Lexpert Magazine

November/December 2018

Lexpert magazine features articles and columns on developments in legal practice management, deals and lawsuits of interest in Canada, the law and business issues of interest to legal professionals and businesses that purchase legal services.

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90 LEXPERT MAGAZINE | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 Tanya Walker is a Lexpert 2018 Rising Star. She is the owner and managing partner of Walker Law Professional Corporation, a commercial litigation boutique firm in downtown Toronto. Tanya is a Bencher at the Law Society of Ontario and is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in civil litigation. THE AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS era has been instrumental in the shaping and reconfiguring of commercial discourse in North America. Shortly aer 1965, the year in which public segregation was outlawed, minority business ownership began to increase. How- ever, many minority-owned businesses continued to be overlooked for contract consideration. In an attempt to resolve this inequity, organizations were created in North America to liaise between minority-owned businesses, in- cluding law firms. Although the strategy has met with some success, minority-owned firms still struggle to secure legal contracts. A law firm is considered a "diverse" suppli- er if it is at least 51% owned and operated by women or visible minorities. To receive a cer- tification as a diverse firm, it must meet the individual qualifications set out by the certi- fying organization, which will engage the firm in an in-depth vetting process of interviews, an assessment of the firm's financial status, profes- sional references, and a verification of the firm's diverse ownership. THE BUSINESS CASE FOR RETAINING A DIVERSE FIRM In recent years there has been a push for corporations to retain law firms that are owned by women and/or minorities, notably because businesses with diverse supply chains stand to improve the public's perception of a company's integrity in this way. As well, representa- tion by diverse firms, particularly in small legal matters, may provide a fiscal benefit to these companies, as legal fees from a smaller firm (as diverse firms tend to be) are likely to be lower due to a lower overhead. Expanding the pool of legal service providers to include diverse firms naturally results in more competition amongst suppliers as well as innovation. Our commercial litigation firm, Walker Law, has received three certifications. As the proprietor, I am the first black elected female bencher from Toronto in the history of the Law Society of Ontario. Since receiving these certifications, we have been retained by sever- al large and Fortune 500 companies for rep- resentation in smaller legal matters. Earlier this year, we received an award from WEConnect International in Wash- ington, D.C., as a result of a nomination by one of our Fortune 500 clients. Our clients appreciate that although we are strong advocates for them in court, we promote solutions that minimize risk and cost. Despite this, when participating in interviews to obtain clients we hear many reasons why small, diverse firms are not able to represent corporations. A popular misapprehension is that small firms lack the capacity to complete the required work by large companies; yet our clients can attest to the opposite. We have curtailed any capacity is- sue through strategic partnerships. e most frequent argument we hear is that the corporation is resistant to change. is is understand- able if the company has retained the same law firm on all matters for many years, and (for this reason) some companies are not interested in new law firms submitting applications to represent the company. Others have plainly stated that they understand the lack of diversity is a concern in our profession, but it is of no concern to them. It is doubtful that any law firm wants to be hired solely due to the demographics of the owner. But barriers, such as the absence of an application process to represent the corporation, prevents a law firm from having the opportunity to provide diverse representation. e Law Society of Ontario's recently released diversity and in- clusion initiatives send a message that systemic discrimination in regards to race and sex is a problem in our profession, and we must all work together to curtail it. Ideally certifications will no longer be needed one day, as corporations will provide a transparent process for representation that is open to all. ILLUSTRATION: CLARE MALLISON Walking the talk on diversity Hiring counsel form a certified 'diverse' law firm can pay off from a business standpoint as well > REPRESENTATION BY DIVERSE FIRMS, PARTICULARLY IN SMALL LEGAL MATTERS, MAY PROVIDE A FISCAL BENEFIT TO COMPANIES | COLUMNS | BY TANYA WALKER CHANGE AGENT

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