Best Practices: How Lee Ann Chapman is helping sick kids

“I’m going to be really unhealthy and order a Diet Coke,” says Lee Ann Chapman. No judgment here. It’s packed and scorching inside Café La Gaffe on this July afternoon. But the restaurant, on Baldwin Street, is just two blocks from the Hospital for Sick Children, where she’s an essential lifeline for patients and their parents. Chapman is a lawyer, not a doctor — yet what she does is as important as medical treatment.

How could that be? About a decade ago, the doctors and social workers at SickKids realized that, no matter how hard they tried, there were some issues they could not solve: their patients’ legal problems. The solution? A partnership between the hospital and Pro Bono Ontario. Together, they launched the triage lawyer program. The goal was to hire a lawyer to work on-site, who would provide pro bono legal services to patients. Chapman, who is 62, got the job.

Lawyer, Lee Ann Chapman, triage lawyer, SickKids Hospital

“When you come from a family that feels powerless, it takes a long time to think you have a voice,” says Lee Ann Chapman

Her arrival at SickKids was a godsend. There was plenty of work to do. In one case, a parent who’d spent all her time at her child’s bedside lost her job — and she needed a lawyer to send a letter to her employer. In another, Chapman helped to secure refugee status for a sick child visiting from Africa, so she could get health-care coverage for a kidney transplant. “The doctors don’t have to know how to solve the problems,” says Chapman, who leans in close to the table as she talks. “They just have to know when it’s an issue and call me.”

“Without her, we’d be faced with all these legal problems and not even know where to start,” says Barb Muskat, director of social work at SickKids. “I can’t imagine not having her here.”

Chapman didn’t go to law school until she was 40. She grew up in London, Ont., the daughter of low-income parents. “When you come from a family that feels powerless,” she says, “it takes a long time to think you have a voice.” So Chapman never imagined that a professional career — in medicine or in law — could be in her future. During her 20s and 30s, she drifted through odd jobs, including teaching ballet and working as a sous chef. But then her husband, Bruce Chapman, a philosophy professor at the time, went to law school. “Lee was so engaged when we discussed legal issues,” he recalls. “So I encouraged her to apply to law school.” That was just the nudge she needed. Several years after Bruce graduated, Chapman enrolled in law school at the University of Toronto.

Once there, Chapman knew she wanted to work in social justice. “Lee always had strong reactions to legal questions about the most marginalized,” Bruce remembers. “Particularly when it came to children.” Her first post-law-school job was a staff position at Justice for Children and Youth, a Legal Aid clinic in Toronto. She stayed there for nine years. Then came a slew of emails from friends and colleagues telling her to apply for the SickKids role.

After seven years at SickKids, Chapman is a jack of all trades. “There’s no area of civil law I don’t cover,” she says, taking a bite of her tilapia. But the one thing she doesn’t do? Litigation. Chapman needs to be on-site — and trying cases would make that impossible. So if disputes go to court, she refers them to one of SickKids’ pro bono partners — Torkin Manes LLP, McMillan LLP and Bellissimo Law Group.

After lunch, we head to Chapman’s office. It’s cramped. Pictures of sheep hang on the windowless walls and picture books rest upright on the table. Children often come by with their parents, but if they’re too ill, she’s at their bedside.

And they don’t always pull through. “One of my first clients was a remarkable young woman,” she says, referring to a 16-year-old girl battling muscular dystrophy while in school full-time. Her school said she couldn’t take English because it fell during the period her caretakers were scheduled to take lunch. Chapman contacted the superintendent, and had the schedules rejigged. “Sadly,” says Chapman, “she died this year.”

This story highlights how important a lawyer can be to a sick child: issues always crop up in which the training and clout of a lawyer go a long way. But every year, funding for her job is uncertain. Getting enough donations to keep her — and the four other triage lawyers at Ontario hospitals — on the payroll at PBO is always a struggle.

Chapman, though, has never wavered from her choice. “There’s a tissue box beside my desk,” she says. “People cry in my office all the time. But I don’t weep with them. That’s not my job. My job is to support them and make things better.”

Lawyer, Lee Ann Chapman, triage lawyer, SickKids Hospital

Lee Ann Chapman
Triage lawyer, SickKids Hospital
Year of call: 2000

Timeline of a pro bono triage lawyer

1984: Chapman begins her undergraduate degree in medieval history at York University.

1995: With two kids in grade school, she starts law school at the University of Toronto.

1998: After graduating, Chapman articles at Koskie Minsky LLP.

January 2000: Chapman is called to the bar and, soon after, starts volunteering part-time at West Scarborough Community Legal Services, a poverty-law clinic.

December 2000: Chapman begins working full-time as a staff lawyer at Justice for Children and Youth.

2009: Chapman gets a new job at SickKids that will see her help sick children and their families, for free, with a host of legal issues.

2016: Working with the father of a boy who died of cancer, Chapman drafts a bill to amend the Employment Standards Act’s restrictions on time off for bereaved parents. Currently, such parents get 10 personal days of job-protected leave. “If your child is murdered or goes missing, you get two years,” she says. The bill would give bereaved parents one year of protected leave. It passes its first reading.

Cover of the Fall Issue of Precedent Magazine

This story is from our Fall 2016 issue.




Photography by Chris Tomaidis

The Circuit: Pro Bono Ontario holds an awards gala to mark its 15th anniversary

What: Pro Bono Ontario’s 15th Anniversary Gala
Where: Fermenting Cellar, 28 Distillery Lane
When: Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“The contributions that lawyers across this province are making through pro bono work is a direct contradiction to the often repeated public image of lawyers and the legal profession, which tends to operate from the old Shakespeare line, The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” said Patrick Monahan, the deputy attorney general, to a collective chuckle as he wrapped up his opening remarks at Pro Bono Ontario’s 15th-anniversary awards gala. “In fact, the members of the legal profession are committed to the administration of justice, and to helping the disadvantaged.”

And PBO’s history is a testament to that. Founded in 2001, PBO connects lawyers who want to do good, but perhaps don’t know how. Since its inception, PBO has helped over 100,000 people get access to justice.

Held in the Distillery District, the event saw over 300 members of the legal profession come to celebrate that access to justice.

More than 30 awards were presented to firms and lawyers in categories such as excellence in corporate pro bono and excellence in services to children and youth.

In his closing remarks, David Scott, PBO’s chair emeritus, personally addressed Lynn Burns, the organization’s executive director. “The citizens of Ontario, Lynn, are in your debt. You have created for those in real need, the largest law firm in the province.”

To learn more about Pro Bono Ontario, visit its website.

Have an event coming up? Invite us to your party!

Sponsors of this event included Duff &Phelps and Nera Economic Consulting.

Precedent Setter Awards 2016: Jacqueline Swaisland

Jacqueline Swaisland

Associate, Lorne Waldman Professional Corporation
Called to bar in 2008

When the heartbreaking photo of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi surfaced last summer in the midst of his country’s refugee crisis, friends and colleagues turned to Jacqueline Swaisland to find out how they could help. “I didn’t know,” admits the 35-year-old immigration and refugee lawyer. “My husband said, ‘If anybody can step up here, it’s you.’”

He was right. By October, Swaisland had co-founded the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, now a nationwide network of 1,200 lawyers ready to help any Canadian who wants to sponsor a refugee to come to the country — all pro bono. In Toronto alone, they’ve helped more than 1,000 refugees.

Swaisland joined Lorne Waldman Professional Corporation, a top immigration firm known for its commitment to pro bono work, in 2009. “She’s brilliant,” says founding partner Lorne Waldman. “Jackie had lots of other opportunities and she chose to work in a field where the remuneration is not nearly as high as it might have been given her skill set.” After all, she is a Fulbright scholar with a master’s degree from Harvard.Jackie Swaisland

For Swaisland, helping those in need has always been a top priority. “Refugees don’t come with bags of money,” she says. “If they’re able to secure a job, they’re often in cleaning positions at minimum wage.” Close to 40 percent of her work is pro bono — even all six Supreme Court appearances.

The work can also be draining. Clients come from war-torn countries where seeing family members shot or blown up is common. “I can’t not be affected,” says Swaisland. But going home to her two-year-old daughter — who adorably yells “running!” whenever she bolts away from her mother — is a reliable remedy. “It’s very joyful to be with her and hear her giggle.”


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.

Good News From Bay Street: 6 things law firms are doing right

Cover of the Fall 2015 Issue of Precedent

Bay Street law firms get a bad rap. As the pundit insists, they’re inefficient and slow-to-change. And sure, law firms aren’t perfect. But they’re pretty smart, and more than ever making positive changes — for female lawyers, clients, senior associates. And we sought out such stories for our latest cover story. Below are six dispatches from Bay Street, each one highlighting one way that law firms are moving in the right direction.

  1. Genuine problems persist, but it’s never been better to be a woman in law.
  2. The up-or-out model — a long-time morale-killer at the largest firms — is starting to fade.
  3. An armada of Bay Street firms team up with Pro Bono Law Ontario to help sick children and their families.
  4. In the past year, some lawyers have decided to let clients decide how much to pay on their legal bills.
  5. Big firms still have a ways to go, but law has become a much happier place to be out and proud.
  6. After this law firm hired a chief executive officer, it saw its overhead fall by 20 percent.

This story is from our Fall 2015 issue.

Best Practices: Crime and accomplishment

Nader Hasan has an Ivy League degree, he passed both the Ontario and the New York bar exams and he once matched his billable hours in pro bono work. He also made partner in just two years at Clayton Ruby’s criminal law firm.

You won’t be surprised, then, to learn he drinks his morning coffee in the shower. How else would he get it all done?

Hasan initially studied pre-med at Harvard. In his spare time, he ran an ESL program for refugees from war-torn places such as Somalia and Kosovo. The stories he heard about injustice inspired him to “do something about it.” For him, that meant switching gears and choosing law school over med school. He graduated magna cum laude — among several honours and awards — with a BA in government. Next up was a master’s of philosophy from the University of Cambridge and then a law degree at the University of Toronto.

After clerking for Canadian Supreme Court justice Marshall Rothstein, Hasan moved to New York to work as an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, a large corporate firm, in 2007. The firm has a long history of pursuing social causes and Hasan quickly fell in step.

In one of his three years there, he put in 1,500 hours of pro bono work on top of his 1,500 billable hours, which averages out to eight hours a day, 365 days a year. “There were long stretches of 15-hour days,” he says, but then tries to downplay it. “Three thousand hours in New York is not typical, but it’s also not unusual.” Much of that time was spent working on defence appeals for the wrongfully convicted. He also won a settlement for a prisoner assaulted by federal prison guards.

But he and his fiancé, Penelope Ng — then doing corporate law at Jones Day’s New York office, now an associate at Toronto family law firm Epstein Cole LLP — always planned to come back home to Toronto. The chance came in 2010 when Hasan’s friend Gerald Chan recommended him for a position at Ruby’s office.

The next three years saw his superstar status grow. Hasan has now appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada six times, arguing that Crown attorneys shouldn’t be allowed to secretly conduct background checks on potential jurors, and that warrants should be required before police can search someone’s workplace computer, to cite two cases.

Other cases he’s worked on range from the high-profile — working alongside Ruby in a conflict of interest charge against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford — to the seemingly hilarious — he defended a naturist who drove up to a Tim Hortons drive-through in his birthday suit.

One thing this overachiever can’t master: the hot Toronto housing market. At press time, Hasan and Ng — who’ve been together since their first week of law school in 2003 — were unsuccessfully trying to buy a home close to downtown near a good elementary school (they don’t have kids yet, but plan to). Presumably, they’re looking for a house with a library for Hasan to indulge one of his few non-work related passions. “I know it’s really nerdy, but I read a lot of biographies,” he says, most recently of Lyndon B. Johnson and Joseph Kennedy, Sr. (father of the assassinated U.S. president).

Hasan has another minor Achilles heel: he struggles to heed one piece of advice from his boss and mentor, Ruby. “He told me, ‘Don’t let the wins get you high for more than a day, and don’t let the losses get you down for more than a day.’” Following the first part helps keep him grounded, but he admits: “The losses still get me down.”

The Lowdown

Year of call: 2007 (Ontario); 2008 (New York State)
Current job: Partner, Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan Barristers
The thing I covet most: Courtside tickets for the Toronto Raptors
If i weren’t a lawyer: I’d find other ways to take on the establishment
Pet peeve: Inefficiency
The thing most people don’t know about me: The first language I spoke was Norwegian. (My mother is from Norway; my father from Bangladesh)

Photography by Margaret Mulligan

Toronto lawyers offer to take on Rob Ford for free

Two Toronto lawyers have offered pro bono defence to anyone sued for defamation by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for making comments to police about the mayor’s personal conduct.

In police documents released this week, Ford is accused of drinking and driving, using cocaine and being in the company of a possible escort. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Ford has now threatened to take “legal action” against a waiter and three former members of his staff for what they told police, denouncing their claims as “outright lies.”

His words have sparked a reaction from the Toronto legal community.

The first response came from Brian Shiller, a partner at Clayton Ruby’s criminal defence firm, who said he would represent anyone Ford sues on a pro bono basis. Soon after, Hugh O’Reilly, a partner at Cavalluzzo Shilton McIntyre Cornish LLP, made a similar offer over Twitter. Although O’Reilly is an insolvency lawyer, he says that with the support of his firm and connections to lawyers with defamation expertise, any defendant would be represented properly.

Meanwhile, Ford is yet to file a lawsuit and it’s unclear when or if he will. Some legal experts doubt Ford has any grounds for a lawsuit because comments made to police are, generally, protected by privilege. The only way his case might stick, according to a media lawyer at the CBC, is if the statements are false and the defendant is proved to have spoken with the intent of injuring Ford’s reputation.

O’Reilly suggests that in the end, Ford’s own lawyers will advise the mayor that a lawsuit would have no merit.

There is, however, a larger issue at play for O’Reilly: he is concerned that Ford is trying to intimidate less powerful members of society.

O’Reilly used to be a political staffer himself — he was the chief of staff for former Ontario Cabinet Minister Brian Charlton. He says it would have been difficult for former Ford staffers, who were dedicated to their boss, to speak to the police. Because of that added pressure, it important that the mayor not be able to use the legal system to intimidate people from speaking out.

O’Reilly says he is genuinely trying to do the right thing, not just “trolling” for clients, nor trying to insert himself into the Ford narrative.

“I certainly don’t agree with Rob Ford’s views, but I have to tell you that on a personal level, watching his tragedy unfold is very upsetting,” he says. “I’d like to see him out of the spotlight and I have no desire to be in the spotlight beside him.”

Image: Shaun Merritt via Flickr