Precedent Setter Awards 2021: Cindy Kou

Meet the lawyer who’s a champion of inclusion in the legal profession
Portrait of Cindy Kou
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Cindy Kou has based her career on one guiding principle. “If the law is supposed to govern everyone,” says the associate at Gowling WLG, “then everyone needs to thrive in their interactions with the law.” To convert this ideal into reality, she has worked tirelessly to help clients navigate the legal system and fought hard for a more inclusive profession.

Portrait of Cindy Kou

Cindy Kou

Associate, Gowling WLG
Year of Call: 2012 (New York), 2013 (Ontario)
Law School: McGill University

Let’s start with her work on behalf of clients. At 34, Kou represents a broad range of clients, with a focus on the construction and technology sectors. To shepherd that client roster through the legal landscape, she has become an early adopter of what’s known as “legal design.” This approach to legal practice has one overarching goal: to empower clients who might be intimidated by the legal system. “Many clients feel nervous around lawyers and contracts,” says Kou. One way that she makes the law more accessible is to break down the confusing jargon found in most legal agreements.

Her commitment to making law more accessible goes beyond client-facing work. Since 2014, Kou has participated in a number of Gowling’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. In 2019, she started to co-host the firm’s Diversonomics podcast, which examines diversity and inclusion throughout the profession. Over the past year, the show has delved into the society-wide reckoning with systemic racism. “We pivoted to use the podcast in the last season to spotlight systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in Canada,” says Kou, “and the role lawyers play in creating, maintaining and dismantling systemic barriers.” Outside the firm, meanwhile, she’s co-founded a scholarship for Asian women at McGill’s faculty of law.

Kou stresses that there’s an enormous amount left to do on the inclusion front, but she will continue to champion the cause. “She’s become one of the most important voices on these issues at the firm,” says Parna Sabet-Stephenson, a partner at Gowling and Kou’s mentor. “We’ve gone to her for critical input because everyone recognizes her knowledge. And you know, this is work that isn’t billable, that you have to do in addition to everything else. The passion is really remarkable.”

This story is from our Summer 2021 Issue.

Photography by Saty + Pratha; set design by Kristen Lim Tung; hair & makeup by Caroline Levin / P1M.