Recruiting and Engaging Indigenous Lawyers

In mainstream legal careers

Recruiting and Engaging Indigenous Lawyers

This issue of BarTalk focuses on natural resources and environmental law. It is impossible to discuss these topics in BC without considering their impact on Indigenous peoples. In the foreseeable future, Aboriginal law will play an increasingly substantial role in shaping the milieu of our legal community. Yet our profession sees few Indigenous leaders and legal advocates.

Why? One reason for this is the challenge of recruiting and retaining Indigenous lawyers in mainstream law firm positions. So how can we promote the inclusion of Indigenous and other underrepresented groups?

Many Canadian law schools have special recruitment and admission programs for Indigenous students. For example, the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC sets aside twenty Indigenous seats annually, and is thought to have the largest Indigenous law student body in Canada.

While some employers have established policies guaranteeing positions for Indigenous law graduates, there still appears to be incongruence between the number of Indigenous law graduates and their representation in traditional law jobs. These individuals’ life experiences and ability to connect with particular client groups are tremendously valuable to employers. Therefore, recruitment events held at law schools and in the offices of potential employers should incorporate the consideration of these values.

Ongoing Inclusion
The recruitment of Indigenous individuals is only half the story when it comes to the engagement and retention of these groups in law schools and mainstream law jobs.

In many law schools in New Zealand, a major part of the mandatory first-year law curriculum is dedicated to Indigenous legal issues. Canadian law schools should look to the New Zealand example to engage both Indigenous and general population students in Aboriginal law. Since 2012, Allard Law has incorporated a Section 35 foundational course focused on Aboriginal rights and treaty cases into the first year Constitutional Law curriculum. To expose more future lawyers to Indigenous legal issues, law professors and lecturers in all areas should attempt to include in their coursework the consideration of the impact of their area of law on First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit individuals or groups.

Similarly, law firms that run internal continued legal education series should include modules regarding Aboriginal law and clients, as well as other minority groups whose interests are often debated before our courts. Indigenous legal issues are not limited to constitutional law. Matrimonial property on reserve, First Nations wills and estates, criminal sentencing, aboriginal taxation issues and child protection issues are just a few of the practice areas where lawyers are required to have a broader understanding of Indigenous communities. Resource and energy sectors are already recognizing the importance of Indigenous knowledge and cultural competencies, and making changes accordingly. The legal profession would do well to follow.

Finally, we need to adapt our schema of the Indigenous lawyer. Law schools and employers can do much to involve more Indigenous individuals in management and senior roles in their organizations. Fostering partner-level minority lawyers – Indigenous and otherwise – would enrich firm diversity and culture. In addition, those entities that connect us as a community – such as legal societies, associations and publications – should endeavour to serve as messengers of inclusion, enablers of change, and conduits of opportunity.

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