This year's Monday keynote speaker was Dr. Arin Reeves, a lawyer with a Ph.D. in sociology who focuses on developing inclusion in organizations. Dr. Reeves spent a considerable amount of time distinguishing diversity from inclusion, as the former simply indicates a quantifiable number of diverse people, whereas inclusiveness speaks more to the type of culture an organization has.
An organization can be incredibly diverse, but not inclusive. Dr. Reeves further defines diversity as more than just gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, disabilities or sexual orientation. Secondary features of diversity span from features like personality types, economic status, geographic origin, educational background, political and philosophical views, and communication styles. All of these need to be included when developing features of inclusiveness.
Inclusiveness is the next frontier of diversity, and requires law firms to value the perspectives and contributions of all people and incorporate those views into all aspects of the firm. Because inclusiveness is an active process, which goes beyond simple recruitment, it is impossible for a law firm to claim to be inclusive while lacking diversity. Several large Canadian firms which I have visited over the years point to their strong and robust diversity policies as a sign of inclusiveness, while concurrently bemoaning their inability to develop diversity within the firm.
Retention of diversity has always been the issue. The focus for Canadian firms is disproportionately placed on recruitment, with little regard for transforming the firm culture to ensure diverse individuals flourish and advance within the firm. There is very little diversity in the senior positions and decision-making roles within a firm, which is largely the effect of these non-inclusive cultures. Paradoxically these law firm cultures are unlikely to transform without diversity in these key positions.
(More after the jump)
The theme of this year’s conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is access to justice. Two timely reports were released during the conference, the CBA Access to Justice Committee’s summary report, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act, and The Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada’s report, Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary.
As expected, Chief Justice McLachlin commented on the need to improve access to justice, and the issue has been one she has been championing for several years. Access to justice might begin with the reforms to the profession and justice system envisioned by these reports and others, but it ends with the self-represented litigant who cannot afford legal services as they are currently provided. A break-out panel at the conference focused specifically on “Dealing with Self-Represented Litigants.”
The Access to Justice Committee report obviously highlights this trend, demonstrating soaring rates of self-representation rates across Canada. Trevor Farrow of Osgoode Hall Law School provided an overview of the literature, demonstrating that the self-rep issue is something that academics are particularly interested in understanding in recent years. Anthony Young provided practice management tips to lawyers dealing with a self-represented litigant on the other side.
One of the other panelists in this session was none other than Justice Rooke, who presided over the now infamous Meads decision. Justice Rooke was dealing with a specific phenomenon within the self-represented litigant community who rely on erroneous information and disruptive tactics within the courts, well beyond the typical vexatious litigant. Justice Rooke expressed in his 736 paragraph treatise the need to rein in these forms of litigants, who he labels as Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument [OPCA] Litigants.
Yet the Meads decision is not without its detractors. Noel Semple questions whether derisive attitudes by the bench towards litigants who are already confused, emotionally distraught, and legally illiterate, is the appropriate response to this phenomenon. Some members of the public have turned the finger around and blame the justice system for failing to meet the needs of society.
Omar Ha-Redeye practices out of Fleet Street Law in Toronto. He is a Professor at Ryerson University and Centennial College. He sits on the board of directors of the OBA and co-chairs its Young Lawyers Division.