From the Equity Ombudsperson

Show leadership in your firm by making equity a key to productivity

Anne ChopraAnne Bhanu Chopra

If you are a leader in your law firm, it’s your role to establish and review your formal and informal policies to ensure they are free of discrimination and harassment. This is not only your legal obligation, it’s a sound business practice that helps promote productivity of all your lawyers and staff.

Consider these potential problems:

Overt forms of discrimination
  • Is there someone in your firm who makes jokes that are rude and in poor taste, often relating to race or gender? Is there an individual who does not exercise proper judgement and/or discretion who could make the work environment uncomfortable for junior lawyers or staff? Remember, the intent of the person making these comments does not matter if the words or actions amount to discrimination. If you have this problem, recognize it as a form of harassment and eliminate it from your firm so that you can attract the best employees and reduce risk of liability.
  • Is there someone in the firm who has a bad temper and does not know how to give appropriate feedback to lawyers? Does he or she make personal attacks on other lawyers or staff members, rather than provide constructive feedback? Studies indicate that when people are subjected to ongoing attacks, they often spend more time attempting to overcome the incident, instead of focusing on how to do better work. By learning more about the harmful effects of personal harassment, you can find ways to stop it and increase your firm’s productivity.
Covert or systemic discrimination
  • Are there members in your firm who unconsciously adhere to outdated stereotypes? How does their thinking impact the firm’s productivity?

For example, do some members of your firm believe that women are not as committed to the firm as men? Or that women are there to support senior lawyers and, accordingly, are not delegated full responsibility when carrying a file?

These may be unconscious beliefs, without any ill intent, but they result in under-utilization of your lawyers and lower productivity. Learn about the norms and unwritten policies in your firm and confirm that all firm members are exposed to various types of work and are responsible for running a complete file and or case.

  • Are there members of your firm (a selected gender or group) who are excluded from networking opportunities? Networking and client promotion can be publicized and open to all lawyers. However, there are other situations in which senior partners have discretion to invite members of the firm (e.g., golfing, clubs, dinners and social occasions). Take the time to reflect on your firm’s formal and informal practices to ensure that all members of the firm have the same opportunities to network and to develop strong relationships and more business.
The Equity Ombudsperson … here to help

To help stop workplace discrimination and encourage equitable workplace practices, the Law Society offers BC law firms the services of an Equity Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson, Anne Bhanu Chopra, confidentially assists anyone who works in a firm in resolving concerns over possible discrimination, and assists law firms in preventing discrimination and promoting a healthy work environment.

The Equity Ombudsperson is independent of the Law Society and reports only anonymous statistical data to the Society. Law firm staff, law students, articled students, lawyers, human resource administrators and managing partners in law firmsare all welcome to contact the Equity Ombudsperson.

Ms. Chopra can be reached on her confidential, dedicated telephone line at 604 687-2344 or by email to achopra@novuscom.net