March 30, 2021
"My Experience" Project Submissions Shared
During the Fall of 2020, the Law Society’s “My Experience” Project invited lawyers and students to share their stories where racial discrimination or stereotyping impacted their legal career. 

The experiences shared by participants are concerning and paint a disappointing picture of how discrimination and harassment continue to impact Alberta lawyers and students. We are appreciative of the time and effort that participants took in providing their submissions, as this provides us with real-life examples of discrimination and harassment that has, and is taking place, in Alberta.

Participants have consented to let us share their experiences and we will be gradually releasing the experiences through weekly eBulletins. All the experiences are also posted to the Law Society Listens website. 

We want each experience to be shared in the way the participants intended and we want to keep the conversation going. The Privacy Officer at the Law Society redacted the experiences for privacy considerations of the participants and the possible identification of third parties. The redactions do not alter the experiences and were approved by the participants prior to posting. 

A qualitative analysis of the experiences shared was conducted by an independent researcher. This analysis suggests that discriminatory culture, biased employment practices, and poor representation and distribution of Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples and People of Colour (BIPOC) create a vicious circle in the legal profession. The summary of themes is available for your reference here.  

What can you do? 

These are the stories of real people in Alberta’s legal community. We encourage you to read and reflect on the experiences shared by the participants. We are sharing these experiences so we can all listen and learn together, raise awareness and understand how we can collectively do better. 

So far, the “My Experience” Project has relied on the participants bravely and generously sharing their experiences of discrimination or harassment in the legal profession. We want to make a shift and share the responsibility amongst the legal profession, the Law Society and others in the legal community to address these experiences and the issues they have brought to light. We are including self-reflection questions on Law Society Listens for you to contemplate on your own, or you can submit your answers anonymously to the Law Society to further inform our future equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work. 

When reading the experiences you may experience different emotions or reactions. We encourage you to use the self-reflection questions to better understand your own feelings and instances where you have faced, witnessed or even contributed to similar experiences. We know that reviewing these stories can be uncomfortable or stressful; if you need to talk to someone or need support, we encourage you to reach out to the Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society (Assist).  

If you have a similar experience to share, we are also re-opening the “My Experience” Project for further submissions. We hope the experiences already shared will empower others to come forward and allow us to continue learning. 

What happens next? 

The experiences shared make it clear that we do not all experience day-to-day life as a student-at-law or Alberta lawyer in the same way. While lawyers are advocates for fairness, this is not a constant value experienced by BIPOC lawyers and students in their interactions within the legal community. The experiences and themes identified through this project will inform the Law Society’s strategic EDI work through the allocation of resources, policies, programming, and other areas within our regulatory jurisdiction. 

Our mandate to serve the public interest is challenged if the profession does not reflect the population it serves, or if BIPOC lawyers and students face an uneven playing field upon entry to the profession and when providing legal services. In addition to promoting diversity in the profession, there needs to be a concerted focus on anti-racism education. 

It is our intention to work alongside others in the legal community, such as the courts and law schools, to discuss the areas of concern identified within the survey and, where possible, to identify ways we can work together for meaningful change. 

Safe Reporting Process

We also encourage safe reporting of complaints related to racism, discrimination and harassment in the legal profession. If you, as a lawyer, student or staff member, believe that another lawyer or articling student may have crossed a boundary related to discrimination or harassment, we urge you to contact the Equity Ombudsperson as an initial step. More information on our safe reporting process is available on our website
"My Experience" Project: Weekly Submissions
Each week, we will feature experiences in our eBulletins collected through the “My Experience” Project. We encourage you to read each experience in its entirety, so it is viewed the way the participant intended. To read more experiences, complete self-reflection questions or submit your own experience, visit the Law Society Listens website.
Experience #8
“I am a Member called to the Alberta Bar in 2010. I am a visible person of colour. I have generally had an excellent experience practicing law in Alberta and as an Articling Student and Law Student. However, I would be lying if I did not acknowledge that I did experience racism in law school and in practice. To focus on two specific incidents, in law school [at an Alberta law school], I attended an evening gathering of classmates for 1st year students. I was busy speaking to a classmate when another white, male, classmate (fellow 1L cohort member) approached me without invitation and told me that I should go upstairs to the other party where black students (unsure what faculty) were holding an event. Not only was this racist but I am not black, and I was absolutely stunned by the comment as was the classmate I was speaking with. I don’t clearly recall what I did in response - I recall feeling extremely embarrassed and surprised but also anger and rage. I come from a low-income family, and as a refugee immigrant to Canada. I went to school in [Alberta] (from Gr. 1 through Law School) but this was the most shocking experience of direct racism in my life. I recall myself not wanting to ruin my law school career by acting out physically - I recall walking away feeling strange and like the evening was ruined and I did not fit in…”

Experience #18
"...During my career, I have experienced racial discrimination and stereotyping in various forms, all of which have had a lasting impact on me as a lawyer, a Commissioner, and as a human being. 

While serving as counsel who regularly dealt with Indigenous peoples, General Counsel would often derogatorily mimic a “native accent” when matters involving Indigenous peoples arose, and she would make stereotypical and racist assumptions about the motivations and credibility of Indigenous peoples involved in adjudicative processes, which tended to carry through to the advice being given to decision-makers. 

While serving as in-house counsel to oil and gas companies, I frequently and regularly encountered racial discrimination and stereotyping towards Indigenous peoples from my General Counsels as well as Executive Teams. The most common themes included: 

  • Indigenous peoples only want money, are lazy and have no rights or interests worthy of protection or respect;
  • Indigenous people are all drunks (or worse) and can’t be trusted; 
  • Indigenous peoples will accept whatever is thrown their way and should be grateful that anything is even thrown their way; 
  • Indigenous peoples have worldviews and beliefs that are primitive and nonsensical; 
  • Reconciliation is pointless and can never be achieved so no sense bothering to try; and 
  • Indigenous peoples don’t have it that bad so why can’t they make something of themselves.

I truly hope this project will shed some light on the issues facing the Alberta legal community in this area and serve to acknowledge and validate that these things have happened and continue to happen to us…”

Trust Account Fraud Update
In September 2020, the Law Society provided a report to lawyers regarding the prevalence of fraudulent activity reported to the Trust Safety department from January through August 2020.

As we wrap up March which is Fraud Awareness Month, law firms continue to be a target for fraudsters. Although fraud cannot be fully prevented, certain steps can be taken to minimize risk and loss. Lawyers should be aware of common types of fraudulent activity and pay close attention to their bank accounts, records, communication platforms and system security.

The charts below represent a summary of fraudulent activity reported to Trust Safety from Sept. 2020 – March 2021, with a total loss of $90,000.
Cheque fraud remains the most common type, with fraudsters either stealing physical cheques and altering them, or forging signatures that look indistinguishable from those of the lawyers within the firm.

Instances of cybersecurity breaches involve hacking into the firm’s computer systems, taking staff email addresses or using fake email addresses and presenting themselves as potential clients.

In the instance of e-transfer/wire fraud, the fraudsters were able to obtain account information and withdraw funds from the law firm’s accounts.

Theft by staff has also been a rising concern. In this case, new or existing employees of the law firm who have access to internal systems are able to facilitate theft.

Measures to minimize risk 

Frequent monitoring of your trust and general accounts is recommended to ensure no unsolicited transactions have occurred, and if they have, they are caught and remedied quickly.

Additionally, it is crucial to ensure your computer systems are secure, updated and backed up regularly.

Be wary of emails and phone calls from unknown individuals and entities, and always verify the email address you receive correspondence from.

You may want to delegate certain responsibilities to internal staff members. However, it is crucial to have continuous supervision over employees and ensure that you are monitoring your systems and records.

Finally, consider obtaining insurance that would indemnify you for a fraud loss. Lawyers and firms are encouraged to research and consider purchasing employee theft insurance.

If you have any questions regarding trust account fraud, contact the Law Society’s Trust Safety department via email or at 403.228.5632.
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