When people are asked to describe justice, commonly the words fairness, equality or impartial are used. When people are asked to describe what a lawyer looks like or what a law student looks like, there is a pause.
Some will describe lawyers’ robes, some will automatically describe fictional lawyers, like Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird), Vinny Gambini (My Cousin Vinny), Harvey Specter (Suits), Will Gardner (The Good Wife), Lionel Hutz (The Simpsons), Chuck Tchobanian (Street Legal), Leon Rabinovitch (Street Legal) Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad & Better Call Saul), Jack McCoy (Law & Order), Alan Shore (Boston Legal) and even Ben Matlock (Matlock). Notice a pattern.
Occasionally, there’s a reference to Elle Woods (Legally Blonde), Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife), Annalise Keating (How to Get Away with Murder), Ally McBeal (Ally McBeal), Ling Woo (Ally McBeal), Olivia Novak (Street Legal), Joanna Chang (Burden of Truth), Jackie Chiles (Seinfeld) or Joe Miller (Philadelphia). But the main references follow a pattern.
Ever looked at or searched stock photography for images of “lawyers” or “law students”? We have. It also reflects an overwhelmingly exclusive and pre-determined view of what law looks like. It’s not reflective of our society.
What’s Happening When Someone Says “You’re a lawyer? Really?” Or “You’re not really a law student?”
“You’re a lawyer? Really?” Or “You’re not really a law student, right?” What’s communicated in these statements are coded language and a racist, sexist, ableist, heterosexist and classist bias implicit in societal norms and expectations. Often dismissed, but the impact of these utterances persists.
Lawyers who self-identify as a women, BIPOC, non-binary, LGBTQ2S or a persons with disabilities all have stories about how people assumed they weren’t lawyers. Mistaking them for support staff, catering staff or questioning their right to be in the room. Don’t take our word, read Calgary lawyer, Evelyn L. Ackah’s article in the Calgary Herald, Hadiya Roderique’s essay in the Globe and Mail or the articles from the Globe & Mail's Power Gap series that focus on the gender gap in Canada’s legal profession. Numerous accounts and articles have been published. This is a systemic problem.
Expectations of what a lawyer or law student looks like shapes the treatment of many self-identifying women, BIPOC, non-binary, LGBTQ2S or a persons with disabilities within the legal profession and society writ large. One 21st century example is Pieters v Peel Law Association, 2010 HRTO 24111 (CanLII).
In 2008, Paul Waldron, a law student working for Mr. Selwyn Pieters, was attending court with Mr. Pieters and Mr. Noble, at the Brampton Courthouse. All three individuals were wearing business suits. The two lawyers weren’t gowned. Law students aren’t gowned until they are Called.
They went into the lounge, operated by the Peel Law Association. Open to all lawyers and law students. While sitting in the lounge, the Librarian/Administrator came in and went directly towards the three men and asked for identification. No one else in the lounge was asked. Incidentally, both Mr. Waldron and Mr. Pieters are Black and had long dreadlocked hair.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found the carding was an act of discrimination. The Librarian/Administrator “…falsely claimed, at the time, that she had singled them out because she knew everyone else in the lounge to be a lawyer” (Peel Law Association v Pieters , 2013 ONCA 396 (CanLII) at para 128).
Did she really know everyone in the lounge was a lawyer. No she did not. Did she believe that a lawyer and law student must look a certain way? Probably. That's what happens when society tells you what a law student or a lawyer looks like. That's what happens when there are not enough images or messages countering a master narrative. Regardless of what the Librarian/Administrator intended; it was an act of discrimination.
The roots of this idea of what a lawyer looks like starts before entering into practice. It starts before and at the law school level.
Law students who self-identify as a woman, BIPOC, non-binary, LGBTQ2S, person with disabilities or mature student are subjected humiliating questioning of their right to be there and face the invisible barrier of not looking a certain way. And it’s not just the general public’s perception but also within the legal profession itself.
One lawyer, who went through Ontario’s Law Practice Program (LPP) pathway to licensing, pointed out on Twitter that LPP candidates might not be as young or good looking like the traditional idea of an articling students. But they are incredibly skilled.
That’s quite the statement. Based not only on their lived experience, but reality faced by many law school students who don’t fit the mould or look the way the law firms expect.
It’s time to exclaim what a lawyer and law student looks like. It’s time to own it. It’s time to challenge and spark conversations about real equity, diversity and inclusion within the law.
Challenging Stereotypes & Sparking Awkward Conversations
That’s why we created our What Law Looks Like Collection. Lady Justice Apparel™ is hoping lawyers and law students will wear this shirt and challenge society’s idea of what a lawyer or a law student looks like.
Declaring to everyone This is what a Lawyer Looks Like or This is What a Law Student Looks Like by physically wearing it and starting the conversation beyond the legal profession.
Educating everyone who sees you wearing our What Law Looks Like Collection shirts and sparking awkward conversations.
Owning it and inspiring people to think beyond the stereotypes of what a lawyer or law student looks like.
About Our What Law Looks Like Collection Designs
There’s a lot of thought, research and discussion that goes into every Lady Justice Apparel™ design. From the collection message, typography, design placement and of course the design.
For our What Law Looks Like Collection, we wanted to keep the focus on the person wearing the shirt. But also reinforce the message by re-interpreting the scales of justice to both underscore and focus the attention back towards the person.
We’re hoping that every law student and every lawyer who wears a shirt from the Lady Justice Apparel™ What Law Looks Like Collection helps everyone see the diversity in law and the need to expand society’s idea of what law looks like.