The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Beverley Spencer


The hidden barriers to success

By Beverley Spencer August 20, 2013 20 August 2013

Major research studies have identified 10 hidden barriers that exist in every legal organization. Kathleen Nalty, president of Kathleen Nalty Consulting LLC in Denver, presented the following list Monday to a session presented by the CBA’s Equality Committee and the Women Lawyers Forum.

As a group, female and diverse lawyers (including lawyers of colour, LGBT, disabled) have more limited access to career-enhancing opportunities that can make all the difference, such as formal and informal networking:

  • The pool of intelligence that flows through an organization’s internal networks that insiders can use to their advantage is less accessible to these groups.

  • The amount, type and profile of work assignments generate lots of billable hours but is not the high-profile work associated with advancement potential

  • They may have mentors, but they do not get sponsored in the same way that people in the majority do:  We tend to invest at that level in people who are like us.

  • They have less access to training and development.

  • They don’t have substantive contact with clients, including pitches and client meetings.

  • They have less access to decision-makers: They don't have a seat at the table let along have a voice.

  • They are likely to be socially isolated in the organization.

  • They receive receive inadequate feedback and soft evaluation.

  • They are disproportionately denied promotions.

The bottom line, Nalty says: hard work and technical skill are not enough; to be fully successful, lawyers must be able to access these opportunities. At the same time, the individual has responsibility for driving his or her own career and must put him or herself in position to gain access.

As for the cause of these hidden biases, it’s not intentional or even conscious: it’s an “affinity bias,” which Nalty describes as the human tendancy to hang out with people who like us and make us feel comfortable.


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CBA dialogue with the Minister of Justice

By Beverley Spencer August 20, 2013 20 August 2013


Justice Minister Peter MacKay may be only four weeks into his new job, but that didn’t stop CBA members from seeking commitments from him on some of the resolutions passed at Council this weekend. 

Not surprisingly, the minister refrained from making promises this early in the game, but his answers give some indication of his general direction on a number of issues. Here are some examples:

Accommodating Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) to improve access to justice:

Council passed a resolution Saturday urging the federal government to amend the Criminal Code and other legislation with respect to the definition of FASD, power to order assessments and FASD as a mitigating factor in sentencing, among other things.

Dan MacRury, a Crown prosecutor from Sydney N.S., asked MacKay whether he would commit to legislative changes “so we can treat people with FASD in a more humane manner in this country.”

The minister replied that the issue is a priority for his department and the federal-provincial territorial working group was bringing forward recommendations in the fall. “I will commit that we will act,” he said.

Harm reduction drug policy

This resolution passed Saturday urges the federal government to use evidence-based medical, social and health practices to address the effects of drug use and adopt legislation and policies that provide opportunities for drug users to access health and social supports rather than subjecting them to criminal sanctions. It also urges permitting the establishment of safe supervised injection sites and treatment programs.

Josh Weinstein, the Winnipeg lawyer who moved the resolution, asked the minister whether the government would adopt evidence-based legislation that takes a harm reduction approach which, he said, saves lives and makes good business sense.

The minister would only say that he could not commit to acting in a certain way; that medical evidence continues to evolve and he is concerned that government “gets it right,” for example by monitoring to ensure that safe injection sites are getting the desired result. “Your comments are duly noted,” he said.

Equality in judicial appointments

This resolution dealt with greater transparency with respect to the number of women and diverse candidates who apply to the Judicial Appointment Committee.

Part of it urges the Minister of Justice to direct the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs to publish annual statistics on the number of women and men and candidates identifying as aboriginal, ethnic, visible minority and other equality seeking groups. The minister was asked whether the federal government would follow the CBA’s lead and ask the CFJA to publish those statistics.

MacKay responded that there is already a lot of statistical data and the more pressing issue is to ensure that “we have fully functioning judicial advisory committees with greater gender balance.” His priorities also include more public education to encourage more women and diverse candidates to apply to expand the pool of applicants.

Denunciation of anti-homosexuality laws and enforcement in Cameroon.

Since 2010, at least 28 natives of Cameroon have been arbitrarily arrested for same-sex conduct; prosecutions resulted in eight convictions. The CBA has joined the international community in urging the Cameroon government to repeal laws prohibiting same-sex conduct and order law enforcement officials to cease arrests and prosecutions under those laws.

The minister was asked whether the federal government would join efforts in Cameroon and whether it would make efforts to secure the safety of athletes and visitors at the Sochi Olympics in Russia.

The minister said the safety of athletes is a public safety issue for the military and it’s on the radar. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has already made several strong statements with respect to Russia and Cameroon and Ottawa will continue to “speak truth to the leadership of those countries that continue to slide backwards.”


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Equality in judicial appointments

By Beverley Spencer August 18, 2013 18 August 2013

A resolution designed to address gender balance and diversity on Canadian courts passed Saturday after a brief tussle over the wisdom of asking the minister of justice, in the words of one Council member to “stick his nose in something that he ought not to be doing.” 

The joint resolution, moved by the Women Lawyers Forum, Equality Committee and CCCA Diversity Committee, urged the Minister of Justice to “encourage” judicial advisory committees to submit qualified candidates that reflect the diverse nature of Canada. But Montreal lawyer Simon Potter objected to the paragraph, arguing that the JAC committees are independent of the minister, therefore the CBA can hardly urge him or her to tell them what to do.

Saskatoon lawyer Michelle Ouellette agreed, saying the motion was stronger without that clause. The resolution was withdrawn and Council went on to pass a new version that encourages the justice minister: 

  • to make appointments to judicial advisory committees that reflect Canada’s diverse population, including gender, aboriginal, ethnic, visible minority and other equality-seeking status; 
  • to direct the Commission for Federal Judicial Affairs to publish annual statistics on the number of women and men as well as the number of candidates identifying with the above groups;
  • to make judicial appointments that reflect the diverse nature of the Canadian population.

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The work-life conundrum

By Beverley Spencer August 18, 2013 18 August 2013

It’s the problem that never goes away in a high-octane, work-till-you-drop profession: the quest for work-life balance. As work pressures accelerate, law firm culture has been slow to change -- with devastating results for many practitioners. CBA members got a reminder Saturday of the importance of making wellness a priority as Council passed a resolution moved by the Legal Profession Assistance Conference and the CCCA Advocacy Committee that encourages the legal profession to adopt a culture that supports a sensible working environment and promotes good mental health.

As former LPAC chair George Hendy pointed out, the recent LPAC IPSOS Reid survey of lawyers on wellness issues revealed that mental health issues are prevalent in the profession. Nunavut lawyer John Maclean added that the average burnout rate for a lawyer in Canada’s North is two years -- and there are no mental health treatment facilities in Nunavut. Meanwhile, the B.C. branch struck a lawyer wellness task force to raise the visibility of lawyers assistance programs and shift the perceptions of wellness in the profession. A report was delivered this spring and its recommendations will be implemented over the next two years, said B.C. branch vice-president, Dean Crawford.

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CBA passes resolution on harm reduction policy

By Beverley Spencer August 17, 2013 17 August 2013

The CBA is urging the federal government to take an evidence-based approach to address the effects of drug use by permitting, among other things, the establishment of safe, supervised injection sites and treatment programs.

Current government policy simply isn’t working, said Winnipeg lawyer Josh Weinstein, who moved the resolution on behalf of the National Criminal Justice Section. The message behind the resolution passed by Council on Saturday: as an organization free from political influence, the CBA can rely on law, science, logic and medical information to inform its position. And the end result is saving money on prisons and court time and ultimately saving lives.

“It speaks to what we are as an organization,” Weinstein told the meeting. “We are the voice of the legal profession; we advocate on behalf of lawyers. But we are also the advocate for those who don’t have a voice,” including the mentally ill, indigenous people and those who struggle with addiction. It’s better, he said, to address problems at the outset and save money and lives.

The resolution is not talking about drug traffickers, added Regina Crown Loreley Berra, who seconded the motion. These are the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addicts who are criminalized for non-violent behavior. Research supports it and the U.S. Attorney-General recently announced plans to move away from mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offences. 


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