NSBS Council hosted Council in the Community on Nov. 22 at the Halifax North Memorial Library. Aside from giving members of the public insight into the operations of Council, the event, which was in partnership with reachAbility, was designed around promoting inclusion and accommodation within the legal profession.
“There are many barriers to accessing legal support and resources, especially for traditionally marginalized populations,” said Amanda Grinter, the ODE Coordinator for reachAbility. “Embracing inclusion and taking action toward equitable legal services ensures that all our citizens have the opportunity to congruent and just treatment.”
ODE, or, Opening Doors for Everyone represents Nova Scotia’s commitment to become a more inclusive province by 2030. Partnering with reachAbility on the program was one method the province is using to reach that goal.
As part of the Council meeting, Grinter gave an ODE presentation, and set up tables so members of council and the community could dialogue over lunch. This event is perfectly in line with the vision that NSBS Council has laid out for the future.
“The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society’s mandate is to act in the public interest,” explained President Carrie Ricker. “It is the Society’s role, and the strategic directions as established by Council, to ensure a diverse and inclusive membership is available to provide all Nova Scotians with access to competent and ethical legal services.
“In order to understand the challenges to accessing legal services faced by the public we serve, we must engage with our communities,” she continued. “We need to hear from members of the public with a variety of lived experiences. We need to be particularly open to hearing those from communities and groups who face specific challenges in accessing legal services to better understand those challenges and what role the Society can play in addressing those challenges.”
With that in mind, how does one increase inclusion in their practise and their office?
“One way of increasing inclusion is to become more accessible,” explained Grinter. “Firstly, it’s making sure their office/building is physically accessible for those with disabilities or mobility issues, and also ensuring that their space is close to bus routes.
“Another way to be more accessible that is often overlooked is financial accessibility,” she continued. “Perhaps making subsidized considerations for services being accessed by lower-income populations. Or it’s about developing an awareness and understanding of different cultural norms that clients may present in terms of body language, gestures, facial expressions (e.g. eye contact, handshaking, etc.)”
More ways to increase inclusion could be having knowledge about trauma and mental illness, and creating safety for people; or partnering with community agencies that work with clients who often have a need for legal resources (e.g. reachAbility).
Ricker sees Council in the Community meetings as a critically important step for furthering the Society’s mandate of regulating in the public interest
“From this meeting, I took away information about the efforts taking place in Nova Scotia to ensure that our spaces and communities are accessible for all,” she said. “I heard stories from community members about their challenges in accessing legal services. I took away learnings about the importance of language and how the everyday language we often take for granted can exclude those living with disabilities. I also took away the importance of continuing these conversations and turning these learnings into concrete actions in the future.”
Written by Kyle MacKay, NSBS Communications Coordinator