Marie Henein tells young female lawyers to “take your rightful place in the profession”

In a biting and joke-laden speech, the all-star criminal lawyer took aim at sexism in the legal profession
Marie Henein

Young Women in Law Charity Gala

What: The 6th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala
Where: Arcadian Court
When: March 30, 2016

“We in this audience cannot help but be inspired by you,” said fifth-year lawyer Gargi Chopra, as she introduced Marie Henein, perhaps Canada’s most famous lawyer, to deliver the keynote speech at the annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala last week. Chopra, the group’s director of events, praised Henein for “running your own firm, raising two kids with your husband and generously dedicating your time to initiatives like this one.”

This warm preamble foreshadowed the tone of the event. Though Henein’s recent courtroom victory in the sexual-assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi has made her a lightning rod for controversy, the audience was enormously receptive to her remarks — which both encouraged women to be lawyers and skewered the currents of sexism that course through the legal profession.

And to illustrate such points, Henein used plenty of humour.

At the top of her speech, for instance, Henein raised the subject of her recent 50th birthday, and riffed on what society expects of ageing women. “A woman’s worth is yet to be measured by her life achievements or her battle scars,” she began. “We are urged to plump and cover and fill those lest someone accidentally discover that your face and a newborn-baby’s butt do not have the same texture,” she deadpanned to laughter.

Henein went on to lament that so many female lawyers don’t believe in themselves. “Even senior lawyers, women who are breathtakingly accomplished colleagues of mine, often talk about their lack of self confidence,” she bemoaned. Once again, though, she finished her point with a joke. “But I have never met a young male lawyer who lacks enormous self-confidence,” she said to more laughter and nodding heads. “I have never heard an accomplished senior male lawyer, upon receiving an award, say, ‘Golly gee, I didn’t think I was good enough.’”

At the end of her speech, Henein said that to become cynical about the justice system is “the worst thing that can happen” to a junior lawyer. “The best lawyers in history have never lost sight of why they went to law school and why they practised law,” she said. “I may be a little tired, but I have never questioned the value of our legal system or my involvement in it.”

Her final statement was a full-throated rally call to the women in the audience. “Take your rightful place in this profession — I look forward to seeing the extraordinary contributions that I know each one of you will make.”

To learn more about Young Women in Law, visit the YWL website.

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Featured photograph by Valarie Matthews