The Law Society of B.C. has released a new study about the demographic composition of the legal profession in British Columbia, showing lawyers that self-identify as Indigenous, a visible minority, as part of the LGBT community or as a person with a disability are under-represented in the profession.
Jennifer Chow, a member of the Law Society’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, says it will take time before the legal profession represents B.C.’s diverse population more accurately.
Chow pointed out that it takes around seven years to become a full fledged lawyer, but also acknowledged there are structural and cultural barriers that can stop certain minorities from becoming a lawyer in the first place.
“The purpose of gaining all this data is to see what we can do next,” she said over the phone.
In 2013, the Annual Practice Declaration was amended to enable the Law Society to learn more about the demographic composition of the legal profession in the province.
The data set, which was collected over a six year period, is made up of anonymous survey results that B.C. lawyers voluntarily provided.
In 2019, the Law Society of Ontario approved a motion that requires lawyers and paralegals to acknowledge in their Annual Report Filling, their special responsibility as a licensee to respect the requirements of human rights laws in Ontario and to honour the obligation not to discriminate.
B.C. doesn’t currently have a similar requirement in place, but Chow said it is monitoring what’s been happening with the motion because it’s been controversial among lawyers in that province.
The study said one trend seen over the past six years is the increase in the percentage of lawyers who identify themselves as one of the four diverse groups.
The largest shift can be seen in the percentage of lawyers who identify as a visible minority, person of colour or come from a racialized background, with a jump from 11.41 per cent to 16.5 per cent.
There have also been slight increases in the number of lawyers who identify as Indigenous, LGBT or a person with a disability.
Challenges moving forward
The survey shows the number of lawyers who choose not to participate at all, 22 per cent, has remained relatively unchanged since 2015.
Chow said the society is looking at rewording the questions to be more transparent about what the data is being used for, so members are more comfortable sharing information.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought, well, why should I answer this survey and self identify? Maybe I’ll be negatively labelled,” she said.
Chow said the society is doing its part by encouraging more lawyers from diverse backgrounds to join its board, but also said the the push for more diversity starts before law school.
“It often starts with the universities and high school, getting people interested in becoming a lawyer and not all cultures necessarily see law as the top profession,” she said.
Over 12,500 lawyers in B.C. responded to the survey in 2019. Chow said there are over 14,000 practising lawyers in the province.