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Diversity, inclusion and equity in South Asian legal community | Shreeya Devnani

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 @ 3:38 PM | By Shreeya Devnani


Shreeya Devnani %>
Shreeya Devnani
We all talk about representation and diversity in the legal community. On some days, it might be during a coffee break with a friend and on others, it may be in larger, professional settings. However, how often is it that we really think about the impact South Asian lawyers have had in our community?

For starters, it is evident that Kamala Harris’s candidacy has increased confidence for many South Asian individuals across the world to see themselves in places of leadership. In fact, South Asian representation has been increasing through many events that law schools hold in their South Asian Law Student Association (SALSA) chapters and through the South Asian Bar Association (SABA).

Students and professors are making an authentic commitment to increase diversity and challenge legal norms. Nonetheless, it is essential to talk about how the representation of South Asian lawyers into the legal community has transformed the justice system.

One of the inherent goals of law schools is to teach students how to increase access to justice amongst vulnerable members of society. A lot of lawyers attend law school to learn how to bridge that gap and foster an inclusive community. However, there is a sense of comfort one feels when they enter a clinic and see a lawyer they can relate to and share their experiences with.

Many South Asian lawyers are aiming to increase this familiarity by improving access South Asians have to legal clinics and firms. Many individuals are unaware of their rights and are unsure of how they can exercise them; these clinics guide these newcomers and help them navigate through the legal system. By helping such individuals with the cultural support they need, these lawyers make a direct impact on their communities.

South Asian lawyers have been creating their own space at the table and are encouraging diverse perspectives through awareness, leadership and teamwork. I discuss these a little further below.

Awareness: By utilizing their law degree, these lawyers recognize their privilege and use their power to provide a voice to those within their own community. Because a lot of South Asian lawyers understand the differences that exist within cultures and how to effectively communicate within them, they are qualified to publicly advocate for minority rights.

Leadership: Leadership to these lawyers means to take up space and not be afraid to voice their concerns in a room full of non-South Asian lawyers. It also means introducing new ways of approaching things, thereby including everyone in the conversation and not just those with privilege.

Teamwork: Teamwork entails working together in different South Asian communities to learn and understand the stories of each individual. I can’t speak for the whole South Asian community but I do know that my experiences as a woman born in Delhi differs from someone who may be from another place in India. By working as a team to recognize similarities and differences across communities, many lawyers are providing a more unified outlet for these individuals to share stories about the injustices and barriers they face.

I also find it important to discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on South Asian clinics and lawyers. Many South Asian clinics provide social assistance and guidance to those attempting to work through legal barriers or those hoping to escape unhealthy environments. Whether it may be educating clients on how they can exercise their rights, or taking things to court, South Asian lawyers are a core part of helping clients reach their goal.

However, with COVID-19 occurring, many of the services have slowed down or come to a halt. These firms are unable to take on as many cases as before, therefore the number of cases that would have gone to trial have been significantly reduced. This has had a negative impact on the clients who build the courage to reach out to the lawyers within their community, possibly going against cultural norms, and end up experiencing additional barriers.

Because the ability of courts and firms to provide justice have been restricted, communication and direction for these clients has also suffered. Not only do these lawyers provide a voice for these individuals, but they also come with a level of familiarity that plays an integral role in their ability to be influential lawyers.

As a 1L student, I am still learning what it means to represent diversity. Being a part of Ryerson’s inaugural law class, I can already see their commitment to increasing diversity within their law school and the system. From providing us with amazing resources to always having an open door, they are authentic to their pillars of success. I am excited to continue my journey as a Ryerson student and pave my way into the legal world!

Shreeya Devnani recently graduated from Western University with a degree in criminology and women studies. She is currently a 1L student at the Ryerson faculty of law and is an executive in its SALSA chapter.

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