[UPDATE: Documentary now available online here.]
Lawyers should tune into The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio this weekend to listen to a documentary that Talin Vartanian , a produce of the Sunday Edition, stated will “reveal what happened to one of the greatest legal minds of the country.”
The documentary is called “One Judge Down” and is about former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gerald Le Dain. Justice Le Dain is best known in the public for the 1973 Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, which was far ahead of its time in recommending the decriminalization of marijuana. But, it is what the public doesn’t know about Justice Le Dain's legal career that is far more interesting and unfortunately distressing.
CBC’s synopsis of the documentary:
After serving for 9 years on the Federal Court of Appeal, Le Dain was nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada by Trudeau (Sr.) in 1984, where he served for just four years. Then, at age 63, he decided to resign...abruptly. At least, that's what people thought.
In fact, the Chief Justice at the time, Brian Dickson, demanded Le Dain's resignation.
It happened after Le Dain's wife, Cynthia, asked Dickson for some time off for her husband. He'd been struggling with his caseload, and had fallen into a depression. But instead of granting a leave, Dickson decided that Le Dain's days on the bench were over.
Many of those who knew about it at the time -- judges, lawyers, law professors and family members -- have kept quiet for almost thirty years. And many are highly critical of the way the Chief Justice treated Gerald Le Dain.
In our documentary, those closest to Le Dain are now speaking out on his behalf. They include Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, the last surviving Supreme Court justice from Le Dain's era; Harry Arthurs, former President of York University; Justice Melvyn Green of the Ontario Court of Justice; David Butt, now a top criminal lawyer in Toronto who served as a Supreme Court clerk; McGill law prof Richard Janda, also a court clerk under Le Dain; and Caroline Burgess, one of Gerald Le Dain's daughters.
The producer of this story is Bonnie Brown, who has been an award-winning documentary and news producer for the CBC for about twenty years. She also has a law degree from McGill.
This should make for an interesting listen and will hopefully address an important subject: mental health and wellness in the legal profession. While some strides have been made in recent years, there is still a need to confront the mental health stigma that exists.
"One Judge Down" will be published on CBC’s web site on the evening of January 12th and will air on The Sunday Edition January 14th.
On February 27, 2018 I attended a presentation by Justice Robert Sharpe discussing the life of Chief Justice Brian Dickson (Justice Sharpe, along with Kent Roach wrote a book about Dickson called "Brian Dickson: A Judge's Journey") at a program hosted by the Osgoode Society of Canadian Legal History.
During question period, after a 40 minute talk by Justice Sharpe, a member of the audience asked Justice Sharpe about the documentary "One Judge Down" noting that he thought perhaps the documentary was a bit one-sided and if Justice Sharpe had any comments to make regarding Dickson's actions.
Justice Sharpe stated that he had been contacted by the producer, Bonnie Brown, but that instead of participating in the documentary he referred her to his account of the resignation of Justice Le Dain in his book. He stood by what was in his book. Justice Sharpe was clear that it was just a sad, horrible situation, and that Dickson followed the law and did what he had to do. He explained that after Le Dain was "severely disabled" for three months, Le Dain would have been asked to resign as the Supreme Court just could not function with less than nine judges for a long period of time, according to the law (Justice Sharpe did not refer to which law). Dickson, however, went to the Minister of Justice and asked for an extension for Le Dain for another month. Then when Le Dain still could not sit as a judge, Dickson went back to the Minister of Justice for another extension. It was at this point that Le Dain resign.
Following this explanation, the next question came from Bonnie Brown herself who was in the audience (unbeknownst to I assume everyone, but clearly to Justice Sharpe). Bonnie questioned Justice Sharpe's account saying that his reference to the months and the extension request etc. were not in his book and that she would have liked to have heard about this for the documentary. She also questioned Justice Sharpe's dates and timing as the three months, plus one month, plus one month, did not match with the recollections of the Le Dain family. Justice Sharpe replied that this information was in his book and that not everyone is remembering it the same way and may not be recalling the time correctly.
Question period was then over.
As both of the key players are no longer alive and able to give their versions of the events, perhaps we will never truly know what occurred. All I know is that this story has brought a lot of attention to the struggles of mental illness and how it affects the legal profession. The take away from all of this is that we can all do a little bit better, and if we do not have the tools in place, or are unaware of how to help others with their illness, we can and must educate ourselves.
While it is easy to focus on what is wrong with the legal profession (including gender inequality, lack of diversity and inclusion, etc.) not everything is as bleak as it seems sometimes.
Starting in January 2018 I will be focusing on some of the "good" by profiling amazing women lawyers doing some amazing things in law. Each post in my series "Women Leading in Law" will include an interview with a lawyer, highlighting her practice or legal business, and her tips for women starting out in law.
Stay tuned. . . .
There is no shortage of articles, papers, blog posts, and even hashtags, asking the question “Why are women leaving law?”
We need to stop this.
We need to stop asking why are women leaving. Instead, we need to start asking why is the legal profession forcing women out?
You may see this as a distinction without a difference, but I disagree. Words matter. With the rise of sexual assault reports in the news, some have noted that we should stop talking about women being assaulted or women being harassed as this ignores the perpetrators entirely. We should be talking about men assaulting women or men harassing women. In the same vein, when asking “why are women leaving?”, we are putting the emphasis on the women’s actions, and the question ignores the actions or role that law firms or legal departments play in the gender inequality that plagues our profession.
Also, by saying that women are leaving implies that they have a choice in the matter. On the surface, it may appear that these women are “choosing” to leave. But how much of it is an actual choice and how much of it involves factors completely out of their control?
Women of all ages and stages are being forced out of law. It is not just women of child bearing years trying to “balance it all”. Women are being pushed out in their 40s and 50s too. We are trickling out “by a few percentage points per year of age”. We all know that women are graduating law school at equal or greater numbers than our male counterparts and have been for a number of years. Something is happening once we become lawyers. We get tired. Women get worn down, sick of having to play the game, putting up with the inequality, the discrimination . . . Slowly but surely it just becomes too much.
And sometimes the reason is much more overt. I know several women who have left firms, in-house legal departments, or the law entirely, and their “official” story is that they were making a choice that they felt was right for them or their families. But when I’ve spoken to these women in private, or more likely after a glass of wine or two, the whole truth emerges. They didn’t want to leave, they were told to. Or, they were advised that it was a good idea to explore their “options”. In other words, try and find a new job, you have no future here. There was no formal termination of their employment but the proverbial “writing was on the wall”.
I understand why firms or legal departments take this tactic. Management claims that it is in the best interests of the lawyer to give them the option to leave. They are giving the lawyer a better chance to find a new job, to ‘save face’, and not have to admit they were “let go”. You would have to be extremely naïve to believe that firms do this solely out of concern for the lawyer. How bad would it look if firms and legal departments were actively letting go women lawyers? I’ve had at least half a dozen women tell me this same story. I can only imagine the number out there who remain silent. No one wants that stigma attached to their legal careers.
Whether subtle or overt actions are pushing women out, the numbers are clear: there is still a major issue with the retention and promotion of women in law. By asking why are women leaving, we can dismiss it as a “women’s issue”; one that women must fix. Instead, we should be explicitly acknowledging the role that law firms and legal departments play. Let’s start asking why is the legal profession forcing women out? And when is it going to stop?
A lot has been written about the sexual predator Harvey Weinstein this past week and has prompted much discussion about men sexually harassing and assaulting women. As we all know this behaviour is not limited to the Hollywood elite, but invades the lives of all women.
The Canadian legal landscape is not immune. We have our Weinsteins too. As Professor Amy Salyzyn wrote “women know who the predators are”. We whisper their names among ourselves. We tell stories of “remember that time when . . .” and often try to laugh it off.
Nevertheless, when the #MeToo campaign began on Twitter and Facebook, my first thought was “Well, I’ve been relatively lucky, should I write #MeToo?” But I let my mind process that for a bit. And then I remembered “that incident” and “the other incident” and the “oh my goodness, how could I forget THAT time”. We learn to grin and bear it, try to forget it, and move on. We are taught not to make waves and a career self-preservation mode kicks in: “If I complain will I be punished?" "Will other male lawyers not want to work with me?” “Will I become known as the trouble maker and not make partner?” This is often followed by an immense sense of guilt for not saying anything.
This weekend Leanne Nicolle wrote an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail talking about her 2015 complaint against the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. In 2015 the president of the COC was Marcel Aubut, who is also a lawyer who worked for several years at Heenan Blaikie. As lawyer Bob Tarantino noted on Twitter:
I read about Mr. Aubut in the book Breakdown: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Heenan Blaikie. The author, Norman Bacal, noted that the “road was littered with bodies of those whom Marcel had steamrolled after he decided they stood in the way of his dreams or objectives”. While there is a whole chapter devoted to the powerful Mr. Aubut, the following paragraph by Mr. Bacal (who had been the co-managing partner of Heenan for several years) stands out:
“[Marcel] understood at a cerebral level that a man in his position should not be taking the slightest risk with female support staff or associates, especially since he knew a misconstrued comment or touch could taint a successful career. I could not begin to speculate on how his behaviour may have been perceived by those who worked for him when he was president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. His resignation from that position in 2015 may have been construed by some as a day of reckoning, but for those of us who knew the man well, it was simply a very sad day.”
Mr. Bacal’s response is just as telling as the allegations against Mr. Aubut. The concern here being the affect a complaint could have on Mr. Aubut’s career (not how his behaviour would affect the female support staff or associates) or how his behaviour could be “misconstrued”. I can’t tell you the number of times that sexual harassment I have witnessed has been labelled as “misconstrued”, taking the blame from the harasser and laying it squarely on the harassed: “You’re too sensitive, can’t you take a joke?” or “Oh, he was raised in a different time; it’s just an innocent comment”. Note that over 100 people came forward to share their experiences with Mr. Aubut in the formal review. The findings of the review concluded that a majority of COC staff interviewed reported "experiencing or witnessing harassment (both sexual and personal) during the President's tenure, both inside and outside of the COC's offices". Oh, but I'm sure these actions were just "misconstrued".
Ethics professors Alice Woolley and Adam Dodek have written thoughtful and insightful articles on the issue of sexual harassment in the legal profession and the potential for abuse of articling students. Professor Salyzyn noted that Professor Woolley’s article was “written roughly three years ago and we have not yet, as a profession, full-throatedly taken up Professor Woolley’s call to begin the conversation and progress towards the type of change we need. I’m optimistic that we will eventually reach a tipping point. But, whether we’ll have the moral leadership and courage to reach this point ourselves or, alternatively, have it externally thrust on us, as have other industries, remains to be seen.”
When I’ve talked to people about the systemic discrimination of women in the legal profession I’ve often naively said, “Well, at least we aren’t being slapped on the butt and called ‘toots’ anymore”. . . I don’t think I will be saying that again.
 Bacal, Norman. Breakdown: The Rise and Fall of Heenan Blaikie. Toronto: Barlow Books, 2017. See my feminist review of this book here.
Lawyers Speak Out on Being Agents for Change: Tackling Hate, Racism, Xenophobia from a Practitioner’s Perspective
A few weeks ago I attended a program sponsored by the Ontario Bar Association’s Constitutional, Civil Liberties and Human Rights Law section called “Lawyers as Agents for Change: Tackling Hate, Racism, Xenophobia from a Practitioner’s Perspective”. The program’s goal was to have its expert panel unravel key questions from a lawyer’s perspective on how to fight hate and racism, both when our clients are faced with these issues, and when they invade our daily legal practices.
The panel consisted of Anita Bromberg (the Director of Advocacy and Engagement, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center), Mihad Fahmy (Barrister & Solicitor and Chair, Human Rights Committee, National Council of Canadian Muslims) and Corey Shefman (Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP). The discussion was moderated by lawyer Richa Sandill (MacDonald & Associates). A few discussion points are summarized below:
Rising Tide of Hate or Willful Blindness?
The first question addressed was whether there really was a “rising tide of hate” in Canada or whether racism and hate that has always been here has just bubbled to the surface, and now has a spotlight on it? Ms. Bromberg wanted to be “very clear and careful that we don’t blame others for situations we have here in Canada,” alluding to the Trump administration and other racially motivated hate crimes in the United States. For example she referred to an anti-Semitic sign that was painted on an overpass on Highway 400: “That’s not Trump egging this person on. Our first step is to take responsibility that Canada has its hate.” Ms. Bromberg also admitted though that there has been a measurable rise in hate activity, but took the position that someone has pulled back the curtain and emboldened those that have always been here. “Our job as lawyers is to get at the underlying cause,” said Ms. Bromberg.
Corey Shefman agreed that racism has always been here in Canada and we cannot blame the events from south of the border: “Some things have never been hidden; it depends on who you are.” Mr. Shefman gave the example of whenever any article involving Indigenous persons is posted on a major Canadian media website the comment section is always shut off due to the toxic nature of the comments.
Ms. Fahmy observed that her own experiences have been different than her children’s. Growing up, Muslims in Canada were in such small numbers that others were simply curious about them. Now, “Muslims don’t feel safe”, she said. As their numbers grew and they entered institutions, the fear grew. As lawyers it is our job to help in the process to make them feel safe and included and that sometimes “we don’t have the luxury to try to figure out the root causes”.
Legal Remedies for our Clients
Mr. Shefman noted that the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (this section prohibited speech inciting hatred of people based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other protected characteristics) was unfortunate, and the lawyer’s toolbox has shrunk. “We have to become more creative,” he observed. As an example, during an inquest in Winnipeg where the deceased was an Indigenous victim of a police shooting Mr. Shefman argued that the inquest should consider whether systemic racism played a role in his death. A motion was required to have this issue even considered (not to make a finding that systemic racism played a role, but just to have it considered in the first place).
The panelists also note that while the Criminal Code and criminal proceedings represent one legal remedy, the Criminal Code can be a blunt instrument, and you need third party involvement in laying charges. The Criminal Code can be softened with restorative sentences, noted Ms. Bromberg.
The overall consensus from the panel was that as lawyers, acting on behalf of our clients, we need to look outside the box for legal remedies. There is little common law on racism and hate and the available legislation is not as helpful. Ms. Bromberg encouraged us as lawyers to discuss among ourselves what tools we want added to our toolbox. Lawyers are privileged, and as advocates we can ask the Attorney General to stop sitting on hate crimes and put pressure on the Attorney General and the government for change.
Ms. Fahmy advised lawyers to look at “what can we do in our non-legal sphere as human rights advocates”, citing as an example the large number of individuals who turned out to protest an anti-Muslim rally that was planned in London, Ontario. “Sometimes we have to take our lawyer hats off and see what the institutions call for,” said Ms. Fahmy, “Police units need a lot more funding; we can reach out to communities, etc.”
Mr. Shefman agreed that the skills we have as lawyers translate to non-legal advocacy as well. We also need to build coalitions and networks and ask how can our institutions (the OBA, LSUC, CBA) use their powerful voices?
Day-to-Day Agents of Change
Lawyers can also bring about change in our day to day practice and interactions with other lawyers. Ms. Fahmy suggested mentoring racialized lawyers and to not wait for them to bring up these issues: “It is up to us to open the conversation”. She also said that “most often it is subtle and not obvious hate comments. Am I being bullied because the opposing lawyer is a bully? Or is it because I am a new lawyer? Or is it because I am a woman of colour and in a hijab? It’s hard to know. All you can do is do your job and do it well. How do you deal with subtle comments? Do a good job for your client.”
“Sometimes you have to throw tact out the window”, said Ms. Bromberg when dealing with hateful or racist comments in practice.
Mr. Shefman’s advice to a young lawyer wanting to be an agent for change is to “pick an issue”. As lawyers we can over-extend ourselves. Keep your eyes open for opportunities and volunteer. Also, as lawyers we are in a privileged position but “don’t assume that when you walk into an organization that you will be in charge. There is great value to standing at the back of the room and listening.” Lawyers need to spend more time on the street, in the classroom, and in the community.
Overall it was a helpful starting point in discussing how lawyers can become or continue to be agents for change. I believe it is our professional duty to take up these roles and advocate on behalf of those who may not be in such privileged positions. I look forward to future programs from the OBA, CBA, LSUC and other organizations on this topic.
As a civil litigator in Ontario, when I appear before a judge (in most circumstances) I must wear my court attire consisting of black or grey "court striped" pants or skirt, a white wingtip collared shirt, waistcoat, my robe and my tabs (white flappy things that flow from my collar – see picture). If you are interested, there have been several articles written about the history of our stuffy courtroom attire and how to properly wear it, gussy-it-up, and about the makers who make them.
Some litigators loath the robes, wishing to do away with the old-fashioned garb and the blue velvet carrying bags with our initials on them (see photo below); others feel at home in the serious and traditional uniform. What I appreciate the most about my robe is that, as a woman, I feel like it helps level the playing field for me in the courtroom. Women are often judged on how we look and are dressed, and women lawyers in the courtroom are no exception. Judges judge us by appearance whether consciously or unconsciously - they are human. The robes act as a great equalizer. We all look equally ridiculous in them, whether we are hiding breasts or a pot belly underneath. When I am wearing the same Hogwarts outfit as counsel next to me, I know the judge is not judging me on my choice of dress. If I had my way I would bring back the wigs and then I wouldn’t have to worry about my hair either (Up? Down? Bun? Pony tail? Curly? Straight? Pig tails (probably not)).
Unfortunately, we don’t robe before Masters (yes, we have individuals called “Masters” in our court system). When I appear before a Master I waste so much time thinking about my attire: should I stick to a boring black suit? Skirt or pants? Skirt too short? What colour of top? Too bright? Too dowdy? Too low cut? Not serious enough? Too serious? And don't get me started about my shoe choice! And I admit, I tend to be an over-thinker, but if how I dress can potentially affect the outcome for my client, then of course I am going to put thought into it. Men have it so easy: suit, shirt and tie. I totally prefer wearing my robe.
I know change is coming to the legal profession (including potentially renaming the Law Society of Upper Canada) and I welcome change, but I hope some traditions remain, including our wacky courtroom attire.
I bought this book because I thought it would make for a great review for this blog: a book about the demise of a large Canadian law firm, seemingly out of the blue.
I was going to write a typical summary review of the book, but as I started reading I could not ignore the feminist voice inside my head popping up at various times as I made my way through its pages. I was reading the book as “Lawyer Erin”, curious about how a large firm like Heenan Blaikie could collapse almost overnight, but also as “Feminist Erin” fascinated (and sometimes annoyed) with the male author’s, and male protagonists’, perspectives on the inner workings of a law firm and the legal profession in general. So this will be both your regular review of the book, but it will be followed by a few observations that Feminist Erin could not ignore.
This book is more than a recounting of the rise and fall of Heenan Blaikie. It is also the story of Norman Bacal, the author, tax lawyer, and former co-managing partner of Heenan. Mr. Bacal writes of his lessons learned, his regrets, his mistakes and his successes. The book also includes many stories of tax cases, as well as the history of tax planning and film and television financing in Canada. Readers who are interested in tax law and tax issues will take a lot more away from this book than just Mr. Bacal’s explanation of the end of Heenan Blaikie. (Those not so interested in tax law may wish to skim through those sections...)
So, why did Heenan Blaikie fall? There is no short answer. It was not because the firm was not making money, nor was there a large scandal or illegal shenanigans. Mr. Bacal paints a picture of a successful law firm that fell victim to the egos and emotions of the people at its helm. From my reading, it appears to have come down to fear, insecurities, lack of communication, and perhaps a little denial (although each person who reads the book may find a different explanation). Despite all the positive steps the firm was taking other less positive circumstances were chipping away at the firm (no partnership agreement, lack of trust between offices, conflicting personalities). Basically, once the foundations of the firm started to shake, the collapse wasn’t too far away. Eventually, it turned into a bank run. Once a few lawyers started leaving, the remaining lawyers got jittery: “If that lawyer is leaving, should I leave too? Why are they leaving? Is this a sinking ship? Should I look out for my own career?”
Mr. Bacal tells a tale of privileged lawyers and the "golden years" for law firms. He starts with the formation of the firm, and moves to its expansion to Toronto, across Canada, and globally. He chronicles the highs and the lows of managing a firm. The characters, the lawyers, are relatable (and familiar) to most lawyers in Toronto. He made it a human story, not a clinical examination of what went wrong.
Now….Some Feminist Musings: Where are the Women?
I could not help but notice the domination of male lawyers in this book. There are almost no female voices. And I get it, this story starts in 1973, at a time when men pretty much ruled the legal profession (some argue they still do). But Heenan collapsed in 2014. I was expecting some more women to emerge as the story continued, but few did. I can only take away from this that women did not play a large role in Heenan’s management over the years, or the author chose not to focus on their stories. I hope it’s the former and not the latter, but both explanations are disappointing. I am not saying that if women were in charge there would not have been a collapse. What I’m saying is this book is more proof of the lack of female voices in law firm management.
Even the language throughout the book reflects the male domination of the legal profession. A few examples: When Mr. Bacal talked about a turning point in his career, he noted, “I was forced to transform myself from a strong technical lawyer into a tax planner, and that required imagination. In the tax world, this is what separates the planners from the lifetime technicians, the men from the boys.” Also, the foreword states that a lesson to be learned “from Bacal’s book – is that in moments of crisis, firms must be able to rely on vigorous leaders as their last line of defence. In this regard, Heenan Blaikie didn’t have the men it needed.” It’s not hard to write with gender neutral language. Words matter.
The Hero(ine) of the Story
While some may see the hero of the story as Mr. Bacal and his attempts to resuscitate a dying Heenan, I believe the true hero of the story is Sharon Bacal, the author’s wife. Mr. Bacal clearly adores his wife. He leaned on her and looked to her for advice throughout his career. She counseled him on getting his job (“What do you have to lose…Why don’t you call him and ask?”) and how to be a good manager (“People need to see you, need to hear from you personally.”) And when he didn’t take her advice (e.g. "Do not open an office in Paris"), he regretted it.
But Sharon Bacal isn’t just a supportive wife; she is an accomplished woman, a chartered accountant, was a partner at Coopers & Lybrand and now a portrait artist. When the Bacals decided to move to Toronto, Mr. Bacal observed that he was “adding a lot of pressure to [his] wife’s life, leaving her to coordinate the lives of three children, a pregnancy, a job transfer, the sale of our house, the purchase of a new house, and a move – in short, a complete overhaul of [their] lives”. It was this woman who emerged as the true hero of the story.
Who should read this book?
Anyone with an interest in Canadian law, law firms, or law firm management (or even legal gossip) will enjoy this book and many can learn from the lessons told within.
I attend a lot of events for women lawyers hosted by a variety of law associations and organizations. It is important that we network, support, and learn from each other. I’ve noticed an underlying theme at some programs that makes me uncomfortable. There is an oft-repeated assumption that we, as women lawyers (particularly those of us who are mothers), have more obligations at home or outside the office (I will call them “life obligations”) than our male colleagues. I have heard: “Well, this is a woman’s event so I would be remiss to not speak about our extra challenges with home life”; “As women we have so many more responsibilities than our male partners”; or, “Of course we must talk about balancing our home obligations with work as women lawyers”.
So you might be thinking “Why does this bother you, it’s the truth, isn’t it?” Well it does bother me and here’s why:
First, is it true? Yes, I’ve seen the studies that say women are still doing more of the unpaid work in the home than men, even when both partners have full time jobs. I won’t argue with that. But, these studies are not saying that all women do more work at home than men. There are still a good number of women who are part of an equal partnership with respect to child rearing and household chores or who may even do less than their partner or spouse.
More importantly, if this assumption (that women lawyers have more life obligations) is true, should it be? Here’s what bothers me the most: it appears that there is a general acceptance that because we are women we will always have more life obligations than our male counterparts. This makes no sense to me. If we simply accept that these life obligations are, and always will be, a woman’s responsibility, how can we ever expect that to change? How do we ever expect to be truly equal in the legal profession when everyone assumes that we do more at home? There will never be gender equality in the workplace without gender equality at home. There will never be gender equality at home if we keep reinforcing the belief that women have more responsibilities outside the office.
Speaking from personal experience, after the birth of my first child I was more than ready and willing to get back to work after my maternity leave. I remember trying to join a sub-group in my practice area thinking it could help expand potential business development opportunities. However, I was told by a senior partner that perhaps joining this group was not a good idea at that time, after all, I had just had a kid and life was going to be busy enough. Perhaps this was said with the best of intentions, but this partner did not even consider the fact that I had a supportive husband, had hired a superb caregiver, and had dedicated time to focus on my career. All of this did not matter, as they simply assumed that as a mother I now had more life obligations which would detract from my work obligations. I doubt the same assumption was made of my fellow male associate who also just had a child with his wife. By placing this assumption front and center at women’s programs, it gives licence to others to make decisions for us under the guise of lessening the “burden” on women lawyers.
Also, some may feel that there is a shaming factor in place for women lawyers who choose not to take on extra life obligations. It’s almost as if they are not living up to the expectation of what they should be: the struggling woman lawyer trying to do it all.
On the flip side, think about how this false belief affects male lawyers or our male partners and spouses. If the message is that women are responsible for obligations at home or are better at life ‘stuff’, or that men are ill-equipped to manage a household the way a woman can, why would men ever step up and do more? Or for those men who do step up and are just as involved at home as their spouses or partners, it may be incorrectly assumed that they do not need (or want) to be home for dinner or bedtime because they have a spouse who will be.
We are never going to level the playing field for women in law by teaching women how to balance our life obligations with our work obligations. Law firms are going to level the playing field by allowing our male counterparts to take significant paternity or parental leave, supporting them when they take an active role in their home life, and encouraging them to be comfortable with these choices. Women do not have a monopoly on life obligations.
I know some may not agree with me and I would love to hear your opinions. I also know I am writing this through a very specific and privileged lens. However, I just cannot go to another event aimed at keeping women in the legal profession and have it start with this (false) premise. Instead of helping us, I believe it is hurting us even more.
Last month I attended the program “Through the Door and at the Table: Women and Racial Diversity”, part of the Equity Education Series hosted by the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Women’s Law Association of Ontario.
This free public event was advertised as a “panel discussion featuring diverse women in a variety of legal careers, including private practice, government, in-house and the judiciary. The panel discussion will touch on issues of gender, race, diversity and inclusion and speak to the ideas of access and power in the legal profession”. How could you not want to go?
The event was well attended and had several impressive speakers:
Just a few of the interesting insights provided by the panelists are summarized below:
Overall it was an informative evening, followed by a great cocktail hour where you could “network” or “connect” with others. I found the panelists differing views on networking to be interesting. I do believe that “networking” or “connecting” with others is such an important concept for career advancement. As highlighted by the panel, networking is not just about getting new business in the door. It helps you find that new career position (like Marsha), it helps you get elected as Bencher with the LSUC (like Isfahan), it helps you get appointed to the bench (like Justice Bacchus), etc.
If you are interested in learning more about networking and connecting with others in our profession, and how woman may or may not do it differently, please note that the Women Lawyers Forum of the OBA will be hosting an event on December 1st on this very topic. Keep an eye out for an advertisement of the event and more details, which will be announced soon!
Last week I attended the OBA Women Lawyers Forum's latest event in its “Pathways to Power” series, this one was on "General and In-House Counsel". The event was also co-hosted by the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association. This was the fourth in the WLF’s series, the previous ones being Women in Politics; Women on Board; and Women on the Bench.
The speakers were Marlene Costa of the Ontario Securities Commission; Susan Kennedy of Ornge; Linda Lam of Advanced Micro Devices; and Aliya Ramji of Figure 1. The program was entertainingly chaired by Melissa Babel of KPMG Law LLP and Jana Pauk of Dentons.
Some highlights of the questions and answers at the event:
These are just a few of the great insights this panel offered. I won’t give all of their tips and tricks away; you will just have to attend the next session. Pathways to Power: Female Founders will be held in Spring 2017.
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Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of FLEX LEGAL, a network of freelance lawyers.