A Call to Action Canada is having a symposium in Toronto on the afternoon of Thursday September 15th, 2011.  Information here.  The program includes the following discussions:

  • Diversity and First Nations:  A discussion of the challenges facing Aboriginal lawyers amid the growing importance and impact of First Nations business and legal issues.
  • Towards Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion: A discussion on hard-wiring sustainable diversity and inclusiveness into an organization’s mission, goals and operational strategies and presentation of the Toolkit developed by the Diversity and Inclusion Office of the Ministry of the Attorney General.

On Friday August 5th, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel at the American Bar Associations Toronto annual meeting, entitled Facilitating Diversity: Similar Countries, Different Experiences – How Historical Context Informs How We Address Diversity Today.  The panel was co sponsored by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Fraser Milner Casgrain, the hosts. It was a real pleasure to meet the other speakers, all with tremendous experience and expertise in the area – and to learn about some really interesting initiatives in terms of how large corporate firm lawyers and in house counsel can advocate for and demand more diversity in their corner of the profession. In particular, I was pleased to meet Joy Casey, a Canadian litigator and in-house counsel for Aurora Holdings.  She is the founder of A Call to Action Canada.

I only recently learned about A Call to Action (I posted something brief in May, click here).  Luckily for me, Joseph West, Associate General Counsel at Wal-Mart presented a concise overview of the (american) genesis of this innovative effort to improve diversity.  Essentially, A Call to Action invites companies to sign on to a set of commitments about improving diversity.  These commitments include the following:

we pledge that we will make decisions regarding which law firms represent our companies based in significant part on the diversity performance of the firms.

Joe West also talked about the positive impact on the bottom line of “improving diversity performance” including making better use of underutilized people at the firm, eliminating the waste of talent, etc.  Joy Casey has made an effort to bring the insights of A Call to Action to Canada, and has signed up  Deloitte and Touche LLP, E.I. DuPont Canada Company, Ernst & Young LLP, GlaxoSmithKline Inc. and Royal Bank of Canada.

The importance of A Call to Action is, as I learned, that it makes diversity matter on the bottom line. For some folks, this is how to get their attention and their energy onto a matter.  So these kinds of efforts could have a very significant impact on changing the practices and attention to diversity at large law firms. The American Call to Action has many signatories – who will be asking questions about “diversity performance” of their Canadian law firms. More information can be found at the website of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity [LCLD] (“Our vision is to significantly advance diversity and inclusion in our profession.”).  Here is pledge,, here is the LCLD’s 2008 White Paper, here are some reports on diversity in the U.S. legal context, and here’s an article about the program.  I think I heard that there are similar programs, but these lack the “teeth” of the Call to Action model, so query how much impact affirming commitments to diversity might mean without these “teeth”.

Present at the panel was Drucilla Ramey, now Dean of Golden Gate University Law School and a long time advocate for law firm diversity, who gently confirmed that I should not expect to ever escape the pull of this issue.  Seriously, at one point I actually thought this might not be something I would spend the rest of my life talking about. I don’t know if Dean Ramey actually rolled her eyes at me, but you know what I mean.  And I have been realising this slowly for a while. So.  New plan:  embrace it.

 

Interested? Find Law Times articles here and here, describing the activities of A Call to Action Canada, and the response of the profession.One of the most interesting things is the reporting that firms have to do for the purposes of benchmarking and measuring their success or failure in terms of diversity.  Maybe I can find more on that to post at a later date.

[In other news, it’s allergy season, I appear to have lost my Blackberry (Thursday night), and I’ve just moved into my newly renovated office, sans asbestos, but with many packed boxes.  The big question: will blogging suffer or thrive under these conditions? The “procrastination-of-other-tasks” aspect of blogging leaves this always unclear.

 

 

Presenters
Kate Broer, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP

Fred W. Alvarez, Chair, ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, and Partner, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (Palo Alto)

Joseph K. West, Associate General Counsel, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Sonia Lawrence, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School York University, and Director, Institute for Feminist Legal Studies

Jenny Rivera, Professor, CUNY School of Law, and Director, CUNY School of Law Center on Latino and Latina Rights and Equality