Law Society lends support to Aboriginal law students and lawyers

A Sul-Sultun (spindle whorl carving by Charles Elliott) and Swaqwa'l (blanket woven by Philomena Pagduan) have adorned the UVic Faculty of Law since 1996 in recognition of the historical relationship of the Coast Salish people with the land on which the law building sits and also as a symbol of hope for healing, harmony and balance between Anglo-Canadian and First Nations legal traditions.

The Law Society will take new steps to help B.C. Aboriginal law students and lawyers overcome barriers in legal education and the practice of law.

The Benchers are committed to encouraging members of the Aboriginal community and other historically disadvantaged groups to enter law school; helping find adequate financial resources to allow Aboriginal students to attend law school preparatory programs; providing a bursary to promote the expansion of Aboriginal material and course components in B.C. law schools; and building Aboriginal legal issues and anti-discrimination components into PLTC.

The Benchers approved these initiatives in February, following a three-stage, five-year study of the Aboriginal Law Graduates Working Group, chaired by UVic Professor Gerry Ferguson and composed of members, Hugh Braker, Q.C., Terrance Brown, Gary Campo, Bonnie Leonard, Linda Locke, Candice Metallic, Linda Thomas and Kory Wilson-Goertzen. The Working Group's full recommendations are set out in Addressing Discriminatory Barriers Facing Aboriginal Law Students and Lawyers, available in the Publications & Forms section of the Law Society website.

Encouraging legal institutions to eliminate discriminatory barriers

A number of the Working Group recommendations are directed at law schools and PLTC. The Benchers resolved that the President write to let the relevant legal institutions know that the Benchers would like to see policies and actions designed to eliminate discriminatory barriers facing Aboriginal law students and lawyers in the legal profession and would encourage those institutions to consider the recommendations in the Working Group Report and take such actions as they consider appropriate.

Working to make financial resources available for pre-law school preparation

The Law Society, as part of its equity mandate, will develop a strategy to ensure that all Aboriginal students accepted into a B.C. law school who want to attend the Saskatchewan pre-law program (or another appropriate preparatory program for law school) have adequate financial means to do so. Such a strategy may include plans for the creation of a Law Society bursary fund, lobbying the federal and provincial government, Law Foundation, law firms and the private sector to create or contribute to similar bursary funds or working with Aboriginal organizations to pursue these objectives.

Increasing the representation of Aboriginals and other disadvantaged groups in law school through coordinated admissions outreach

The Law Society will participate in a joint effort with the CBA (B.C. Branch), the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General (Special Advisor on Equality), UVic and UBC law schools to create and administer a coordinated outreach plan or strategy designed to increase the number of admissions into law school by Aboriginal applicants and applicants from other historically disadvantaged groups.

The admissions outreach strategy is expected to include a range of career development activities throughout the province and plans for the development of bursaries or other forms of financial aid to ensure that those who qualify for admission are not discouraged from attending because of their financial need.

The Benchers will consult with the CBA and the two law schools to see if they are willing and able to work toward the development and implementation of a coordinated admissions outreach strategy.

PLTC curriculum to reflect Aboriginal issues and anti-discrimination

The Director of PLTC will follow up on several report recommendations, including incorporating Aboriginal legal issues into the PLTC curriculum and practice material, building anti-discrimination components into course materials, continuing to update and refresh the training of faculty on anti-racism and cross-cultural awareness, preparing guidelines for volunteer and guest instructors and increasing awareness of the internal PLTC complaints process: see recommendations 13 to 19. The Benchers have also invited the UVic and UBC law deans to report annually to the Law Society on Aboriginal initiatives in the curriculum and the law school environment, and both deans have agreed to do this.

PLTC and law schools to advise students on courses

The Director of PLTC and the Deans of the two B.C. law schools will work together to make more concerted efforts to inform law students on PLTC course content and the courses that PLTC would recommend students consider as part of their LL.B. program.

This initiative is intended to keep Aboriginal and other students better informed on all aspects of pre-call training and what courses might be helpful in preparing for PLTC, without sacrificing the independence of the law schools over their own curricula or dictating course requirements.

Short-term bursary funding to expand Aboriginal curriculum

As a gesture of support, the Law Society will promote the expansion of Aboriginal material and components in law school courses by offering an Aboriginal Curriculum Enhancement bursary of $5,000 annually for up to three years to a student at each B.C. law school to prepare such course components.

Model employment equity policy

The Law Society will review its model policies to ensure there is a comprehensive model employment equity policy for law firms to help prevent discriminatory barriers in the practice of law.

(For current model policies, see page on the Law Society website)

The Benchers did not adopt two other recommendations of the Aboriginal Working Group. One of these was that the Law Society appoint an articling liaison officer to promote fair and adequate access to articling opportunities and to help eliminate discrimination in the articling process. The other was to set up a separate Aboriginal advisory committee to monitor and assist with these various initiatives and promote such initiatives as mentoring and practice opportunities for Aboriginal lawyers.

While the Benchers did not feel a separate advisory committee was needed, it was suggested that various Law Society committees and task forces could consider taking responsibility for suggestions within their respective mandates. As well, the Benchers asked the Equity and Diversity Committee to make an annual report on initiatives respecting Aboriginal lawyers.