2010 Precedent Setter Award Winner: Joseph Cheng

Introducing Joseph Cheng, a lawyer who stands out

Joseph Cheng: the game changer
Litigator, Department of Justice Canada,
Public Law
Called to the bar 2002

  • Clerked at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto
  • Solo appearances before the Federal and Ontario courts of appeal
  • Board member, Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers
  • Vice-Chair, Ontario Bar Association’s Constitutional, Civil Liberties and Human Rights Section
  • Past Member, Law Society of Upper Canada’s Equity Advisory Group

Joseph Cheng - 2010 Precedent Setter Award winner / Photo by Margaret MulliganAs he sits in his living room, Joseph Cheng looks every inch the family man. His husband Andrew is playing in the background with their son, a happily gurgling Alexander. But at the moment, Cheng is pondering the unexpected trajectory of his career: “When I started law school, I think I had originally envisioned myself being on the side of the people who take on the government.”

Instead, he’s thriving as a litigator in Toronto with the Public Law Group of the Department of Justice Canada — meaning he works for the government. That career decision, however, allows him to foster positive change from within the system. For the last three years, for instance, he was counsel for the Attorney General on a significant Charter case. “I was dealing with balancing rights in a very challenging context,” he notes, “and that’s exactly why I went into this field.”

As a gay married man and father, currently on a one-year parental leave with his young son, Cheng can appreciate the incredible importance of change and progress in the arena of the law. “We are very privileged to be in the positions that we’re in,” he says. “The things that we do affect the lives of others and shape our society in very profound ways.”

Joseph’s 5 Ways to Grow Your Career

1. Be open to unexpected opportunities. “I throw myself into whatever I choose to do, and invariably, I come out enjoying the experience and learning a lot from it.”

2. Expect to be accepted. “I’ve always gone into situations expecting people to accept me as I am, and I’ve found that that always works better then walking into a room thinking that people are predisposed against me because of my race or sexual orientation.”

3. Go where you can learn. “There were lawyers at Justice who I really admired, and I thought it would be a great place to discover the kind of lawyer I wanted to be.”

4. Follow your passion. “I’ve seen other similarly minded people take a few more years to find their footing in the profession because they didn’t go where they had a strong passion.”

5. Don’t forget the importance of your responsibilities. “As lawyers, we have the ability to affect people’s lives in a very direct and substantial way.”