On February 27 and 28, 2020, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP’s Toronto office organized the first-ever LGBTQ2S Bay Street Firm Hop. Designed as a two-day networking marathon for first-year law students identifying with the LGBTQ2S community, the Firm Hop invited law students from across Canada to tour nine of the country’s leading law firms on Bay Street, the heart of Toronto’s financial district and Canada’s business and financial capital.
The Firm Hop was spearheaded by BLG associates Lucas Kilravey and Chloe Richardson and started as a dinner discussion about the need for increased representation of the LGBTQ2S community on Bay Street. “We wanted to find a way to address the disconnect between the sincere and substantive diversity and inclusion work being done at BLG and other Bay Street firms and the enduring impression among many LGBTQ2S law students that Bay Street is unwelcoming and that success in this environment means suppressing essential parts of themselves,” said Lucas Kilravey, Chair of BLG’s National LGBTQA+ Affinity Group. Increasing the students’ awareness of and access to the competitive Toronto student recruitment process was also an important motivation for the project. “Given the highly structured nature of Toronto’s legal recruitment process, coupled with the reality of asymmetric access to LGBTQ2S programs in Canadian law schools, we wanted to ensure law students identifying with the LGBTQ2S community have all the tools they need to be successful in the upcoming summer recruitment process,” explained Firm Hop co-organizer Chloe Richardson.
The marginal representation of the LGBTQ2S community within Canada’s legal profession is a concerning issue. While statistics on the number of LGBTQ2S lawyers working on Toronto’s Bay Street are difficult to locate, just 3.7% of all lawyers in Ontario identify as LGBTQ2S, according to a 2017 Annual Report by the Law Society of Ontario. Similar figures are reported in the U.S., where only 2.99% of lawyers in American law firms identify as LGBT, according to a 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms compiled by NALP.
With figures like these in mind, the BLG duo decided to transform their idea from mere table talk into a full-blown tour. Laleh Moshiri, BLG’s National Director of Diversity and Inclusion, was fully on board with the project. “I was delighted to see members of BLG’s LGBTQA+ Affinity Group taking initiative and demonstrating leadership in this area,” said Moshiri. “I was particularly pleased to see that the focus of the initiative was on the students, not on gaining a competitive advantage as a law firm – that is the BLG way.”
With plans well underway, first-year law students from 19 Canadian law schools were invited to Toronto, where nine Bay Street law firms led information and networking sessions over two days. Moving from firm to firm in quick succession, participating students had the opportunity to liaise with lawyers from varying practice areas, and to ask questions about each firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, demographics, and their approach to the student recruitment process.
“It’s the first time many of us have had exposure to the recruitment process,” said one student from McGill University. “This experience has given us a sense of what firm work and culture entails, and has been formative for some of us with different backgrounds, who hadn’t considered pursuing this path before the [Firm] Hop because we thought we might not fit in.”
“[The Firm Hop] made Bay Street less daunting and totally attainable,” said another student from the University of Alberta. “My trip to Toronto was totally worth it.”
Integral to the event’s success was the enthusiasm and support of participating Bay Street firms. “We were thrilled to have had the opportunity to host LGBTQ2S students from across Canada and to help send the message that they can be out and proud and their authentic selves on Bay Street,” said Nikki Gershbain, Chief Inclusion Officer at McCarthy Tétrault LLP. “When I was a queer law student back in the day, it would have meant so much to me to have been included and embraced in this way.”
The event also allowed firms to demonstrate the progress being made toward diversity and inclusion in their respective workplaces, and Canada’s legal industry more generally. “Every day, we strive to create an environment where all our team members can bring their whole selves to work,” reiterated Kim Bonnar, Assistant Director of Professional Resources & Student Programs at Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP. “Having students come and see this in action is the best way to assure them that they can be true to their authentic identities throughout the recruitment process and as they begin their careers. Initiatives such as the LGBTQ2S Firm Hop demonstrate to students meaningful efforts underway in the legal industry to celebrate diversity and encourage inclusivity.”
Bay Street firms also benefited from the event, enjoying an opportunity to make connections with prospective students of diverse backgrounds and interests. “We were eager to participate in this fantastic initiative,” stated Cheryl Biehler, Assistant Director, Student Programs and Continuing Legal Education at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP. “It was a valuable opportunity to meet bright and dynamic law students from across the country, and for firm members to share their experiences and their pride in the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.”
Entertainment was also on the event itinerary. For a night out on the town, participants attended the Wendy Babcock Drag Show, a landmark LGBTQ event hosted annually by Osgoode Hall Law School, one of Canada’s most prestigious law schools.
All in all, the first LGBTQ2S Bay Street Firm Hop was a resounding success and welcomed 31 student-participants to explore the offices of some of Canada’s top law firms. Given the strong interest expressed by both law students and Bay Street firms in the initiative, BLG’s Toronto office plans to make the Firm Hop an annual event, and even anticipates an expansion of the event in the coming years. “We have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback we’ve received from participating firms and students,” stressed Lucas Kilravey. “We plan to expand the event next year to include fifteen law firms in Toronto, and, hopefully, to launch similar initiatives in Montreal and Vancouver.”
That Canada’s leading law firms are championing initiatives like the LGBTQ2S Bay Street Firm Hop is a promising sign of progress towards diversity and inclusion in the Canadian legal profession. The event is in line with other, broader D&I initiatives being implemented in the industry, such as Law Society of Ontario’s Inclusion Index—a published record intended to measure the progress of diversity and inclusion in workplaces with 25 or more legal licensees through scores and rankings based on the presence of equality-related policies and practices, or a lack thereof.
But the work is not finished, and there is still much progress to make. Events like the LGBTQ2S Bay Street Firm are essential to the effort and can be recreated to champion the inclusion of other equity-seeking groups in your community. Take the initiative. As Lucas and Chloe can attest, it can start with a simple conversation over dinner.