A newly formed partnership of leading Canadian law firms has committed $1.75 million to U of T’s ground-breaking Black Future Lawyers program. Through their joint pledge, the 14 firms – including some of Canada’s largest – will help fund the initiative for 10 years.
Jutta Brunnée, dean of the Faculty of Law, says the gift will give the program the stability it needs to establish chapters at universities across Canada 1 and invest in the country’s next generation of Black lawyers. “We know that Black students face systemic obstacles that prevent them from accessing professional school education,” says Brunnée. “It’s important that we have a long-term vision that will help build a consistently strong number of Black students enrolling in law.” 2
Black Future Lawyers aims to engage with Black undergraduate students who wish to become lawyers and to help the students see themselves in the profession. The Faculty of Law created the program in 2020 in collaboration with the Black Law Students’ Association, Black alumni and the broader legal community. The initiative enables students to receive mentoring,3 take workshops at U of T Law, and attend an annual conference.
Ikran Jama, a program participant and recent U of T graduate, says she knew from early in her university studies that she wanted to pursue a legal education. She was hesitant to apply to law school, though, until she discovered Black Future Lawyers online.
“It means so much to individuals like me who at one point didn’t think law school was a viable pathway. Black Future Lawyers has been very powerful and inspiring,” she says.4
Jama is attending Oxford University this fall as a Rhodes Scholar, so her law school plans are currently on hold. But she intends to return to Toronto to complete a law degree and pursue a career at the intersection of her passions: law, migration and immigration. “For good reason, many members of the Black community don’t trust the law or legal institutions,” she says. “For this to change, we need more Black people to enter the law profession.”
The firms supporting Black Future Lawyers, in addition to their funding commitment, will deliver educational sessions on business law meant to inform students about the priorities and day-to-day realities of working lawyers. These sessions will cover substantive topics in the law as well as professional advancement, such as how to build networks and improve presentation skills. “These are great avenues for students to learn directly from some of the top law firms in the country,” Brunnée says.
The 14 firms who contributed to the Black Future Lawyers program are: Blakes, BLG, Cassels, Davies, Dentons, Fasken, Goodmans, Gowling WLG, McCarthy Tétrault, McMillan, Norton Rose Fulbright, Osler, Stikeman Elliott and Torys. Scotiabank has contributed $60,000 and the program is also supported by La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso.