Opinion: How to truly support women in private practice

Everyone knows there aren’t enough female partners in private practice. In Ontario, about 20 percent of partners are women — a statistic that has remained stagnant despite the fact that, over the past two decades, more than half of law-school graduates have been female. In 2008, the Law Society of Upper Canada launched the Justicia Project to address this problem. Women in private practice, like me, were excited. The project set out to encourage law firms to adopt better maternity-leave and diversity policies, and to gather data on the retention of women in private practice.

Laudibly, Justicia now boasts an array of progressive policies on the Law Society’s website. Better still, 57 firms have signed on to Justicia, vowing to make gender diversity a priority. The project, however, has failed in one big way: it has not published any meaningful data on how individual law firms are faring on retention.

Three years ago, the Justicia Project released the results of its survey of the participating firms. In an effort to answer the big question — “Do firms now have more women partners?” — the report suggests the answer is yes. But it offers no proof.

Forgive me if I don’t break out the champagne, but I’d have liked something more concrete, like the names of which firms now have more female partners. The report does quote one example, in which a large firm (with over 100 lawyers) voluntarily reported that 67 percent of its new equity partners in 2012 were women. That number rose to 80 percent in 2013 and fell to 44 percent in 2014. However, these percentages are meaningless without the numbers of partners the firm admitted. Why can’t we know this information? Further, are these percentages representative of many large firms? We have no idea.

As a Bay Street veteran, I can’t even guess which firm this could be. Knowing which firms are making strides would be invaluable to law students deciding where to article, not to mention corporate counsel looking to hire firms with greater diversity.

Other sections of the survey are equally frustrating. For instance, out of 13 large firms that responded, “all but 2 firms have women on their compensation committee.” This could mean that some firms have a token woman on their committees.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Considering that Justicia is voluntary and anonymous, what’s the harm in asking: “What is the proportion of men and women on the compensation committee?”

Meanwhile, a new Law Society report on the thornier problems faced by racialized licensees offers recommendations that go beyond mere data collection, including rating firms on their diversity initiatives and retention. Since Justicia plans to continue to collect data, why not take a page from this report and consider a new approach? And when will the Law Society start to collect data on LGBTQ lawyers in private practice? Surely, this is just as important.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. I have witnessed that some law firms genuinely recognize diversity as a core value. And I’ve heard positive stories. Recently, one friend, who is an Asian female partner in a large firm, was approached by senior management to ask how they might keep her happy. Clearly, they regard her as a valued asset.

Anecdotes can be heartwarming and firm attitudes more positive, but the Law Society can and should do more with Justicia so that it is more than a footnote on the path of broken promises.


May M. Cheng is a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. Her first opinion piece for Precedent, also on the retention of women, ran in our Summer 2008 issue.

 


Fall 2017 CoverThis story is from our 10th anniversary issue, published in Fall 2017.

 

 

 


Illustration by Karsten Petrat

Opinion: In the age of Donald Trump, we cannot fight bigotry in a measured tone

In law, civility is too often seen as the highest virtue. Nothing is as important, this line of thinking goes, as politeness and the ability to make rational arguments in a measured tone. As a result, many see incivility as the antithesis of professionalism, unbecoming of our self-professed nobility.

But outside the legal profession, the world burns hot with incivility. We live in the age of Trumpism. Around the world, politicians freely traffic in division and fear. Western nations that once welcomed people of all religions now detain Muslims at the border. Mass deportations are planned; walls may be built.

Those who welcome the arrival of this new world do not defend it in a measured tone. The shrill language of online trolls has moved out from under digital bridges and into the mainstream media. It’s part of our day-to-day lives.

Against such an enemy, incivility is a necessary tool of resistance. If a world leader wants to ban Muslims, and won’t back down, it’s essential to ramp up the response. That’s how protests are born.

And yet, meanwhile, our profession continues its siege on incivility. Take the case of Joseph Groia.

Back in 1999, John Felderhof, the chief geologist at Bre-X Minerals, was charged with insider trading. Groia, a top securities litigator, took the case. The mining company once sold for more than $250 a share. But when news broke that its gold deposits in the Borneo jungle were a fraud, Bre-X was ruined. So, too, were the investments many Canadians had in the company.

The Ontario Securities Commission felt pressure to issue a strong response. And it exerted its entire weight into the case against Felderhof.

Arguing lawyer illustrationFor his part, Felderhof hired Groia, an advocate who defends his clients with zeal that is rare in courtrooms — and, in the majority of cases, that isn’t necessary. But Felderhof ’s case was not normal. He faced an opponent that refused to give up any ground. So he needed a litigator like Groia.

In the end, Groia won and Felderhof was acquitted. The case raged on for seven years, mired in acrimony. Facing extraordinary circumstances, Groia had no choice but to fight absurdly hard to win.

But Groia was too much for the Law Society of Upper Canada to handle. After Felderhof ’s acquittal, it went after Groia for his behaviour during the trial. This time, he lost: at a disciplinary hearing, in 2011, a panel of benchers ruled that Groia violated the Law Society’s courtroom civility rules. Groia then appealed that ruling at Divisional Court (and lost) and the Ontario Court of Appeal (and lost). But this fall, he will get one more chance when he appeals the ruling at the Supreme Court.

Groia may not be the last lawyer to face incivility charges. When I see lawyers zealously defend their clients in the courtroom, I wonder if the Law Society will come down on them. That’s not a question I should have to ask.

The Groia case sets a dangerous precedent. And there couldn’t be a worse time to continue to wage war, once again, on his lack of civility. Our society faces an extraordinary enemy: bigotry in the age of Donald Trump. We cannot resist in a measured tone. To protest and to let right prevail, we’ll need a healthy dose of incivility. We’ll need a little Groia to save us all.


Sean RobichaudSean Robichaud is a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto. He’s also the founder of King Law Chambers. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanRobichaud.

 

 


Precedent Summer 2017 IssueThis story is from our Summer 2017 issue.

 

 

 


Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

Precedent Setter Awards 2016: Tanya Walker

Tanya Walker

Founder, Walker Law Professional Corporation
Called to the bar in 2006

Of all places, lawyers John Campion and Tanya Walker met in Saturday morning spin class. “If I’m not working, I’m there,” jokes Walker, the 38-year-old founder of her own Toronto-based commercial-litigation firm. When Campion, a four-time bencher at the Law Society of Upper Canada, met her, he saw “an opportunity to encourage a brilliant, worldly and diverse lawyer to run for bencher.”

Lawyer Tanya Walker of Walker Law Professional Corporation Walker is just that. After announcing (at four!) to her Jamaican immigrant parents her plan to be a lawyer like Clair Huxtable, Walker earned a business degree at McMaster University and then attended law school at Osgoode Hall. “We didn’t have deep pockets, but my parents did give me the push to work hard.” She resolved to graduate with minimal debt and own a home within two years — she did, and now shares a Harbourfront condo with her ever-supportive fiancé, Daniel. “It must be so tough to be with someone as busy as me,” she laughs, casually counting her hours — 70 to 80 a week — on perfectly manicured purple nails.

Running her own firm, which specializes in commercial litigation, for five years is all-absorbing, but balance has always been important. In her student years, she spent months backpacking through Europe. Even now, she says, “I organize my time very well and try to take a break every four months.” Walker has visited 40 countries.

The next chapter of her career will be historic. On Campion’s advice, she ran for bencher last spring — and though she came up just short, she is expected to become one this June when the current treasurer’s term ends, creating an opening in the bencher ranks. This will make Walker the first black woman to be one of the Toronto benchers in the Law Society’s 219-year history. “In a way, I can’t believe it,” she says, wiping away tears. “It really warms my heart that so many people believe in me.”


Precedent Setter Awards 2016Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.

 

 


Photography by Ian Patterson, hair and makeup by Jessica Haisinger, shot on location at Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie.

Opinion: Why the LPP should be made permanent

I almost didn’t become a lawyer. In 2011, as my last year of law school at Bond University in Australia ended, I expected to head home to Toronto and find an articling job. But my career took a detour. While studying for the bar exam, I found out that my partner’s family business, a skating and hockey centre in Florida, had been defrauded by management and was on the verge of collapse. My partner, armed with an MBA, stepped in to help save the 50-employee business.

Soon after, he asked me to join the effort because of my legal knowledge and lifelong passion for hockey. I accepted. Over the next three years, we turned the business into one of the fastest-growing skating, figure-skating and hockey programs in Florida. It was incredible, but with less than a year left on the project, I was ready to become a lawyer.

And that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I love reading and writing. I keep up with the latest legal and political news. And, above all, I want to help people at the moment they need it most.

But when I decided to restart my legal career, in 2014, it was hard to find an articling gig from abroad. That’s when I heard about the Law Practice Program (LPP), the alternative to articling, at Ryerson University, which was about to start its first year. It was the perfect fit: the eight-month program began with about four months of online coursework (which includes three weeks of on-campus training), so I could complete most of it from Florida. This meant I could get called to the bar without the strain of moving home with no articling job. I immediately enrolled.

Uncommon practice, LPP

The training in the LPP was top-notch. In the first half of the program, I worked in a simulated law firm with four peers. Under the guidance of a practising lawyer — who assigned work and offered advice over email and Google Hangouts — we worked on files in key practice areas, from family to business to criminal. Going through mock files prepared me for the next half of the program, a four-month work placement at Eunice Kim & Associate Professional Corporation. In my first week, I drafted a will, interviewed a client and worked on a real estate closing.

Since launching, the LPP has helped about 400 law graduates become lawyers, and secured each one a work placement. To create that many placements — most of which are paid positions — out of thin air is an enormous accomplishment.

But the LPP’s future is uncertain. For now, it’s just a pilot project. (In August, it enters its third and final year.) In the fall, the Law Society of Upper Canada will decide whether to extend the pilot project for two years or make it permanent. It should make it permanent. The public only benefits from a legal profession whose members have a range of life experiences.

I can attest to that. In Florida, I got an on-the-ground look at the inner workings of a small business. I worked with outside counsel to draft contracts for hockey coaches, designed sport-specific waivers and negotiated licensing deals with music companies. All this will make me a better lawyer.

I also had countless peers in the LPP from unique backgrounds. Some came from outside Canada (Russia and India, just to name two) and boasted a global mindset. Others were parents of young children who needed to be at home for the first half of the program. They will all make great lawyers.

In September 2015, I was called to the bar, and have moved back to Toronto with my partner. I work part-time for Omar Alghabra, a member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre, but am on the lookout for a job in sports law. And without the LPP, this might never have happened.


Lawyer Christina Wadhwa

Cristina Wadhwa is a Toronto lawyer and a graduate of Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program. She is also a member of the Sports Lawyers Association.

 

 


Cover of the Summer Issue of Precedent Magazine

This story is from our Summer 2016 issue.

 

 

 


Illustration by Mike Ellis

Cover Story: How to make partner as a racialized lawyer

1. Confront the pressure to “fit in”

Ritu Bhasin is used to having difficult conversations. As one of Toronto’s top diversity consultants, and a former lawyer, she spends a lot of time with racialized lawyers in the city, offering advice on how to advance — and how to make partner. That means helping them navigate a profession ruled by, as she puts it, “white, straight, able-bodied men from Christian backgrounds.” And it can get uncomfortable. “As it stands now, legal culture rewards conformity,” says Bhasin, who left Stikeman Elliott LLP five years ago, where she had spent seven years as the firm’s director of legal talent. “It’s going to take a long time for that culture to shift, so in the meantime, it requires some amount of strategic adaptation.”

Race and conformity — these are tricky subjects. But Bhasin, a first-generation Canadian whose South Asian parents immigrated to Canada 45 years ago, refuses to tiptoe around them. The reality is too stark. Though racialized people make up 23 percent of Ontario’s population, they account for just 17 percent of lawyers and 6.6 percent of partners.

"I know law firms say their lawyers can look diverse, but they still expect them to ‘fit in.’" — Ritu Bhasin, ‎Bhasin Consulting Inc.

“I know law firms say their lawyers can look diverse, but they still expect them to ‘fit in.’” — Ritu Bhasin, ‎Bhasin Consulting Inc.

Why can’t they get ahead? Perhaps the biggest reason is what social scientists call likeness bias. “We are hardwired to like people who are similar to us,” explains Bhasin. And so, when senior white partners decide which associates to mentor and which to assign major files (steering them closer to partnership) they often choose white associates who ‘fit in’ to mainstream legal culture.

This is more than a theory. A recent report from the Law Society of Upper Canada found that some racialized lawyers can feel alienated at work — for many, it’s because they don’t play golf or hockey, go cottaging or drink alcohol. And this has severe consequences: 26 percent of racialized lawyers said their inability to take part in social activities held them back. Only 12 percent of white lawyers made such a claim. “I know law firms say their lawyers can look diverse, but they still expect them to ‘fit in,’” says Bhasin. “And ‘fit in’ is code for: don’t act Asian, or black or Hispanic.”

"Never change who you are. I’m only talking about broadening your interests."— Brendan Wong, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

“Never change who you are. I’m only talking about broadening your interests.”— Brendan Wong, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

So what should racialized lawyers do? Bhasin says that, in light of this unfair reality, they need to take some interest in mainstream activities. Brendan Wong, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, who is of Chinese descent, agrees. “If you’re going to a Leafs game with a client, read some headlines in the sports section,” he suggests. “If you know someone likes dogs, look something up about dogs. But never change your values. Never change who you are. I’m only talking about broadening your interests.” For his part, Wong got lucky: he grew up in Maple Ridge, a small town just outside Vancouver, where hockey and golf were popular. “I’ve had an advantage in my career, in that I grew up in the cultural norm that now dominates Bay Street.”

But isn’t this totally unfair? After all, white partners get to live their culture large. Why should racialized lawyers have to knuckle under to the forces of conformity?

Bhasin hears those questions all the time. And she agrees: to discriminate against associates from diverse backgrounds is flat-out wrong. “It is fair for a racialized lawyer to say, ‘I don’t want to conform by learning to play golf or to ski or to drink.’ And I’m the first to say, ‘Don’t do those things, then.’ However, if you’re not going to do those things, and you do nothing, then given current legal culture, you’re not going to get ahead.”

At the same time, Bhasin is not blaming racialized lawyers who fail to make partner for their inability to conform. The onus, she says, is on law firms to change. “This is a law-firm management problem.” And one day, Bhasin hopes she won’t have to give this advice. “I am hell-bent on getting legal culture to change,” she says. “Along the way, though, we need to equip diverse lawyers with tools for success.”

2. Play the diversity card

Discrimination is real. But in recent years, racial diversity has become an asset: some corporations now actively seek out racialized lawyers on their external legal teams. And lawyers can take advantage of this trend, says Michelle Henry, a partner at BLG who is black. “First, look for companies that care about diversity,” she says. A good place to start is the website for the group Legal Leaders for Diversity, whose members include nearly 100 businesses — such as Deloitte, Capital One and Sobeys — that want to hire diverse legal talent. The next step for racialized lawyers, says Henry, is to find out if any of these businesses are clients of their firm. “Try to connect with the partner responsible for that client and ask them for lunch.” The goal, then, is to get on that client’s legal team and, over the years, become a go-to contact.

Racialized lawyers can also tap into communities that Bay Street has typically ignored. “If you are an East Asian lawyer looking for clients, then look for an Asian business association,” says Wong, who’s a member of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers. “You have the cultural knowledge to make connections, so why wouldn’t you do that? Sell what you got.”


This story is part of our series on making partner, from our Spring 2016 issue.

How to vote in the bencher election

At exactly 5 p.m. on Thursday, the bencher election will be over. 

That moment will mark the end of the 17-day voting period — and, in turn, the end of the incessant email blasts from candidates, each message trumpeting their policy stances and footnoted with a laundry list of endorsements. 

Though the campaign has been tedious, the election is critical. The next cohort of 40 benchers at the Law Society of Upper Canada will shape the profession for years to come. Over the course of their four-year terms, the benchers will have to determine, for instance, whether to let non-lawyers invest in law firms and the very future of articling. 

So, if you want those benchers to reflect your viewpoint, you have to vote. And, as the following primer on the voting process will show, doing so is both fast and easy. 

How to vote 

For starters, the bencher election takes place online, through a third-party website hosted by Computershare. 

To log in to the election’s webpage — found here — you need your unique passcode, which Computershare should have emailed to you a few weeks ago. (You may have also received it by mail.) 

So here’s your first step: dig in to your inbox for an April 13 email from Computershare. There, you’ll find your passcode. (If you can’t locate such an email, check your spam folder. And if that fails, call Computershare at 1-888-344-2805 to request a passcode.) 

Then, once you have logged in, all you have to do is vote. You can cast up to 40 votes — 20 for candidates inside Toronto and 20 for candidates elsewhere in the province. 

Click submit, and you’re done: consider you democratic rights exercised. 

Who to vote for 

With a forest of 97 candidates to choose from, casting an informed vote is a demanding task. But it can be done. 

Over at the Precedent A-List, you can browse the platforms of a wide range of candidates. Or, for a full lay of the land, the Law Society has published a huge voting guide, with a page on every lawyer vying for a seat at Convocation. 

For die-hard politicos, check out Precedent’s coverage of the demographic make-up of the current set of benchers. Plus, see below for stories on a few noteworthy candidates:

 

Joe_Groia_ZealousAdvocacy

 

Joe Groia — the arch nemesis of the Law Society —
is running for bencher. Find out why

 

 

Janet-Leiper

 

Bencher Janet Leiper launches a joint campaign with first-time
candidate Isfahan Merali to help promote a fresh legal voice

Exhibit A: Why the Law Society needs younger benchers

“The role of the benchers is more important than it’s ever been,” declares Trevor Farrow, associate dean at Osgoode Hall Law School. In two years, he points out, the Law Practice Program (LPP) comes up for review. Meanwhile, benchers will debate whether to let non-lawyers invest in law firms, all while exploring how to encourage large firms to hire more women and visible minorities. At this moment, says Farrow, the profession needs more young, progressive voices leading the way.

Today, out of the 40 elected benchers, only two are under the age of 50. It’s a statistic the Law Society of Upper Canada hopes will improve after the bencher election, which closes on April 30, says Janet Minor, treasurer of LSUC. “We’re going to get the best decisions in Convocation when we have the most diverse group of people.”

LSUC Bencher StatsToday, the youngest bencher is Jacqueline Horvat, a 37-year-old lawyer at Sutts, Strosberg LLP in Windsor. After four years as a bencher, she respects her colleagues but believes the lack of young lawyers has affected the outcome of certain debates.

Horvat points to the 2013 decision to approve the LPP, which she voted against. As an alternative, she proposed, along with three other benchers, to abolish articling and replace it with a three-month course — an idea so radical, notes Horvat, that she “basically can’t say it out loud.” Still, in her view, it would ensure that all lawyers receive the same training. And it would allow every law grad to get licensed no matter what happens in the articling job market. “If there were more younger voices,” she says, “I suspect the LPP may have been defeated.”

Indeed, according to Morgan Sim, a second-year associate at Pinto Wray James LLP, many young lawyers support alternatives to articling. A common viewpoint, she says, is that the Law Society should encourage all law schools to adopt the curriculum of the law school at Lakehead University. At the northern school, students complete work placements in third year, and, as a result, don’t have to article before practising (they still have to pass the bar exam). Right now, too few benchers share that perspective. “I hope some young people throw their hat in the ring,” says Sim. “I’ll be an evangelist for them.”

Horvat is quick to point out she’s speculating about whether younger benchers would change the outcome of past votes. But she says that’s part of the problem: it’s impossible to know how young lawyers would vote until more of them win seats.

And that’s a tall order, says Horvat, for one big reason. Junior associates need support from the partnership at their firm. Partners must accept that, as a bencher, a lawyer will bill fewer hours and generate less revenue. When Horvat ran, in 2011, she was lucky: a partner at her firm, Harvey Strosberg, is a former Law Society treasurer. For him, making less money to support Horvat was a no-brainer. And he hopes other senior partners, when approached by an associate — or any lawyer — who wants to run, follow his lead. “It’s another aspect of pro bono,” says Strosberg. “It’s very important for the senior members of the bar to underwrite younger members of their firm.” 


What the hell is a bencher?

Elected every four years, these 40 lawyers — 20 from inside Toronto, and 20 from outside — rule over the legal profession in Ontario. At a monthly meeting, called Convocation, they vote on policies that govern the profession. They sit on committees and preside over disciplinary hearings.

Bencher Paul Schabas says the job usually requires a commitment of five days a month, plus a lot of reading at home.

Despite what most lawyers think, benchers represent the public, not lawyers, says bencher Jacqueline Horvat. “Sometimes even the benchers lose sight of that.” 


Read more of our 2015 Bencher Election coverage:

Joe_Groia_ZealousAdvocacy

 

Joe Groia — the arch nemesis of the Law Society —
is running for bencher. Find out why

 

 

Janet-Leiper

 

Bencher Janet Leiper launches a joint campaign with first-time
candidate Isfahan Merali to help promote a fresh legal voice

 

 


This story is from our Spring 2015 issue.

 

 


Illustration by Isabel Foo

Why Joe Groia is running for bencher

JOE GROIA SCUTTLES INTO THE BOARDROOM of his Bay Street law office in a hurry. He’s fifteen minutes late for our 9 a.m. interview.

“Hello, I’m Joe Groia,” he says, hand outstretched. “Give me one moment. I’m just going to grab a cup of coffee.”

Already seated at the boardroom table, I reach down into my briefcase and pluck out my notepad. By the time I look up, Groia is back, closing the door behind him, coffee mug in hand. The grizzled securities lawyer lowers himself into a chair at the head of the table and rests his hands in his lap.

In a relaxed, soft-spoken voice, he explains his eyebrow-raising decision to run, in April, to be one of the 40 lawyers elected as a bencher at the Law Society of Upper Canada. After all, this is an institution against which he has waged a heated, and very public, court battle for the better part of the last decade.

In 2011, after a drawn-out investigation, the Law Society ruled that Groia violated its courtroom civility rules for his behaviour, now more than 15 years ago, at the trial of John Felderhof, a Bre-X Minerals geologist charged with insider trading and publishing misleading press releases. (In 2007, Groia won an acquittal for Felderhof on all charges.) During that trial, the judge never reprimanded Groia, but another judge later wrote that Groia launched “attacks on the prosecutor’s integrity” and his submissions sometimes “descended from legal argument to irony to sarcasm to petulant invective.”

Groia has fought that ruling tooth-and-nail, sinking $1 million into his defence, in both time and legal fees. And yet, so far, he has lost at every turn — the latest defeat coming last week, when Ontario’s Divisional Court upheld his one-month suspension and a previous order that he pay the Law Society $200,000 in costs. (He is in the process of asking for leave to challenge the ruling at the Court of Appeal and, if necessary, will go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.)

Groia says that the Law Society, by going after him, has sent a chilling message to all lawyers that the Law Society can swoop down at any time and charge them for past courtroom behaviour — even if the trial judge never complained.

And so, Groia wants to serve as a bencher, in part, to curb the Law Society’s ability to retroactively police lawyers.

“I will fight this for as long and as hard as I can,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “Running for bencher is what I see as a logical extension of what I’ve done so far.” (For the record, Groia’s candidacy is well within the rules: he can run for bencher as long as he isn’t suspended “at the time” he signs his nomination form or on the day of the election.)

Groia is also baffled that his case seems to rank so high on the Law Society’s to-do list. “The Law Society demonstrates a zealousness in my prosecution, which surprisingly they don’t seem to demonstrate when it comes to lawyers who steal money from trust accounts,” he says, referring to a recent Toronto Star investigation that showed how the Law Society often fails to report the crimes of its members to police. (Earlier this year, LSUC treasurer Janet Minor met with Police Chief Bill Blair to improve relations.) “I can’t explain,” Groia adds, “how 40 very smart, well-educated professionals cannot, as a group, understand how far away from the needs of the public they have become.”

When given an opportunity to respond to Groia’s criticisms, Law Society spokesperson Susan Tonkin simply said that last week’s decision at Divisional Court, where Groia lost his appeal, “speaks for itself.”

 

GROIA WAS BORN IN 1954 AND GREW UP AT BLOOR AND LANSDOWNE. His mother worked at the post office and his father was a bellman. “Joe was fond of telling us, in the old days, the tale of his father who was the head bellhop of the Royal York hotel,” recalls Julia Dublin, a securities lawyer who worked under Groia at the Ontario Securities Commission, where he ran the enforcement branch in the 1980s. “It was a big influence on his life, I think.”

Indeed, Groia is proud of his “working-class” upbringing, believing that it gave him perspective and empathy. But he also recognizes that, in the legal profession, it’s much easier for young layers to land a big-firm job if they come from a rich family. “What I have realized is that when you come from a working-class family, and you don’t have the social network of a UCC [Upper Canada College] grad, you’re not seen as valuable of a hire because you aren’t seen as someone who can bring in business.”

His sensitivity to that inherent classism in the profession continues to inform his view of the legal world — and, by extension, his bencher platform, which touches on a range of issues, not just civility.

For instance, he wants to ban unpaid articling jobs — unless the firm promises not to charge clients for the student’s work. “What you’re not allowed to do, in my view, is have somebody come and work, don’t pay them, and then bill them out and make other people pay for their service,” he says, speaking firmly. “It’s shameful.” (This past year, there were about 50 unpaid articling positions across Ontario.) And Groia feels the same way about the work placements that students complete as part of the Law Practice Program — an initiative he otherwise supports as “the best solution on the table” to deal with the declining number of articling jobs.

Groia is also “absolutely in favour of Alternative Business Structures” — that is, allowing non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. Not because he thinks it will improve access to justice or spur innovation in the law, but because, as far as he can tell, the corporatization of the legal economy has already occurred.

“The reality is, the large white-shoe firms operate as sophisticated businesses with sophisticated management structures,” he says, pointing out the fact that mega-firm Dentons is now made up of more than 6,500 lawyers. “I gotta tell you, I don’t see any real difference between a 3,000-lawyer partnership and an ABS with 3,000 shareholders and employees.”

And Groia does not feel any nostalgia for the smaller, tight-knit partnerships of earlier generations. “We all talk about the good old days when there were 12 partners, and you sat around the table and smoked cigars and there were no women in the room,” he says. Then, squinting his eyes, he adds: “I’m not quite sure why that’s the good old days.”

 

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Groia thinks the bencher election, at least for him, will amount to a referendum on his civility charges.

And, if that’s the case, he’s hopeful. Over the years, he says plenty of lawyers have come up to him in the halls of the courthouse to express support for how he handled himself during his legal troubles.

One such example is David Sterns, a partner at Sotos LLP and the second vice president at the Ontario Bar Association, who has publicly endorsed Groia’s candidacy. “When I ask myself why do I support him, it’s really because he’s shown character in the face of adversity,” he says. “He’s waged a lonely and costly battle with the regulator. And that takes a lot of character. It takes perseverance. I’m sure it’s been hell.”

And yet, all Groia has at the moment are those sorts of anecdotes. After the election, he’ll finally have some proof.

“If I lose the election, that will be it,” Groia says, matter-of-factly. “Then the profession will have said, ‘We don’t share Joe’s concerns. We don’t share Joe’s values.’ And life will go on.”

After close to an hour of chatting, Groia, still relaxed, calmly tells me he has to run to another meeting. With a plan in the works to appeal the decision against him once more, he is scheduled to talk strategy with his own lawyer, Earl Cherniak, a veteran litigator at Lerners LLP.

The moment we say goodbye, he springs out of his chair, darts out of the room and turns to his assistant. “Did you let him know I’ll be late?”


Read more of our 2015 Bencher Election coverage:

Janet-Leiper

 

Bencher Janet Leiper launches a joint campaign with first-time
candidate Isfahan Merali to help promote a fresh legal voice

 

 


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Q&A — Janet Minor, incoming LSUC treasurer

Last week, the Law Society of Upper Canada elected Janet Minor, a bencher since 2006, to become its next treasurer. Earning 31 of 60 votes at convocation, she edged out fellow benchers Christopher Bredt and Raj Anand to secure the Law Society’s top position.

Minor says her tenure will be unique in one fundamental way: unlike her predecessors, she is the first treasurer to have led a career in the public sector. Indeed, she served as general counsel in the constitutional law branch at Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General — an experience she sees as key advantage.

Here she speaks to Precedent about what she hopes to bring to the role.


Janet-MinorHaving worked at the Attorney General’s office in constitutional law, how might that help you as treasurer?

Janet Minor: If there is one thing I learned doing constitutional litigation, it’s that there are many different perspectives on social issues. And it’s important to appreciate all them when taking a policy position. Also, because my main area was public law, I am very interested and cognizant of issues facing marginalized people.

And you would have represented different kinds of clients than someone in private practice.

JM: When you work for the government, yes the “client” is the government — but you need to try to sympathize with the views of many different people. I’ve also worked under different governments and all political parties. So I’m quite used to learning how to approach issues in different ways that are helpful.

It’s interesting. That is, in a sense, the role of the treasurer. There are a lot of opinionated benchers and you have to find some kind of consensus. So you’ll need to have the skills to accomplish that.

JM: I like to think I have them.

How will you try to stay relevant in the minds of lawyers?

We always need to enhance our outreach. We have a huge amount of material on our website that people don’t always know how to navigate. So I think we could do some improving there. But it’s important for us to really partner with other legal organizations so that they can pass that information on to their members.

You have become treasurer at a time when the Law Society is in the midst of significant change. Whether it’s the Law Practice Program or Alternative Business Structures, there’s a lot going on — is that exciting for you?

JM: It’s very exciting. We have a number of challenges in the areas of globalization, technology, demographics and the need to make the legal profession more accessible and inclusive.

When it comes to access to justice, can the Law Society do more?

JM: Well, we want to do more. We are examining our processes to see if there is more we can do — and no doubt there is.

Will Justicia encourage women to stay in private practice?

The Law Society of Upper Canada has published a number of resources online that firms can use to retain and advance women in the law.

Included in the resources are ready-made policies regarding parental leave, pregnancy and flexible work arrangements. Until now, these policies were only available to the 57 law firms that participated in the Justicia project, which the Law Society founded in 2008 to reduce the number of women who leave private practice in the early stages of their career.

Indeed, the statistics are stark: 50 percent of law grads are women, but women make up only 35 percent of lawyers in private practice and 20 percent of partners.

And these numbers have held steady throughout the lifespan of Justicia, says Laurie Pawlitza, former LSUC treasurer who helped launch the project six years ago. That’s why, she says, these resources are so important: if women knew that their firm has a plan that will allow them them have children and maintain a career, they’ll be more likely to stay.

“Younger associates — male or female — want to have families and want time to spend with their children,” says Thomas Conway, current LSUC treasurer. He says that, until firms address this reality, top talent will continue to leave.

Plus, Pawlitza says women tend to leave private practice around the five-year mark, just after they’ve been trained and can start to bring in more money for the firm.

“The direct cost of losing an associate after training them is about $250,000,” says Conway. “You can trace it right to the bottom line.”

Both Pawlitza and Conway are not surprised that women continue to leave private firms, in large part because issues around retention have been historically neglected in the legal profession.

But they insist that over time the statistics will improve.

“I think that it’s going to take a few years before we start to see concrete changes where women are advancing in private firms, taking their parental leave and coming back and becoming leaders in their firms,” says Conway. “I think it’s going to take at least 10 years until we start seeing results.”

Earlier this week, the Law Society held a full-day symposium to discuss gender issues in the legal profession and to celebrate the release of the Justicia resources.