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

Opinion: How to stop workplace misogyny

You’re sitting in a morning strategy meeting on a big file, and the partner asks your colleague whether she’s getting enough sleep. She replies that she just isn’t wearing mascara that day. An awkward silence follows.

You and your mentee are admiring a senior partner who excels at work, raised a family and participates in the community. Your mentee asks how she could possibly do it all. You talk about long days and superhuman energy. Neither of you ask the same question about male senior partners with children.

You’re speculating with your group about who will make partner next. There’s a wealth of talented young women in the pool, but nobody is sure which of them will choose to start a family, or when. This is an accepted factor in the guessing game.

Sound familiar? I have participated in all of these discussions; I’ve even instigated some of the comments. I meant well. I hadn’t set out to contradict my feminist values. And yet I contributed to the harmful stereotypes that women still face in this profession. And even when I didn’t instigate the conversation, I let it happen without interjecting. I was a bystander.

On the national stage, there are success stories, like the lauding of Lerners LLP as one of the first Canadian firms to achieve gender parity. Yet numerous trending hashtags — #VAW, #BeenRapedNeverReported, #ICanNeverBeAJudge, #EverydaySexism, #SuitablyDressed, to name a few — remind us that women are still silenced, discounted and marginalized because their sex and sexuality can be used against them. They remind us of the discrimination women face regardless of their intelligence, education, economic status or work ethic.

But how do these stories, and the problems they expose, affect our everyday practice? Women continue to excel as lawyers and judges. Law societies have been working for years on retaining women in private practice. Law firms, private companies and governments have discrimination and harassment policies. What more can we possibly do?

Our profession needs to revisit its moral imperative to address “small” injustices: everyday sexism, offhand misogyny, casual hints of violence against women.

Lawyers don’t need convincing of this moral imperative. But we’re Type As — we need a plan of action. A closing agenda. A precedent. And lucky for us, there are many precedents. Here is just one.

Toronto’s most prominent LGBTQ organizations have adopted the international Hear It! Stop It! #NoBystanders campaign. It is not a campaign about large-scale law reform, about revolution, about punishing all perpetrators. Rather, it is a campaign that asks us to practice the following credo in the fight for human rights and equality: “I will never be a bystander to homophobic or transphobic language. If I hear it, I will stop it.”

Lawyers can borrow this simple strategy in the effort to treat all our colleagues equally and respectfully. It starts in your office and it starts today. It starts like this:

  • If you hear comments about a colleague’s appearance, challenge the acceptability of those remarks.
  • If you hear concerns about a woman’s ability to manage her files, get back up to speed or make partner after she’s had a child, ask questions about the basis for those views.
  • If you hear rumours about a lawyer’s sexual activity, do what you do best: object on the basis of relevance.

It is not about speaking for women, or being “strong” when the immediate victims choose not to speak out. It’s about speaking up for yourself, and your values of equality. And it’s about listening, educating yourself, engaging others and promoting accountability. It is not about single-handedly ending all violence and discrimination against all women; there is no one prescription for such complex issues. It’s about changing the conversation. No bystanders.

Bystanding Still

This story is from our Summer 2015 issue.




Molly ReynoldsMolly Reynolds is a litigation associate at Torys LLP in Toronto. She’s also the editor of the Ontario Bar Association’s civil litigation newsletter.



Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

Opinion: Crowdfunding law is about to become the next hot practice area

For the young (and even the not-so-young) lawyers looking to build a brand and develop a recession-proof practice in this bleak economy, I have two words for you: crowdfunding law. If you’re making the “she’s crazy” face, I understand. That’s exactly the reaction former Bay Street partner Ian Kyer got when he went to his firm’s management, more than 30 years ago, to ask if he could start a practice in “computer law.” Ian was a pioneer back then, and is now considered an IT law guru. Sometimes, to make a name for yourself, you have to be bold.

Crowdfunding started as a hip social experiment that took off when Kickstarter launched in 2009. Through the site, enterprising artists and makers appealed to the masses to chip in a few bucks towards a new venture that no bank would ever back. The experiment was successful. (Even Barack Obama used a similar model to transport himself into the Oval Office in 2008 by raising a record $750 million US — $600 million of which came from small donors through his website.) Today, crowdfunding has matured into a full-fledged industry worth up to $5 billion US. How did this happen? When the stock market crash hit in 2008, banks and investors stopped lending money to risky start-ups so readily. This capital crisis meant entrepreneurs had to find creative new sources of financing.

Some of the earliest examples involved filmmakers. Unable to convince studios to fund their movies, they turned to audiences, offering perks for cash. A $100-investor might receive an autographed movie poster, a ticket to a premiere and the DVD upon release. In cases where the movie isn’t made, the funds must be returned. But that can be a problem if the funds were spent before the plug was pulled. None of this was of much interest to lawyers, or regulators for that matter, since it was all small potatoes.

Then the amounts started to climb — see the now-famous example of the $5.7 million raised to produce a movie version of Veronica Mars, a cancelled TV show with a cult following. In Ontario, securities regulations allow companies to crowdfund up to $1.5 million in any 12-month period, still a tidy sum. And with higher investment comes higher risk — and a much greater chance of class action litigation if things go sour.

There is also the threat of fraud, which securities regulators are trying to reign in using public disclosure requirements. It’s a significant risk. Most of the transactions are internet-based and it’s not as if investors are provided with a detailed business plan and audited financial statements before they fork over their cash.

As crowdfunding secures its foothold as a mainstream investment vehicle, it won’t just be litigators who have all the fun. Tax and business lawyers will have to develop expertise in the field to advise entrepreneurs on how to position the investor contributions to best advantage. Meanwhile, IT lawyers are already hard at work, advising Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites on how to set up their terms of use and licensing models.

It’s a field ripe for the picking. And the crowdfunding model will become even more interesting if it supplants traditional banking and capital investment institutions as the funding vehicle of choice. This will lead to institutional investors scrambling for a piece of the action.

Recently, I ran into Ian Kyer — the guru himself — and mentioned he would be making an appearance in my Precedent piece. “What a coincidence,” he said, laughing. He told me he had just co-authored an article on crowdfunding. Sounds like I’m not so crazy after all.

Byron Eggenschwiler

May M. Cheng is chair of the Toronto Intellectual Property Group at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP and a supporter of crowdfunding for charitable causes through avaaz.org.

Illustration by Byron Eggenschwiler

Opinion: Waiting to inhale

The federal government is deeply attached to its “tough on crime” agenda. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have made major changes to criminal law, largely through omnibus legislation. One of their main targets? Weed. They’ve introduced harsher sentences for drug production, despite strong evidence that criminal sanctions have little to no impact on marijuana use. And to the increasing calls to legalize marijuana? Harper’s response: “It will not happen under our government.”

What the prime minister should know is that he can get tougher on crime by decriminalizing marijuana. If Conservatives are serious about tackling crime, they must stop wasting resources on policing marijuana use through criminal law.

More than 26,000 people in Canada were charged with marijuana possession in 2012. This is an enormous cost for the criminal justice system, from the police time involved in processing charges to the clogging of courthouse dockets, overloading of duty counsel and putting stress on legal aid offices. This over-burdening occasionally results in serious charges being stayed because of the length of time they take to get to trial. Staying charges that do not make it to trial in a reasonable amount of time is just and in keeping with the Constitution. But how can the government claim to be tough on crime when charges like murder and sexual assault are tossed because of a bull-headed adherence to an outdated and ill-informed law?

The cost of the war on marijuana is staggering, and it’s time to start asking ourselves what the point is, exactly.

Attitudes toward marijuana use and possession are changing. Politicians of the famous (Justin Trudeau) and infamous (Rob Ford) variety have admitted to smoking marijuana and still have viable political careers (in some cases, astoundingly).

Even law enforcement officials are on board to decriminalize pot. In the summer of 2013, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police asked the government to allow police to issue a ticket rather than lay a charge when they find a citizen carrying less than 30 grams of marijuana. This decriminalization (not legalization) would allow the Conservatives to maintain their position that marijuana should be illegal, while addressing some of the costly consequences of the current criminal regime.

There is hope for change. Justice Minister Peter MacKay is considering tabling legislation that would grant the request made by police chiefs. Although he insists possession would still be a crime, new legislation could give police more discretion on how to deal with people found with small amounts of pot.

MacKay says the government is still ironing out the details of the ticketing approach. What’s the hold up? The ticketing system could easily be modelled after the way we regulate speeding. Marijuana possession would result in fines but no criminal record and offenders, like those caught speeding, would have three options: admit guilt and pay a fine, discuss a resolution with a prosecutor or go to trial. Justices of the peace could preside over the trials. Existing municipal prosecutors could be subcontracted out to the federal government, or paralegals could be hired specifically to fill the role at a much-reduced cost compared to federal Crown attorneys.

While this option doesn’t address all the consequences of the illegality of marijuana, it does allow the Harper government to maintain its tough-guy image while addressing the most serious issues. There are surely better solutions out there (hello, Colorado), but this would be a small, conservative step in the right direction.

Illustration by Adrian Forrow

Amelia R. Martin is a solo criminal defence lawyer and former per diem Crown attorney and provincial prosecutor. Though not a card-carrying member of any party, she has seen first-hand the toll of pot policing on the justice system.

Illustration by Adrian Forrow