David Alli: A Beacon for Future Black Legal Professionals

  • February 23, 2023
  • Tamara J. Sylvester (one/they/them)

SOGIC's Black History Month Feature

photo of David Alli situated above the Earth with a glowing sun on its horizon, next to an inspirational quote















We’ve already made history; the Black community’s contribution to Canadian society is undeniable and indelible. The focus is on the future and ensuring that Black futures are bright. David S. Alli,  Ontario’s first Black Queer legal partner, signals a new dawn, a new day, and a new light for Black students and lawyers aspiring to the upper echelons of the legal profession.

In January 2023, one of Ontario’s leading Labour and Employment Law firms, Hicks Morley, announced that five of its senior associates ascended to the enviable rank of partner. Among them is David, who, in less than five years, proved himself to be an indispensable member of the firm’s Litigation, Labour and Human Rights Practice Groups.  

David self identifies as Black and Queer. Most would agree that the evidence is unequivocal: Racialized, Disabled, 2SLGBTQ+ lawyers continue to reckon with systemic inequity within the profession. From access to quality articling placements to corner offices on Bay Street, these equity-seeking groups continue to encounter significant barriers and challenges. As someone who lives and lawyers at the intersection of two marginalised identities, David appreciates that his achievement is no small feat and will serve as a beacon for tomorrow’s Black Queer legal professionals. For this reason, David prides himself as a mentor who “wears his intersectional identities on his sleeves.”

The whole is brighter than the sum of its parts

David was not always “out and proud.” Owning his Queer identity initially presented a seemingly insurmountable challenge: I spent over half of my legal journey, and most of my life neatly crammed into a box denying a large part of who I am. So, the journey began with a lot of denial.”

David started to embrace his Queer identity after speaking with a Black Queer associate at Hicks Morley. The two met at the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) Gala some years ago. According to David, seeing is in fact believing. This colleague helped him to envision himself “in that space, in the skyscraper, in the corner office.” So, when David eventually joined Hicks Morley in 2018,  he was determined to bring his whole self to the workplace which was one of his best decisions yet. According to David, “[when] people are unburdened it results in more energy to accomplish greater things.” Indeed, showing up as his whole self has resulted in a brighter future.

In his current practice, David, who was called to Ontario Bar in 2013, advises employers on a variety of labour and employment law issues, with a focus on human rights, accommodation, and wrongful dismissal defence litigation. Although his passion is oral advocacy, he also regularly works with clients outside of the courtroom to implement policies and strategies to maintain and develop healthy and respectful workplaces. David now considers his Black Queer identity as an invaluable asset. He maintains that his lived experience affords him greater empathy and a unique insightfulness when advising clients: “I’m able to help clients identify blind spots, develop creative solutions – this helps with risk mitigation.”

Becoming Black and Queer on Bay Street

David’s exposure to the legal profession began with characters who played lawyers on popular television shows; namely, Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Maxine Shaw on Living Single. Less obvious is Ariel from Disney's The Little Mermaid, but according to David’s very astute observation: “Ariel does sign a contract, after all!”

“I pretty much always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, mainly because of what I saw on TV… in my family, there were no lawyers, there were no doctors – there were just hard-working people that had a variety of jobs that kept the lights on and put food on the table.” Additionally, the public speaking and advocacy elements, and financial security that came along with being a lawyer appealed to David.  

David earned a scholarship to study at York University where he obtained an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society with distinction. He then went on to attend Osgoode Hall Law School (Osgoode), his first choice! “When I got into Osgoode it gave me the opportunity to mesh the sociological and critical race theories that I learned about in undergrad with a social justice framework provided in law school.”

David had his sights set on the criminal bar and completed the intensive criminal program at Osgoode. From inception, his identity as a Black male influenced his legal interests and contributions to academia.  While at law school he dedicated a lot of his time to researching and writing about the disproportionate representation of Black and Indigenous populations in the Canadian prison system, and other issues that adversely affect the interaction between racialized peoples and the legal system. The criminal bar is also where he saw Black males represented in the legal profession.

While David loved criminal law on paper he did not see himself flourishing in a criminal practice. Still drawn to oral advocacy, he transitioned to civil litigation with a focus on labour and employment law issues. After a four-year stint at Lawrence, Lawrence, Stevenson LLP, he joined Hicks Morley to broaden the scope of his labour and employment law practice. The rest, as they say, is Black Queer History.

A Beacon for tomorrow’s Black lawyers

David’s Black Queer identity inevitably informs his contribution to the profession and beyond. For example, he is an active member of Hicks Morley’s recruitment committee. He believes that his presence and perspective is part of the toolkit to help mitigate the impact of unconscious biases in the recruitment process.

David has also taught future lawyers. He was a member of the teaching team in Osgoode’s Lawyer as Negotiator course for some years. Prior to that, he was an associate professor at South West University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China where he lectured first-year law students in contract and tort law.

However, David believes that his most significant contribution to the legal profession as a Black Queer lawyer has been and will continue to be his mentorship of Black and BIPOC students and lawyers. “One of the main things I try to do is demystify what it means to be a Black lawyer on ‘Bay Street.’ Representation matters – David’s presence alone in that historically white cis-heteronormative space provides a beacon to tomorrow’s Black, BIPOC and Queer lawyers.

As a mentor, David aims to remind young Black lawyers that “Black excellence is a real thing” that must be celebrated: “We don’t have to play small; we can acknowledge and talk about our wins and hype ourselves up.” He also encourages his mentees to remember that  it is okay to be tired, sad, and to have off-days: “It can often be the case that Black and BIPOC students feel like they have to always be ‘on’ and ‘excellent’,” a mentality that is both damaging to one’s well-being and unsustainable.

As a self-declared “certified member of the Bey-hive,” David wants to leave up-and-coming Black and BIPOC lawyers with these words from Beyonce’s “Spirit”: Rise up to the light in the sky. Watch the light lift your heart up. Burn your flame through the night.

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