Employment equity improving within Nova Scotia’s legal profession

Employment equity is improving overall in the province’s legal profession, according to a new statistical analysis from the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. A much greater diversity of lawyers have entered the profession in the past 25 years, particularly in the public sector, though a number of gaps and disparities are still evident.

In the fall of 2014, the Society commissioned R.A. Malatest & Associates Ltd. to conduct a review of current employment equity within the legal profession, using membership data collected over the past eight years and other information.

“It was time to take a close look at the numbers and trends, given the Society’s commitment to diversity in the profession and the fact that we now have access to multi-year data,” says President Tilly Pillay QC.

“The report’s findings reflect very positively on programs and initiatives pursued by the Society and by legal employers in Nova Scotia to support employment equity over the past 20 years or so. By identifying remaining gaps, this analysis will also be very helpful in planning for future improvements.”

Summary of results

  • Nova Scotia’s legal profession has become increasingly diverse since 1990.
  • Nova Scotia has seen a significant increase in women entering the legal profession.
  • Also notable is the increase in members of some equity-seeking groups entering the legal profession.
  • Most improvement has occurred in the public sector – in particular, the provincial and federal governments and Nova Scotia Legal Aid, which have been proactive in implementing measures and programs to improve the hiring and retention of lawyers from equity-seeking groups.
  • The greatest area of imbalance remains in senior positions at law firms, such as partnership and senior management. Few women and other equity-seeking groups are represented at this level, though many are represented at the associate level.

Data collection and analysis
The Malatest report represents the first in-depth analysis of demographic trends over time for Nova Scotia’s legal profession. Since 2006, the Society has collected self-identifying data on its Annual Lawyers Report, which is completed by all practising lawyers. Used to support equity-related projects and initiatives, this demographic data is reflected in the Society’s annual Statistical Snapshot to provide an annual picture of the legal profession. 

The Malatest review focused on Year of Call, Type of Practice (in 2014) and Membership in a Designated or Equity-seeking Group. The data shows that the majority of lawyers who self identify as members of an equity-seeking group have joined the legal profession since the inception of the Society’s equity work.

While much of the improvement is being seen in government and the public sector, clear indications show that private practice is becoming more accessible to members of designated groups. Those who have been recently called to the Bar are being employed as associates in law firms more often than in the past, so it can be anticipated that the current imbalance at the partner level in law firms may eventually begin to decrease.

“Certainly there is much more work ahead but the numbers demonstrate that efforts to improve employment equity are working, and the legal profession is moving forward in the right direction,” says Ms. Pillay. 

History of NSBS equity initiatives  
In response to concerns raised by the Marshall Inquiry in the late 1980s, the Society initiated numerous efforts to improve employment equity in the province's legal profession. In addition to the introduction of its Equity Office (1997), Gender Equity Committee (1991) and Racial Equity Committee (1989), the Society works with university law programs such as the Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative at the Schulich School of Law, the Government of Nova Scotia and the federal government to develop programs to encourage the members of equity-seeking groups to enter the legal profession. For more detail on these efforts, see the Equity Program section on the Society’s website.

Data notes

  • The report's findings are not representative of all equity-seeking groups in Nova Scotia. Due to complexities in collecting and measuring statistics for racialized groups, the analysis was unable to provide accurate results for racialized lawyers who are not Black/African Nova Scotian. The Society is endeavoring to address this in future data collection.
  • Equity-seeking groups represented in the analysis include women lawyers, African Nova Scotian/Black lawyers, Aboriginal lawyers, French/Acadian lawyers, lawyers with disabilities and lawyers in the LGBT community.
  • The analysis did not address demographic comparisons between the legal profession and the general population in Nova Scotia. This is another area for further study to ensure the profession is representative of the overall population.