Gender and Racial Diversity of Counsel at the Supreme Court of Canada: An Empirical Study

29 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021

Date Written: August 25, 2021

Abstract

A hallmark of professional achievement for Canadian lawyers who choose to practise litigation is to appear as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada. To date, there has been no systematic study of how frequently and from what practice sectors or geographic areas female and racialized counsel appear before the Supreme Court. The purpose of this study is to help fill that void and to provide data tp persons interested in the subject of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

It is observed that while women make up almost one-half of lawyers who practise litigation, they appear as counsel before the Supreme Court only about 25% of the time. The discrepancy between male and female appearance rates is much more pronounced in private practice, especially at Canada's largest law firms, as compared with governmental and other non-private practice settings. There is also evidence suggesting that in both private and non-private practice, there may be a tendency for men to reserve to themselves the most important and highest profile cases.

As for racialized counsel, on the other hand, appearance rates were higher in private practice, especially at Canada's largest firms, as compared with governmental and other non-private practice. Overall, female racialized counsel appeared at higher rates than their racialized male colleagues, except at Canada's largest firms where racialized men had significantly higher participation rates than their female racialized colleagues.

Slowly but surely, however, over the course of the 12-year study period, there was an increase in the appearance rates of both female and racialized counsel. Thus, in the three most recent years (2018-2020) female participation rates rose to 28.3% from 21.5% in the study's first three years (2009-2011), which represents a 31.7% increase. Similarly, appearance rates for racialized counsel increased by 64.6% over the same period, from 5.4% to 8.9%.

Keywords: Gender, Racial, Diversity, Inclusion, Counsel, Advocates, Lawyers, Supreme Court, Canada

Suggested Citation

Peltomaa, Arthur, Gender and Racial Diversity of Counsel at the Supreme Court of Canada: An Empirical Study (August 25, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3930191 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3930191

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