On January 15, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law launched its Black Future Lawyers (BFL) program. The main goal of this program is to increase and support Black representation in law schools and the legal profession, and in turn better represent the diversity of the communities in which law is practiced.
This program supports Black undergraduate students who aspire to go to law school and become lawyers through various engagement opportunities. Already, current undergraduate BFL members have had the opportunity to attend a speed mentoring session with Black lawyers working in both public and private practice and attend numerous workshops hosted by U of T Law — including ones with Constitutional Law expert Professor Richard Albert and Crown Counsel Kandia Aird. Other integral activities to the undergraduate BFL program include mentorship opportunities and job shadowing with Black lawyers, judges, and articling students.
Black undergraduates can also look forward to admissions and financial aid information sessions and the second annual Black Future Lawyers Conference to be held on Saturday, February 29.
Black undergraduates wishing to apply to U of T Law should also take note of the law school’s Black Student Application Stream (BSAS) opening in 2021. Inspired by the U of T Faculty of Medicine’s Black Student Application Program (BSAP), this stream will allow Black students to submit a personal essay centred on diversity and have their admission file reviewed by members of the Black legal community in addition to regular admission criteria. This will guarantee that the diverse experiences of Black students will be accurately assessed in their applications.
As a BFL program assistant, I have had the opportunity to be an active participant in the launch of this program. I have helped coordinate events at the law school, developed content for the BFL social media pages, provided piano accompaniment for the BFL Launch Party, and most importantly, I’ve assured myself a position on the BFL working group committee.
The primary concern of the working group committee is to bring the issue of Black underrepresentation in law school to the forefront of legal discourse and U of T Law’s admissions strategy. In attending workshops hosted by U of T Law, last year’s BFL conference, and meetings with the BFL working group committee, it is evident that the law school has a strong desire to rectify the issue of potential discrimination against Black students on law school applications. By ensuring that all applications are assessed in an impartial and unbiased manner, U of T Law believes that the number of Black students entering their law school will increase. As a result, the number of Black lawyers in society will increase as well.
Why does society need more Black lawyers anyway? Well, an increase in Black lawyers would mean better legal representation for Black people in the criminal system. This is important because traditionally and recently, there has been a disproportionate overrepresentation of Black people in the criminal system without adequate legal representation from lawyers who understand their needs and situation. With more Black lawyers in society, it is possible that more Black people would be kept out of the prison system.
In addition, more well-educated Black lawyers will inspire young Black people to believe that they too have the capacity to become successful lawyers. For a marginalized group that has consistently felt the burden of ‘not being enough,’ this will truly uplift Black youths. This is one of the core values of the BFL program. It would also challenge the idea that law schools are reserved for the elite in society, as they have been for some time.
Breaking down racial barriers is necessary to make previously exclusive institutions accessible to talented students from a wide array of backgrounds. Further, an increase in the number of Black people practicing law would mean the chance for them to offer their unique perspectives leading to new innovations in the law.
In addition to U of T Law, other departments at U of T have been increasing awareness around Black underrepresentation in academia and other pressing issues facing the Black community. For example, early on in 2017, the U of T Faculty of Medicine launched its BSAP which increased its number of Black students from one to 14 in its first year. Also, the Toronto Black Policy Conference hosted by the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy’s Urban Policy Lab have both been crucial elements in “fostering conversation about local policy initiatives that affect Toronto’s diverse Black communities.”
Outside of U of T, Black Owned Unity has aimed to support Black businesses and young Black entrepreneurs through their Black Owned Holiday Market in Toronto. The City of Toronto has even come on board to tackle anti-Black racism through the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism. The various initiatives throughout the community to raise awareness of the issues Black people face show that U of T Law is not alone in attempting to create a legal profession that is more inclusive and accessible for tomorrow’s Black lawyers. This program is the start of something new and exciting.
For more information on the BFL program, visit us at bfl.law.utoronto.ca, blackfuturelawyers on Facebook and Instagram, and BlackFutureLawr on Twitter.
Stephane Martin Demers is a third-year Classical Piano student at the Faculty of Music. He was elected onto Governing Council as an undergraduate student representative for the professional faculties for the 2020–2021 academic year. He serves as a Black Future Lawyers program assistant.