Why did Jian Ghomeshi hire Dentons?

When Jian Ghomeshi retained Dentons Canada LLP to file his $55-million lawsuit against the CBC, he hired a firm that normally acts for big corporate clients, not plaintiffs, says, David Whitten, partner at the employment firm Whitten & Lublin. 

“I was really surprised to see Dentons on this one,” he says. “I thought he would’ve been better served by going to a so-called employment law boutique, as opposed to a firm that’s better known for their corporate due diligence.” 

And yet, that’s exactly what the radio star did. 

On Monday, Dentons filed a lawsuit that alleges the CBC made a “moral judgment about the appropriateness of BDSM” when it fired Ghomeshi, who hosted the cultural affairs radio show, Q, on the weekend. 

According to the statement of claim, two lawyers are representing Ghomeshi. One is Neil Rabinovitch, a partner who specializes in commercial litigation and insolvency. The other is Tiffany Soucy, a senior associate in the firm’s litigation group, with experience in real estate, employment, defamation and fashion. Both lawyers declined requests for an interview. 

In the claim, Ghomeshi insists any violence in his sex life was consensual, despite now-extensive allegations to the contrary published in the Toronto Star

From the moment the story broke, Whitten says Ghomeshi and his then-public-relations team at Navigator Ltd. (yesterday, the communications firm said it was no longer advising the ex-broadcaster) seemed to have a clear mission: to make a huge splash in the press to distract people from what he’s been “accused of doing.” 

If that’s the gameplan, says Whitten, then “you want to do everything big. You want to make a massive lawsuit claiming an obscene amount of money. And you want to use the biggest law firm you possibly can.” And so, he explains, Ghomeshi might have hired Dentons — one of the 10 largest law firms in the world, with about 2,600 lawyers and professionals in more than 50 countries — to “give his claim some additional clout” in the public eye. 

Indeed, the entire goal of the lawsuit seems to be salvaging his public reputation, he says. In his view, the case has a “limited” chance of success: even if Ghomeshi is honest and never broke the law, the CBC has every right to fire him for his private sex life.  

Unlike race, religion, or sexual orientation, “sexual adventurism” is not protected under the human rights code, says Whitten. “Ghomeshi is really out to lunch if he thought that somehow he could maintain this alternative-type sexual lifestyle and that, once it hit the public, it would not impact his career.” 

Moreover, the value of the lawsuit, which seeks $5 million in punitive damages, is “absurd,” he says. “In Canadian courts, you’ll be lucky to get $100,000 out of [an employer] for the most egregious conduct ever. This is just for shock value.” 

Photo: The Canadian Film Centre

Why is diversity so hard to achieve?

Despite the verbiage dedicated to the lack of diversity in the law — particularly in private practice — the statistics remain bleak. In Ontario, 50 percent of law grads are women, yet women make up only 35 percent of lawyers in private practice and 20 percent of partners. And these numbers, collected by the Law Society of Upper Canada, have held steady over the last 6 years

That lack of progress emerged as a central theme last night at a panel on diversity in the legal world hosted by Bank of Montreal. 

One key problem is that lawyers find it difficult to recognize their own biases, said Kate Broer, a partner at Dentons and chair of the firm’s Canadian diversity committee. 

Lawyers often believe that, because of their legal education, they are “objective and fair,” she said. They falsely think they are immune from holding prejudicial views. Too many lawyers, as a result, unknowingly favour people of the same gender and cultural background. 

Dentons, as a result, puts lawyers through “implicit bias” tests, so lawyers can see, in scientific terms, that they do not respond to every group of people in the same way. 

But that’s only the first step, said Broer. Once people know they are prejudicial, they have to fight the impulses they’ve relied on their entire life. 

And that takes time. “I have biases,” said Broer. “If I go to an event and it’s a room full of women, I instantly feel more comfortable because we share common characteristics and I know how the culture works.” 

To build a truly diverse workforce, then, lawyers need to hire people with whom they might not immediately get along, she said. It’s a concept, she acknowledges, that flies in the face of traditional hiring practices, where an employee’s supposed “fit” is so important. 

“You have to work harder to connect with someone who doesn’t look like you, or doesn’t have the same background as you,” she said. 

But there is a persuasive reason to make that extra effort, said Simon Fish, general counsel at BMO. A diverse workforce is more creative and innovative, which, in turn, bolsters the bottom line. 

“It’s as simple as that,” he said. “If it’s important for us, then it’s important for the firms that support us. We want their best talent. We want their best ideas. And we want their best services.” 

Which is why, last year, BMO asked firms to measure and report diversity statistics to the bank. Then they use those numbers to help decide which firms to hire.  

That incentive has made a difference. Last year, only 34 percent of firms replied — and this year, 97 percent reported their diversity numbers. 

The panel, by and large, agreed that attitudes are shifting — even if statistics are not. 

And while discussing the same topic ad nauseam can be frustrating, repetition is the only way to undercut deeply embedded biases, said John Mountain, senior vice president of legal at NEI Investments. 

“If you say to people in your workplace that [diversity] is important to us, the first time, they might not believe it,” said Mountain. “And the second time they might not believe it, but the third time they hear it, they may believe it.”

Style Counsel: How to dress for the return from mat leave

Three months after having my son, I found myself in a fashion dilemma. The managing of my firm invited me to a client dinner, which immediately filled me with dread. I had been using my maternity leave as an excuse to wear pyjamas as often as possible. Panicked, I tried on my entire closet, finally unearthing a dress and jacket that fit (if I squinted at my reflection). The sheer terror of having nothing to wear forced me to accept that motherhood had changed my body. And I’m not just talking about a few extra pounds, ladies. I now have larger feet and a wider rib cage, not to mention some hefty pipes from carrying around my little guy. It was time to adjust my wardrobe to match.

New moms have to assess their new figure honestly and determine what suits it. Maybe you preferred skinnies before, but feel more comfortable now in boot-cut pants. Or maybe, like me, flowy blouses are your saving grace. Remember, your body is most likely still changing, so buy pieces that can be altered or are forgiving in fit and fabric.

Style coach Wendy Woods of the Refinery made polyester her best friend once she became a mom. “I never thought I would say that in my life, but it’s such a practical fabric,” she tells me. “Good polys can look like silk, but they’re washable and they don’t stain when they get wet like silk does.” Me, I had to befriend patterns, thanks to a kid who loves to tug at me with peanut butter on his hands.

It’s not just what I wear that’s changed, but even how I get dressed. Gone are my leisurely mornings spent selecting an outfit while enjoying that first cup of coffee. Planning ahead is crucial. I have to avoid dangly earrings and necklaces (my toddler will grab them, break them and/or eat them). I always choose pieces that are easy — no complicated straps or closures — and nursing friendly. And comfortable footwear is vital: pushing a stroller through mad pedestrian traffic to daycare in the morning is much more tolerable in kitten heels than in five-inchers.

Even with all this tried-and-true sartorial wisdom at hand, I was still apprehensive about updating my wardrobe for my first day back at Dentons. I sought help from Erin Nadler of Better Styled, a stylist who helps lots of new moms head back to work, many of whom feel they’ve been out of the fashion game for too long.

Her shopping list for legal professionals in my shoes? Two fitted dresses, a few wrapstyle tops or shirts with draping or ruching, a great black (or navy) pant and a seasonless three-piece suit. With Erin’s help, I chose a fabulous cap-sleeve navy knit dress with peplum and zipper detailing to rock the hell out of my first day back in the office.

Lawyer-moms have enough to worry about without adding workwear to the list. Make the transition back from mat leave easy on yourself. Get rid of anything that doesn’t make you feel fabulous, and fill your closet with pieces that do your new life justice. We all deserve to come back to work with a bang, looking and feeling good. Just don’t tell anyone it’s polyester. That will be our secret.

Emma Williamson (not pictured) is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at Dentons. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle.

Style Counsel: Trail Blazers

I admit it: I’m a mall rat. I love stores like Zara and J. Crew for dependable office wear. But lately, I’ve found myself getting — dare I say it? — bored. I want something different. Enter: the boutique.

I understand, in theory, the benefits of shopping off the beaten path. You support small business owners and Canadian designers. You won’t find yourself in the same outfit as three other women at the firm cocktail party. And you get to explore new neighbourhoods (personally, I need more excuses to leave my downtown bubble).

Journeying beyond the mall, I know, will be worth it. But where to start? I need advice from my favourite stylish lady lawyers.

Leila Rafi, partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP, prefers to shop at boutiques over malls. If you’ve seen Rafi’s wardrobe — including a cobalt sheath dress with exposed gold zippers that I’m obsessed with — you listen to her. “One of my favourite spots to shop is Bayview Village. It’s got gems like Andrews and Your Choice,” she says. She’s right. The shops carry a breadth of designers with a good range of pieces: bright colours (think blues, oranges and pinks for summer) and pieces with detailing (silk bows, textured patterns), along with basics.

Alexandra North, associate at Dentons Canada, sends me to Coal Miner’s Daughter in Mirvish Village for statement necklaces and bags. And now I have a new favourite store. The selection of dresses is fantastic: I adore the Bernadette wool dress (with faux leather cap sleeves!) from Montreal’s Valérie Dumaine.

Next, I venture to Ossington’s Tiger of Sweden on the recommendation of Louise Moher, an associate at Lerners LLP. Moher confesses that the dresses are “perfect for work, but stretchy enough to last through a carb-heavy client lunch.” It’s an international brand, but the store is intimate, and the salespeople are super attentive. I’m most impressed by traditional suiting in gorgeous colours, such as a muted grey-blue. Other great finds are a silk brushstroke-print blouse in cream and black, and a blue 3⁄4-length sleeve dress. Men: check out the Nedvin, Norden and Evert jacket cuts and hip takes on pocket squares and cufflinks.

With my newfound confidence in the boutique experience, I head across the street to Jonathan + Olivia, where I fall in love with Rag & Bone’s Roseburg blazer — a classic black number with a deconstructed lapel — and a silver and black sheath dress (surprisingly perfect for work). Alexander Wang pleated silk pants call my name; I envision them with a knit top and pumps. The less-is-more vibe of the primarily black-and-white clothing is perfect for the minimalist lawyer. You’ll find clean, sleek pieces and basics with an avant-garde twist. Expensive, yes — but worth it.

So what’s my verdict? Boutiques do it best. Your credit card won’t thank you, but your new wardrobe definitely will.

Emma Williamson is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at Dentons. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle.

Photo: Tiger of Sweden

Style Counsel: 4 reasons to get excited about spring

I’m not usually one to complain about the winter – I love sweaters and chili – but honestly. This has got. To. Stop. As I write this, it is currently –25 with the windchill. Spring, I miss you. I need you. And what better way to forget the present than to fantasize about the future? Here are a few things to inspire and distract you until the sun comes out!

1. Spring Cleaning. My wardrobe is groaning under the weight of pilled leggings and things that no longer fit my post-pregnancy body. They’ve all gotta go! You know what to do, readers: donate the old, the ill-fitting and the uncomfortable. If a piece doesn’t make you feel like a perfect ten, get rid of it. If you wouldn’t buy it today, throw it in that Goodwill bag. I promise you: spring cleaning your closet will make you feel lighter and less tied to earthly possessions — oh, and then you can get started on your spring shopping list. Yessss.

2. Trench Coats. Speaking of spring clothing… Well, it all started with an email Minimalist trench coat by Judith & Charlesfrom Judith & Charles. (Note to self: consider unsubscribing from promotional emails. They’re dangerous when one is on maternity leave and no longer receiving a paycheque). Said email featured an incredible trench coat – a minimalist belted number sans tortoiseshell buttons. While a good trench coat is a must-have for any lady lawyer, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable wearing one (I kinda feel like a dude). But I’m open to finding a trench that works for me. Adventurous readers, try Bebe’s Techno Tribal Trench. Sporty gals: check out the Isabelle Trench from Club Monaco. And as for my classic ladies, you can’t go wrong with a trench from London Fog, Banana Republic or Burberry. 

3. Quebec Designers. At a recent visit to Toronto-based image consulting business Images that Suit, I was introduced to Montreal’s Iris, a gorgeous collection of work-appropriate pieces with attitude. I then fell down an internet rabbit hole, Googling other designers from La Belle Province. And what I learned is that people from Quebec are way more fashionable than Torontonians (okay, so I may have known this already. Also, no offense ladies). If you’re a lawyer by day and hipster by night, check out atelier b.; collections Fascimilie and Serie are especially cool. And for your weekends, take a look at Eve Gravel’s spring/summer 2014 collection — I love the interplay of global fabrics and feminine silhouettes. Iris Spring 2014 collection Montreal

4. Spring Makeup Trends. Experimenting with makeup is such a small, inexpensive way to refresh your look. And, done properly, it can make you feel like a million bucks. While orange lipstick is hip right now, it’s probably not the best way to make partner. So try a muted coral lippie instead (I’m a fan of Sephora’s It Girl 06) or a peach gloss (check out The Body Shop’s mango or vineyard peach glosses). If you’re feeling especially saucy this month, you could even indulge in spring’s white nail polish trend: done with a navy dress and minimal accessories, this milky white from Deborah Lippmann delivers a punch without being over the top. 

Well readers, I’m going to sign off and get back to my warm blanket and cup of tea (would you judge me if I lace it with Scotch?). Here’s hoping that the next time you read Style Counsel, you’ll be sitting on a patio enjoying an ice cold beer! 

Emma Williamson is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at Dentons. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle.

Toronto articling students feed the hungry

Last week, articling students from Dentons served dinner to more than 200 in-need Toronto residents as part of the Lawyers Feed the Hungry (LFH) program, run by LSUC.

Dentons also sponsored the meal to help support the financially overburdened program.

The firm’s 14-person articling class, bedecked in white aprons and latex gloves, poured coffee and served sausages in the LSUC cafeteria. Later in the evening, after the cafeteria had been cleaned, the program’s more seasoned volunteers served the students themselves. 

“This is going to change the way we do this,” said David Bronskill, LFH veteran of 13 years and a partner at Goodmans LLP. While law firms often sponsor LFH meals, this is the first time a firm has turned the dinner into a social event.

The program now serves upwards of 100,000 meals a year, and at more than $4 a head, the expense is becoming unsustainable.

The law society hopes that Dentons, as one of Canada’s top law firms, will inspire others to become more involved too.  

Amanda Ross, Wednesday night’s volunteer coordinator, and Sara Lefton, assistant director of student programs at Dentons, together created the event. By the end of the night, the two ladies looked pleased with the result.

Though the room was unusually full of volunteers and thin on guests — diners are called guests and it’s very important to the organizers that they’re treated like guests in a home — the atmosphere was one of positivity and energy.

In the end, the students came away with a great experience, a sense of satisfaction, and a good meal.

Not only was it gratifying, says Mark Cavdar, an articling student at Dentons, “it [was] actually fun.”

Photo courtesy of the Law Society of Upper Canada