Law schools across Canada should do more to increase the number of Black law students in their programs, according to a new report by the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada.
The report suggests introducing separate admissions programs for Black students and creating scholarships and bursaries aimed at the Black community. This comes after it was found that 15 of Canada’s 23 law schools reported a Black student population that was proportionally lower than the city the law school was in.
Reduce structural barriers
The report argues that law schools have a special responsibility to reduce structural barriers for Black students on their way to becoming future lawyers, judges, and general counsels.
The authors of the Black Law Student Census Report highlighted the fact that Black people have historically been overrepresented in the justice system as victims, accused or convicted of crimes. A federal study from 2016 found that Black people were more likely to receive longer sentences and less likely to receive fines or conditional sentences compared to the rest of the population.
Mirabelle Harris-Eze, national president of the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada and one of the report’s authors, said that the schools that admit a percentage of Black law students that exceed the regional average Black population still have much work to do. “They need to make it their mandate to think about how they’ve under-corrected for so long, they’ve essentially had white quotas,” she said.
The report also suggests that law schools should introduce an application process for Black students that looks beyond GPAs and LSAT scores. At the University of Toronto’s law school, the Black Student Application Program was introduced in 2021.
The program enables the admissions team, which includes Black lawyers, faculty, and senior students, to see “the fuller context of their academic and non-academic achievements, perspectives, and lived experiences,” according to Ada Maxwell-Alleyne, the assistant dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Toronto’s law faculty.
The report’s authors also called for more scholarships and bursaries for Black students, citing the racial wealth gap. Statistics Canada figures show that the low-income rate for Black children is 2.5 to 3 times higher than non-Black children. The authors argue that this makes it harder for Black students to afford law school.
Steeves Bujold, president of the Canadian Bar Association, described the problem of underrepresentation as “unacceptable.” He said that measuring the problem is an important first step and expressed support for the authors’ recommendations. “If you want to turn the tide, and you have a community that is less-favoured economically, you need to put in some incentives and programs to alleviate the barriers at entry,” he said.
The report’s findings have prompted a response from some Canadian law schools. The University of Calgary’s law school has introduced a Black Student Application Program similar to the one at the University of Toronto. The program, which was launched in 2021, enables Black students to apply for admission without having to meet traditional academic requirements such as GPAs and LSAT scores. Instead, students are asked to provide information about their backgrounds, their extracurricular activities, and their life experiences. The program is designed to provide law schools with a more holistic view of Black applicants.
Bridging the gap
Other law schools have responded by creating scholarships and bursaries aimed at Black students. The University of Ottawa’s law school has introduced a Black Law Student Scholarship worth $10,000. The scholarship is open to Black students who have been accepted into the faculty’s common law program. Meanwhile, the University of Alberta’s law school has created a new bursary program aimed at Black and Indigenous students. The program will provide up to $10,000 in financial assistance to eligible students.
The report makes clear that there is much work to be done to ensure greater representation of Black law students in Canada. However, the authors also note that progress has been made in recent years, particularly with the implementation of programs aimed at addressing systemic barriers and increasing access for underrepresented groups.
As noted earlier, the University of Toronto has implemented a Black Student Application Program, which takes a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants and considers factors beyond GPA and LSAT scores. The University of Calgary has also implemented a similar program, and the report recommends that other law schools follow suit.
In addition to these programs, the report also recommends that law schools create more scholarships and bursaries specifically for Black students, given the significant wealth gap between Black and non-Black Canadians. By providing financial support to Black students, law schools can help alleviate some of the financial barriers that often prevent underrepresented groups from pursuing legal education.
The report stresses that the responsibility for creating a more diverse and inclusive legal profession lies not just with law schools, but with the legal profession as a whole. This includes law firms, government agencies, and other legal organizations. These organizations must work to create more equitable hiring practices and promote diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.
Moreover, it highlights the importance of having more Black lawyers in the legal profession, given the significant overrepresentation of Black people in the justice system. By having more culturally competent lawyers, the legal system can better serve Black communities and address the systemic issues that contribute to their overrepresentation in the justice system.
By emphasizing the importance of taking action to address the underrepresentation of Black law students in Canada. While progress has been made in recent years, there is still much work to be done to create a legal profession that reflects the diversity of Canadian society.
By implementing the recommendations outlined in the report, law schools and the legal profession as a whole can work to create a more equitable and just legal system for all Canadians.