As a soon-to-be lawyer, I noticed my profession likes to talk about two things: 1) law jokes, such as this Simpsons’ clip of Lionel Hutz and Bart Simpson discussing a world without lawyers, and 2) diversity in law.
The Law Society of Ontario, which serves as the professional regulator for lawyers and paralegals, has been active in promoting equality and representation within a historically male, Christain and white profession. Private practice has also taken a lead. Many firms are now dedicating resources and hiring consultants to improve diversity in the legal profession.
Efforts to increase representation is a good thing for the obvious reason that we need lawyers to adequately represent the various ethnic, racial, spiritual, and gender communities within the Canadian public. We have seen improvements among female lawyers. For example, more women are being admitted to law school than ever before, and more women are taking up roles of managerial positions. Although our work is not done — women still face unequal pay and an imbalance between conventional motherhood and lawyering. Many female-focused organizations have done a good job highlighting the problems faced by women inside and outside the legal profession
I’m pleased, but I’m lately frustrated because even though we have advanced in the area of female parity, racial diversity is lacking in most levels of law.
I’m frustrated because I have realized that discussions on diversity are meaningless if we lack an unapologetic, racialized voice in the Ontario legal bar. As a Latinx law student, I’ve been asked to speak about my experiences with mental health at conferences or through print interviews. While I have no doubt these lawyers have good intentions, I argue it is time for us to create a collective of racialized lawyers and law students, in a similar matter that female-focused organizations have mobilized their base.
I recognize there is a lot of intersectionality regarding diversity. However, I argue there are some issues that we, as racialized lawyers and students, need to address first among our community in order to take it mainstream with the Law Society of Ontario and the legal profession. An example to illustrate my point of racialized dialogue is the issue of intergenerational trauma. My family survived the brutal Salvadoran Civil War in the 80s, yet the anxiety and PTSD that my family went through still resonates today. As a (soon-to-be) lawyer, in order to understand my mental health journey in law, one needs to understand the nature of civil wars and political exodus to get a greater context. The moment I started law school, I felt alone with the issue of intergenerational trauma. However, I have learned through my Somali friends that some members of their community experience these similar effects of anxiety and PTSD due to the Somali Civil War.
Another problem in law is appearance, such as following Western norms. After talking with my Black and Afro-Latinx brothers and sisters, I have learned hair is political. For years, to be deemed “professional” in law, many Black and Afro-Latinx lawyers felt the pressure to relax their hair in order to reflect European norms of beauty.
The same way other grassroots collectives have reclaimed their narrative in law, it’s time for us — racialized lawyers of Ontario and Canada — to be unapologetic on issues that have affected our members.
If the legal profession is going to talk about diversity, it needs to be run and organized by racialized lawyers who have lived these issues. Discussions of diversity are meaningless if the same institutions, that have historically excluded us, decide to take the lead.
If diversity is supposed to benefit us and our racialized communities, let us take charge and let us be unapologetic with our culture.
Originally published via Medium https://medium.com/@elsaascencio/the-meaningless-discussions-of-diversity-in-law-f33744467023