Integrating Cultural Competency into Legal Education and Professional Conduct

  • February 20, 2021
  • Oyeyinka Oyelowo, Yinka Law


Globalization has generated the inexorable integration of markets, nation states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before. It is against this backdrop that the legal profession now calls for recognition of the dynamics between both local and foreign business, cultural practices, and professional norms. 

Legal practice has undoubtedly been affected by the social upheaval coalesced by the coronavirus pandemic and the political discussions around institutionalized racism and inequality, causing role morality, public interest, and access to justice to adopt new definitions. Lawyers must now be equipped with the skills necessary to provide competent representation to a diverse Canadian population, which includes people from different cultures, ethnicities and religious backgrounds from within our nation and around the world. Cultural competence calls for a reform of our understanding of professional norms.

Ethical lawyering can evolve and develop in response to a changing social environment propagated by immigration and globalization. Over 20 per cent of Ontario's residents are described as "visible minorities" by Statistics Canada, a number which represents over 2.7 million people. In 2016, about 623,195 Black people were immigrants, which included landed immigrants/permanent residents and Canadian citizens by naturalization. In fact, the Canadian immigrant population has increased considerably over the past 30 years, with Asian foreign-born immigrants exceeding the number of European-born immigrants in 2006.[1] These changes affect the meaning of the term “public interest” and the need for cultural awareness in the lawyer-client relationship. Immigration, along with the increased globalization of our economy, has created a new legal environment signaling a shift in legal role morality where cultural competency has become integral to the professional norms, guiding how lawyers and clients communicate. As our professional responsibilities require providing representation to an increasing number of multicultural clients, it is essential that the skills, attitude and values of cultural competency be integrated into legal education, professional development and the rules of professional conduct. 

Moreover, a client's experience with the Canadian justice system often starts in the lawyer's office, where a lawyer’s cultural competency impacts the client’s perceptions of the fairness or openness of our legal system. Such a perception grows more important as Canada negotiates with countries across the world to establish economic trade deals. The 21st century world of business requires legal professionals to be aware of the world around them, as clients, client activities, jurisdictions and rules that lawyers must maneuver become more diverse in an increasingly globalized setting.[2] The recent negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership between Canada and several other countries elucidates Canada’s expansion of economic integration and free trade agreements. This reinforces the need for Canadian lawyers to become more culturally aware.