The People’s Lawyer
- Associate, Swadron Associates
- Called to the bar in 2003
- Fluent in Spanish; spent last year’s vacation on a fact-finding mission in El Salvador investigating a series of murders near proposed gold mines
- Member and past vice-chair of the Mental Health Legal Committee
- Adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School teaching Law and Psychiatry
- Master’s in international relations; took a 13-month leave from work to circumnavigate the globe
Mercedes Perez is not your typical corporate lawyer. But then, she’s never aspired to be one. Leaning over the boardroom table in the offices of social justice specialists Swadron Associates, Perez exudes a friendly calmness. As a leader in the field of mental health law, she fights for the voiceless and disenfranchised.
“As an advocate for clients who can be very vulnerable, I’m entrusted with an enormous amount of responsibility over very personal issues,” says Perez. “I feel an obligation to be as fearless as possible to protect their rights.”
The details of her cases are often heart-wrenching: a family of an inmate who asphyxiated himself while going through methadone withdrawal (he wasn’t provided with his treatment), or psychiatric patients in hospital who are fighting to maintain their rights to make their own treatment decisions.
Perez has always stuck up for the underdog. Instead of summering at a firm in Toronto or articling right out of law school, she did two internships, one in the Dominican Republic with an NGO fighting violence against women and another in Ecuador for an NGO working to protect civil and political rights, including prisoners’ rights.
Now, as one of the province’s leading mental health lawyers, Perez argues cases that raise standards of treatment for the mentally ill. “Practicing law gives you powerful knowledge to sit down with people and help them make small changes in their lives,” says Perez.