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Diversity in the profession ‘can create better laws’ and ‘better lawyers’

While diversity and inclusion have become headline issues within the legal profession, they should remain to be seen as “affecting, marginalising, disadvantaging and oppressing” people as opposed to trends, this lawyer said.

user iconLauren Croft 13 April 2023 Big Law
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Sheetal Deo is a Queensland Law Society councillor, works with the College of Law as an adjunct lecturer, runs a diversity and inclusion consultancy (The Diversity Collective) and is the founder of Shakti Legal Solutions, a low-bono law firm designed specifically to improve access to legal assistance through a unique, “pay what you can” model for eligible clients.

She was also recently named the 2023 Smokeball Community Hero after speaking at the Smokeball Spark conference earlier this year. Following this, Ms Deo spoke to Lawyers Weekly about diversity and inclusion within the legal profession — and how different platforms can and should be leveraged in order to drive those initiatives.

Reflecting on how far the legal profession has come, Ms Deo acknowledged that “a lot has changed”.


“The profession looks and operates very differently than it did 10 years ago, even 10 weeks (with the introduction of Chat GPT). What this shows us is that the profession and the practice are ever-evolving,” she said.

“What needs to change (and evolve with it) are the practitioners’ mindsets to these changes. An attitude of collaboration (over competition) will benefit the profession and the communities we serve as a whole.”

To do this, different platforms need to be leveraged by the profession in order for diversity and inclusion to remain a priority.

“Every platform provides its own set of privileges and power. For example, law societies are often sought for their submissions and feedback on policies. Depending on the area of practice, the society may have working groups or substantive law committee who will then be tasked with providing their thoughts/submissions,” Ms Deo added.

“This means that, where a wider consultation from the membership is not sought, a group of 15-20 committee members (who have expressed an interest to contribute to policy), will be charged with the responsibility of providing a submission on behalf of the society. This provides an incredible opportunity to provide feedback and effect policy changes.”

Ms Deo also referenced the working group established by the Queensland Law Society last year.

“[The working group examined] the various impacts of the criminal justice system on our LGBTIQA+ community. Among other things, we were consulted by the courts about how to best develop respect-based protocols for pronouncing names and preferred forms of address. On 4 April 2023, the [Honourable] Chief Justice Helen Bowskill released Practice Direction No. 10 of 2023 of the Supreme Court, which sets out those protocols and preferred forms of address,” she added.

“This would not have been possible if not for the power, platform and privilege of the Queensland Law Society, its consultation with its members and stakeholders and the collaboration and reception of the judiciary.”

This also means that those in the legal profession should be expanding their networks and making them more diverse in order to improve diversity within the profession.

“Diversifying our networks allows us to learn about experiences outside of our own. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, and if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. So, in order for us to evolve with the times, we need to ensure we’re connecting and collaborating with people whose experiences are different from ours. This allows us to create policies that are not limited to our own understanding and experiences,” Ms Deo emphasised.

“On the point of policies or practices, if a policy or practice is being discussed about a particular group of people, make sure that someone who identifies from that group is willingly part of that conversation (and is remunerated for their contribution). An organisation that benefits from an inclusive policy off the unpaid emotional labour of marginalised staff members is not an inclusive or psychologically safe organisation.

“Examples of such policies include flexible working policies, policies around transitioning at work, annual leave or mental health leave policies.”

However, Ms Deo caveated this with the notion that policies geared towards diversity and inclusion have to be more than just trends or “ticks”.

“There’s always more that can be done, but I do think the diversity and inclusion accreditations and ‘ticks’ can be problematic. This is particularly in circumstances where organisations become so focused on those targets and benchmarks, that while they are creating policies that satisfy those requirements, the culture and practices don’t follow suit. It becomes tokenistic,” she added.

“I also don’t think that the mainstream DEI training offered goes far enough. This is why I started my own consultancy, which is rooted in my formal academic training in cultural, gender and race studies and lived experience as a woman of colour from the LGBTIQA+ community. It’s imperative that education relating to the lived experiences of particular groups of people is lived-experience informed. It sounds obvious, but it’s not as commonplace as one would hope.

“Diversity and inclusion headlines aren’t trends. They are issues that are affecting, marginalising, disadvantaging and oppressing certain people. They’re only becoming ‘headlines’ because they’re now getting access to platforms to be able to share those ‘trends’ as a result of generational change and the shifting attitudes accompanying them. These headlines aren’t trends; they are real issues — some of which are life and death issues — affecting real people.”

And moving forward, Ms Deo said that these issues are inherently important to keep focus on.

“If access to justice is important to the legal profession, then diversity and the inclusion of that diversity in policies, legislation and practice is inherently important. Until and unless we have a profession that is reflective of the community we serve, we will have an access to justice gap,” she added.

“This is because a lot of the issues we see today, in black letter law and the practice of law, [are] due to the lack of lived-experience informed practices, procedures and policies. When we have a profession that reflects the communities we serve (and are meant to serve), we can create better laws, better lawyers, and improve access to justice for people from all walks of life.”