When I entered law school, each year the most powerful law firm in Montreal would obtain from McGill Law School the names of the ten students with the highest grades in their first year of law school and write to them to offer them summer jobs. I received such a letter when I completed my first year of law school in 1976.
Had I gone to law school a few years earlier, I would not have received that letter, because the firm extending it had made it a practice to exclude Jews from the program.
Luckily for me, a year or two earlier the Dean of McGill Law School had stood up to this powerful firm and told them that they would no longer receive the list if they maintained that practice.
Toronto firms were not much better. In 1981, another Jewish applicant who I know was shuffled out of an abbreviated articling interview by a well-established Toronto firm with the words, “you do know that we do all of the work for the Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, don’t you?”
Of course, the legal profession has changed significantly since those times. Back then, law firms preferred not to be diverse. Nowadays at least they claim to care about diversity.
Today we have many law firms running marketing campaigns intended to show that they actually value diversity. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and accept, without evidence, that most of them believe that diversity is a good thing. However, at the same time, I have to scratch my head when I see firms posting on social media ‘sincere best wishes’ on every conceivable holiday for every imaginable ethnic group. I even find myself having to Google some of the less prominent Jewish holidays for which I have received best wishes from law firms to find out what they are about.
I suppose that it is a good thing that these social media posts have educated me concerning some holidays about which I previously knew nothing. But still, do these social media posts really constitute a commitment to diversity?
Following along with this theme, I recently saw a law firm’s social media post celebrating Black History Month. Now, I think that Black History Month is important and I was happy to see that it is being recognized. But I could not resist checking out the law firm in question to see if they had any Black lawyers. They didn’t.
Whether it be diversity, equity, inclusion, mental health, work/life balance, or other important initiatives, it seems that law firms tend to assign these issues to Marketing. Perhaps they should be directed to Human Resources, Practice Management or Strategic Planning instead.
Other businesses also use Marketing to detour around real change, but shouldn’t the legal profession be better – being sworn to uphold justice and equality and all that?
With input from Maureen T. McKay.