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) that will accredit lawyers on the basis of a uniform skills assessment rather than the singular law school route. It’s “back to the future” where aspiring lawyers with financial limitations can earn while they learn through a combination of innovative “blended learning” SRA approved law courses and on the job practical training through apprenticeships.
Egad! What law firms would ever stoop to recruiting potential lawyers who don’t have baccalaureate degrees and three years of legal education. The ads below illustrate that prestigious London “magic circle firms” and top tier international law firms with offices in Canada are responding to social diversity requirements and actively recruiting aspiring lawyers from non- traditional sources. And, of course, London remains a leading global centre for high end legal services. The SQE in particular demonstrates that law firms are versatile and will develop recruitment programs as directed in conformance with specific rules dictated by their self-regulatory governing bodies.
Entry Requirements: Grades BBB at A Level, 120 UCAS points.
Length of Programme: 5 Years +
Qualification Gained: Professional Qualification
Intermediate Apprenticeship in Legal Administration (x3 London)
Baker & McKenzie LLP (Added yesterday - 3 positions available)
Our apprentice roles provide a fantastic opportunity for school leavers to gain excellent exposure across a number of practice groups.
The LSUC Needs to Go Beyond Talking the Talk of Diversity
It’s Time to “Walk the Walk” on Implementing Diversity in Law Firm Recruitment. Diversity can be brought into the mainstream of law firm recruitment in Ontario and, by implication the rest of the country, by the LSUC moving beyond drafting statements of principles that are token legal platitudes and directing law firms to take concrete steps that will break down the identifiable systemic barriers elucidated by Hadiyah Roderique in her op ed article.
Recommended List of Directives
- Ban speed dating.
- Require law firms to develop recruitment programs with times and time lines that will enable the broadest range of Canadians enrolled in both domestic and international law schools as well as internationally lawyers with NCA accredited law degrees to compete for placements on a level playing field.
- Require law firms to set up professional recruitment programs.
- Require that law firms retain HR specialists with the expertise to develop and manage the recruitment process that incorporates diversity principles.