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Are the Walwyns Change Leaders or Exceptions in the Legal World?


Frank and Donna Walwyn, brother and sister, move in a world in which few Black Canadians have gained entry. He is a partner in a Bay Street law firm – the only Black equity partner in its 160-year history – and she co-founded an international real estate company after leaving her position as a partner at another Bay Street law firm.

But the exceptions don’t change the world, they’ve come to believe, after reflecting on last year’s protests for racial equality.

“Part of the problem with trying to accept and understand systemic discrimination or anti-Black racism is that people get to hold up exceptionality – ‘But you can succeed, you can do it! Look at Frank Walwyn!’” Ms. Walwyn said in an interview.

“Frank has every single award that you can possibly get, every single recognition. He’s recognized internationally. But ask him how the makeup of his firm has changed since he joined. And whether it’s still the case that you have to be exceptional to succeed.”

In fact, there is just one other Black lawyer, a young associate, plus a Black articling student, among the roughly 110 lawyers at WeirFoulds LLP. On Bay Street in Toronto, that is far from unusual; a survey by The Globe and Mail last summer found the numbers of Black partners and other lawyers at major Bay Street firms to be similarly small, in the few firms willing to share information.

The question now for Bay Street is whether the success of Frank and Donna Walwyn can be replicated – whether there is a Walwyn formula by which talented Black individuals and others from racialized communities can be recognized, supported and developed on Bay Street.

Some of the elements of such a formula may be found in Mr. Walwyn’s own experience at WeirFoulds: Nurtured with mentors and given access to clients, he was placed in an environment conducive to learning from the time he joined as an articling student in 1993.\

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