No, asking lawyers to write a statement of principles does not violate the right to free speech

In case you haven’t checked your email lately, you have work to do. When filing next year’s annual report to the Law Society of Upper Canada, every lawyer in Ontario has to submit a personal “Statement of Principles” on diversity and inclusion. Each statement must acknowledge your obligation to equality, diversity and inclusion — both in general and in your behaviour toward employees, clients and the public.

This new requirement is one of the suggestions put forward in the Law Society’s report on systemic racism in the profession. To help lawyers meet this requirement, the Law Society has provided two sample statements that practitioners can use, though they are welcome to modify the language or write one from scratch.

My advice? Don’t simply copy and paste the template. If that was your plan, I don’t fault you. When you’re forced to do something, it’s easy to miss why it’s so important.

Case in point: a recent column in the National Post described this new requirement as a violation of our right to free speech. The author argues that to compel a lawyer to make a commitment to diversity and to actively promote diversity crosses the line — and that, if the Law Society imposed sanctions on those who failed to submit a statement, it may be “unconstitutional.”

I agree that we shouldn’t force people to promote opinions they don’t hold. However, as lawyers, we should also be open to hearing the merits of all sides of an issue. The profession is a journey for each of us. Why shouldn’t we, instead, treat this as an opportunity to write our own statement of principles, one that you can stand behind?

After all, that’s what I intend to do. To demonstrate why I think this exercise is so valuable, I’d like to share three clauses I plan to include in my own statement of principles.

  1. I acknowledge that, as a lawyer, I am part of both my community and my profession. It is my responsibility as an advocate to promote and advance equality, diversity, and inclusion, because this is an issue that affects the community around me. 

Diversity matters to our communities and the world around us. When an area like the Peel Region, whose population is 57 percent racialized, has only three minority judges serving at its Ontario Court of Justice, it matters. When police officers disproportionately card young, racialized men and women who can’t access lawyers that can understand their perspective, it matters. When I hear members of the bar openly ask why we need foreign-trained lawyers in the Ontario legal profession, it matters. And it matters every time a racialized, female lawyer is mistaken as a note-taker or translator in a courtroom.

  1. I acknowledge that for every privilege associated with being a member of the legal profession comes an equal amount of responsibility and obligation. I acknowledge that, by law, we are under a duty to treat clients, employees and those seeking membership in the vocational associations that I am part of equally and without discrimination. 

If, as the National Post column suggests, forcing an opinion on diversity is a violation of our constitutional rights, then let’s consider the entire picture that comes with the constitution. Section 15 gives us the right to be treated equally on the basis of race, among other things, by our government. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, we have legal obligations to refrain from treating an individual differently based on race in the course of employment, membership in a vocational association, and/or the provision of goods and services (for instance, during interactions with clients).

The report on racialized licensees demonstrates that the rights of certain members of our profession are violated every single day — both when looking for work and interacting with clients, bosses and colleagues. We cannot ignore this discrimination. It’s happening right in front of us and we seem to have accepted as a fact of life. We must do better.

  1. I acknowledge that in the course of this obligation to promote diversity, equality and inclusion, it is also important to help those that may face struggles and barriers to inclusion. Fostering mentorship, advocacy, and community are part of my personal values towards diversity. 

I went to law school in the U.K. When I started looking for an articling position, I noticed that “foreign trained” students — especially those who were newcomers to Canada — disproportionately landed jobs with sole practitioners and at small firms outside of Toronto. Many even articled for free. The barriers I saw don’t even scratch the surface of what the report on racialized licensees found.

The first few years of a legal career are so important. The lessons you learn, the mentorship you receive, the things you are taught about ethics — all of these things shape the lawyer you will become. No one should go through this period, or indeed any point in their career, feeling like an outsider.

If you’re not sure what to write as your statement of principles, take a few minutes and think back on your own career path and how you can ensure others have the same opportunities. I’m sure you’ll find the opinions you need — and you likely won’t need to rely on a template for them either.


Richa SandillRicha Sandill is an employment and human-rights lawyer at MacDonald & Associates. She also sits on the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto’s board of directors.

The Insider: How executive chef Adam Foley reinvented the restaurant at Osgoode Hall

When Adam Foley took over the kitchen at the Osgoode Hall Restaurant a decade ago, his new boss, the CEO of the Law Society, gave him specific orders: don’t get rid of the club sandwich, the steak frites or — and this was most important — the butter tart. Foley obeyed.

Those items are as popular as ever, but Foley had plans of his own. “I immediately noticed that lawyers are educated eaters,” says the 49-year-old executive chef. They may crave red meat and pastries now and again, but they also want healthier options. So Foley decided to keep three protein-rich salads — like a delicious Milford Bay smoked trout — on the menu at all times.

Foley also brought his farm-to-table ethos to the restaurant. “I always want to support local agriculture,” he says. He stocks the kitchen with vinegars and oils from the Niagara region. The steak hails from Wellington County. These are small changes, but big points of pride. “I care so much about where the food comes from.”

The dining room at Osgoode Hall is unlike any other in the city. It was once a lecture hall — before 1968, when the Osgoode Hall Law School campus migrated from down-town Toronto to York University. Huge chandeliers hang from the ceiling and count-less volumes of old law books line the walls. And the windows are all stained glass.

The restaurant, which serves lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., is open to the public. But since it’s in the same building as the Court of Appeal, it’s unique in another way: diners have to clear security to get inside. Foley, then, mostly cooks for lawyers and judges, often on break from court, decked out in their gowns.

Adam Foley

“I care so much about where the food comes from,” says Adam Foley, executive chef at Osgoode Hall.

Not quite the clientele that Foley, as a budding chef, imagined he’d cook for. His passion for food stems from childhood. He would spend afternoons watching Julia Child on TV with his dad. For dinner every Saturday, the two would prepare one of Child’s dishes, flooding their Leaside home with the smells of French cooking.

When Foley graduated high school in 1989, he enrolled in culinary arts at George Brown College. Two years later, he was in London, England, working in a Michelin-star restaurant at the Cliveden Hotel. In 1993, Foley came home to Toronto. He ran a few kitchens, including Rosewater Supper Club, before landing at Osgoode Hall. These days, Foley oversees a staff of 26 that prepares and serves his creations.

But he’s done more than reinvent the menu. Foley has also revamped the Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program, which serves hot meals to the poor and homeless four times a week out of the Law Society’s cafeteria. In the past decade, Foley eliminated processed food from what the program offered. “It’s all homemade comfort food,” he says. “We prepare 60 litres of soup twice a week for it. I’m enormously proud of looking after those who need it.”

So what’s Foley planning for the future? He wants to have a nutritionist evaluate every dish in the Law Society’s cafeteria, which he also oversees. That way, he can offer a nutritional breakdown of each dish, so diners can make more informed choices.

Such attention to detail has earned Foley some big fans. Take George Ruggiero, the managing partner at the boutique commercial-law firm Schneider Ruggiero LLP. “When the stars align, I try to eat at the restaurant five days a week,” he says. “Adam is meticulous. And he shows creativity when crafting the menu on a daily basis. The restaurant is Toronto’s best-kept secret.”


This story is from our Spring 2017 issue.

 

 

 


Photo by Tim Fraser courtesy of Osgoode Hall Restaurant

Best Practices: How Renatta Austin built a public-interest firm out of the Great Library

Renatta Austin can’t afford an office. And she might not be able to any time soon. But that’s kind of the point. The 29-year-old lawyer is hell-bent on building a solo practice that serves those with the least money, so if she’s making enough to afford office rent, she’s charging too much. Especially when her current base of operations — the Great Library on the second floor of the Law Society of Upper Canada — is free.

“It’s nearly perfect,” says Austin, as she ushers me into one of the library’s meeting rooms. Clients can’t get in after 5 p.m., but otherwise, the space is great for meetings. “It’s private, and clients don’t care about having bells and whistles,” she tells me. And it keeps her prices ultra-low: Austin offers unbundled legal services and charges flat fees, based on hourly rates between $100 and $150. Yet the library is more than a cheap meeting spot. It comes with access to Wi-Fi, law journals and a first-rate librarian. “You can run an entire practice out of this place.”

And since last fall, that’s what Austin has done, on top of working from home. It started as a part-time gig. Austin saw clients in the evenings, and worked nine-to-five as policy counsel at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. But after six months, she got antsy. Austin wanted to work for herself. By late summer, she quit her day job. “I’m relationship- and child-free,” says Austin. “There would never be a better time to make such a crazy decision.”

Renatta Austin

Renatta Austin at the Great Library, which she uses for office space

Every area of law has its own access-to-justice crisis. But Austin is tackling the one in administrative law — mostly education, a field entirely outside the remit of Legal Aid. She defends children who have been suspended or expelled (usually for fighting), and pressures schools to adequately accommodate students with special needs (by, say, providing them with an in-class assistant). Austin cut her teeth in the area shortly after law school as a volunteer at Pro Bono Law Ontario. Education files kept hitting her desk. “I absolutely loved it,” she says, smiling. “I’ve become passionate about helping young people.”

From the moment Austin started her firm, calls have flooded in from parents on almost every foothold of the economic ladder. Some make minimum wage; others earn $80,000 a year. None can find an affordable lawyer. “If you’re willing to work at a reduced rate,” says Austin, “you’ll have no problem getting clients.”

Austin hastens to add, however, that her firm couldn’t survive on those clients alone. Which is why, a few months into her practice, she cultivated a sideline in municipal law — in which she bills $300 to $400 an hour. Austin came by the idea while at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. For example, when a bill comes up for a vote, city councillors need legal help to determine if they have a conflict of interest. Austin found this problem most acute in small towns, “where most elected officials are part-timers who have businesses in the community.” Now she advises councillors and mayors — she wouldn’t name any — from rural municipalities across the province. “That’s the trade-off,” she says, matter-of-factly. “To make ends meet, I do some work that might be less fulfilling.”

Austin also refuses to work for free. In the early days of her firm, she offered pro bono consultations, but it went terribly. “If people don’t have a stake in their case, if it hasn’t cost them something, they’re difficult to manage,” she says. “They wouldn’t show up to meetings, wouldn’t return phone calls, would sometimes just disappear.”

When public-interest lawyers are willing to work for free, that unrestrained altruism can seed their downfall. “I’ve see it happen,” says Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, and an authority on access-to-justice. “When clients call in a crisis, lawyers often feel they can’t say no.” Austin, though, is prepared to do just that. “I love public-service work,” she says. “But I also have student loans to pay.”

Austin has put a lot on the line to start her firm. But why? Growing up in Roncesvalles Village, with her mother and father both working in public service, she never felt downtrodden or disadvantaged. So what drives her? “I’m sure my parents are also curious,” she answers when I ask her. Then she pauses, and struggles to find the right words. “Some people are just, sort of, meant to do public service. That’s part of me and I don’t know why.”

Whatever the reason, Austin is part of a pattern. “It’s always young lawyers who risk the most,” says Joanne St. Lewis, a bencher at the Law Society who has known Austin, through the Black Law Students Association, for a half-decade. “Renatta is re-thinking what it means to be a lawyer. And it’s gratifying to see: this is what re-invigorates us as a profession.”

Before our interview ends, Austin tries to answer my question again. “This is interesting work and I’m having fun. As long as that doesn’t change, I’ll keep doing it.”


Renatta Austin

Timeline of a young sole practitioner

2003: In high school, Austin begins a six-year volunteering stint at Hearing Every Youth Through Youth, which runs a teen helpline.

2005: Austin graduates from Bloor Collegiate, in downtown Toronto. “It was incredibly diverse. I met people from all walks of life.”

2009: With a degree in political science in hand from the University of Toronto, she enrolls in the faculty of law at the same school.

2012: Austin articles at the City of Toronto.

2013: To quench her thirst for more education, she enrolls in the Master’s of Public Administration a tWestern University.

2014: Austin makes two career moves. First, she takes a job at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. At the same time, she starts her own law firm, dedicated to low-income clients.

2015, Spring: At 28 years old, Austin runs for bencher at the Law Society of Upper Canada. Her campaign is inspired. She doesn’t win a seat, but earns an astounding 2,329 votes. “I spent no money, I was a second-year call, and I did better than lawyers with the backing of Bay Street firms,” she says.“So I think I did really well.”

2015, Summer: Austin quits her day job to make her solo firm her only gig.


Winter-2015-cover-smallThis story is from our Winter 2015 issue.

 

 

 


Photography by Anya Chibis

Opinion: The inside story of the first female South Asian bencher

On May 1, 2015, I woke up early, my heart racing. Ontario lawyers had just spent more than two weeks voting in the bencher election and the results were about to be announced. After four months of campaigning I had to know: had I been elected a bencher or not?

I tried not to get my hopes up — after all, it’s difficult for new candidates to get elected, especially racialized lawyers from the public sector.

Then came an email from the Law Society of Upper Canada with the results. Every four years, 20 lawyers are elected from within Toronto, and 20 from elsewhere in the province. I was not listed in the Toronto 20. Officially not a bencher.

I was sad, but I didn’t fret for long. I was too proud of my campaign — our campaign, I should say.

For the first time, two bencher hopefuls ran in tandem, buying ads together and cross-pollinating with each other’s networks. Credit for the idea goes to my running-mate Janet Leiper, a defence lawyer, Toronto’s former integrity commissioner, an incumbent bencher and, more recently, my mentor.

Janet wanted to go beyond the typical framework of mentorship — well beyond meeting for coffee and chatting about career possibilities. She wanted to champion someone she felt would add value and diversity to the bencher group, someone who wouldn’t normally have a strong chance of being elected. She chose me — a relatively unknown South Asian human-rights lawyer working for the province.

By now, the benefits of diversity are well known. Studies show that diverse organizations outperform non-diverse competitors. As author Lauren Rivera noted in the New York Times, “Too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information and make poor (or even unethical) decisions.

”It’s critical that the Law Society reflects the lawyers it governs, as well as the public it serves. (After the last election, in 2011, non-white lawyers made up a disheartening 7.5 percent of Convocation.)

Janet’s plan involved lending her credibility and reputation to me. We attended events as a pair and she sang my praises to her network of prominent members of the legal community. Her plan was to take me with her. And she did.

You see, I was voted number 21 in Toronto. And at the first Convocation of the newly elected benchers, Janet Minor (it’s been a good year for Janets) would revert back to her status as treasurer of the Law Society and the lawyer voted number 21 would bump up to fill the final bencher spot. In other words, I was now a bencher.

On May 28, 2015, I joined the Law Society of Upper Canada as the first South Asian female bencher in its 218-year history. (Plus, Convocation is now more diverse than ever, with 22.5 percent racialized benchers.) I admit the achievement brought a few tears. But the good news doesn’t end there. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

When Janet Leiper was elected in 2011, she earned a respectable 12th-place standing among Toronto candidates. This year? Janet placed second, with support from 33 percent of all voters. Not only did my running-mate’s support help me get elected, but running together served her campaign as well. She benefitted from the added exposure to my network of public-service colleagues and the joint endorsement that we received from the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association.

The lesson of my story is this: if you want something, you can’t just hope it will show up before your eyes. It never will. Janet knew Convocation needed a fresh, diverse voice. And she took action.

So look around your office, your board of directors, your kid’s parent council. Whose voices are missing? If you want them to show up and speak up, then you have to seek them out, champion them and act as their megaphone.



Cover of the Fall 2015 Issue of PrecedentThis story is from our Fall 2015 issue.

 

 

 


Isfahan MeraliIsfahan Merali is a bencher in Toronto and tribunal counsel with Ontario’s Consent and Capacity Board, with a focus on administrative and mental health law.

 

 

 


Illustration by Yarek Waszul

Precedent Setter Awards 2015: Paul Saguil

Paul Jonathan Saguil

Counsel, TD Bank Financial Group
Called to the bar in 2008
Law school: Osgoode Hall

In late 2013, Paul Saguil started to feel bored. It had been a year since the young litigator left Stockwoods LLP to go in-house at TD Bank, where he began to instruct outside counsel on a range of lawsuits. But he wanted something more cutting-edge. And when he took that concern to management, they had the perfect job in mind.

The bank’s top brass assigned Saguil to what’s known at TD as “the hub,” an elite four-lawyer team that serves as a kind of internal police force.

Paul SaguilSitting in the spotless TD lunchroom, the 33-year-old sums up his role. Basically, if the bank suspects that one of its employees is acting up — by, say, manipulating financial statements or selling confidential data to criminals — it’s his job to find out if the allegations are true. “We’re not carpet sweepers,” says Saguil. “We want to have a disciplined fact-finding exercise, so that when we do have to defend ourselves we know what the story is.”

When asked if it can be awkward to play bad cop with colleagues, Saguil flashes a broad smile, as if to say, You have no idea.

“They don’t always see it as playing on their team,” he explains. “My personal challenge is to turn off the litigator, cross-examiner mode.”

Outside the office, Saguil is busy making the profession more inclusive. Today, he offers pro bono counsel to Out on Bay Street, mentors law students and co-chairs a committee on diversity at the Law Society. “We don’t always celebrate these behind-the-scenes efforts,” says Douglas Judson, a third-year law student at Osgoode Hall, who works with Saguil at Out on Bay Street. “They can seem brutally administrative, but they’re really important.”

All told, Saguil has to fight to spend time with his partner of six years, Calvin Cheng, let alone get some rest. But he refuses to complain: “I can put up with the sleepless nights because I’m working on a larger project — making the profession a better place for lawyers with diverse backgrounds.”


Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.

 

 


Photography by Jaime Hogge; Hair and makeup by Shawna Lee; Shot on location at Spin Toronto

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.