Feature: White out

When Precedent’s first issue came out, a decade ago, less than 12 percent of lawyers in Ontario identified as racialized. But since then, that figure has climbed to 19 percent. For this special anniversary edition of the magazine, we sought out three racialized lawyers — whom we’ve profiled in these pages before — and asked them to reflect on how the profession has changed.

Their message: don’t get too excited by the numbers. For one thing, lawyers in Ontario remain less diverse than the province’s general population, which is 26 percent racialized. And, as research from the Law Society of Upper Canada shows, discrimination — ranging from unspoken bias to outright harassment — is a reality for many racialized lawyers. What follows are three status reports on the battle for racial equality in law.

 

Ranjan Agarwal

Ranjan Agarwal

Ranjan Agarwal
Partner, Bennett Jones LLP
First appearance in Precedent: Summer 2012

Eighteen months ago, Ranjan Agarwal, a partner at Bennett Jones LLP, was preparing an RFP. The potential client said it wanted to hire a diverse legal team, so Agarwal assembled a lineup with both experience and diversity that no firm could match. He told a colleague, “We’ve got this.”

Then the client picked a team of five white, male lawyers — a harsh reminder that some clients merely pay lip service to diversity. Until clients refuse to hire non-diverse teams, explains Agarwal, firms won’t feel genuine pressure to advance racialized and female lawyers. In his view, this won’t happen until clients grasp that diversity is good for the bottom line. And, indeed, it is: a 2015 McKinsey study found that racially diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35 percent. “At some point, people will realize they could be making more money,” says Agarwal. “And money is the one language that everyone in business speaks.”

Agarwal, a past president of the South Asian Bar Association, says he’s never personally experienced overt racism in his career. But he agrees that to succeed as a racialized lawyer requires (sadly) a balancing act. He often takes phone calls from Sikh students wondering if they should shave their beards before interviews or from Muslim students asking if they should whitewash their resumés and remove evidence of their religious affiliations. And his wife may roll her eyes when he talks to colleagues about going to the cottage or having kids in hockey — two Ontario-centric experiences that Agarwal, a son of Indian immigrants, knows little about — but he sees such banter as a necessary step toward the ultimate goal: moving up the ranks, so there’s one more diverse lawyer in an influential role. “Change will only come,” he says, “as we move into places of power.”

 

Katherine Hensel

Katherine Hensel

Katherine Hensel
Principal, Hensel Barristers
First appearance in Precedent: Winter 2012

Katherine Hensel is used to being an outlier. When she was called to the bar, in 2003, she was both one of the few Indigenous women and single mothers on Bay Street. She started her career at McCarthy Tétrault LLP and later moved to Stockwoods LLP. These days, the Secwepemc lawyer runs Hensel Barristers, a firm dedicated to Indigenous litigation.

In the courtroom, where Hensel handles all manner of civil and criminal trials, casual racism is common. “There are times,” she says, “when Indigenous lawyers show up and the court staff will ask, ‘Do you need to see duty counsel?’” This has happened to Hensel. When she hears such comments, she speaks up, but knows that not everyone does.

The justice system itself can also be deeply ignorant. Hensel often represents survivors of residential schools, who are making claims against the government. And in court, she still has to educate judges and opposing counsel of the consequences — intergenerational trauma, for instance — of one of Canada’s darkest moments. Thanks to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she can simply hand its final report to the judge. But it still means that she has to deliver a history lesson to the court. “Every case that comes up is an opportunity for me to educate people,” says Hensel. “But I don’t want to have to educate people. I want access to justice for my clients.”

Hensel would love to hire Indigenous lawyers and students, but, at the moment, doesn’t have one. Part of the problem is that litigation runs counter to the consensus-based decision-making common in many Indigenous communities, which drives young Indigenous lawyers away from the area. “Indigenous litigators are thin on the ground,” says Hensel. “But I’m actively looking.”

 

Paul Jonathan Saguil

Paul Jonathan Saguil

Paul Jonathan Saguil
Associate VP, TD Bank
First appearance in Precedent: Summer 2015

Paul Jonathan Saguil never asked to be a poster child for diversity. But in 2008, as a first-year associate at Stockwoods LLP, he decided to be open about the fact that he’s gay. Because he was so outspoken, the requests — first, to speak on diversity panels and, later, to sit on boards — flooded in. “I just kept saying yes,” says the associate vice-president at TD Bank. Fast-forward 10 years and Saguil, who is Filipino, holds executive positions on — ready for this? — the Law Society’s Equity Advisory Group, Out on Bay Street, and the CBA’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Forum. And he previously held positions on the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and Pride Toronto.

Over the past decade, the 35-year-old has seen tangible change. Both law firms and in-house departments now hire diversity officers, host panels and throw cocktail parties for Pride Week.

But Saguil fears that such initiatives have started to outlive their usefulness: he often sees the exact same people showing up at diversity events. “Sometimes it’s frustrating,” he says. “I look around the room and think, Are we just in an echo chamber?”

Saguil’s tireless dedication to equality has also taken a personal toll: a recent relationship ended, in part, because of how many hours he put into the cause. He wonders if his relationships would be stronger if he took a step back.

But until he stops getting middle-of-the-night messages on LinkedIn from strangers asking for help because a colleague has made a pejorative remark, his work isn’t over.

One thing, though, is certain: the increase in the number of racialized lawyers has forced the profession to take their concerns seriously: “We can’t be silenced anymore.”


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

 

 

 


Photography by Luis Mora; Hair and makeup by Michelle Calleja

Lawyerly Love: Elisabeth Patrick & Ian Mitchell

When Ian Mitchell and Elisabeth Patrick started dating in 2007, no one was surprised to see the two WeirFoulds lawyers get together. “When I told a coworker,” Ian recalls, “he said, ‘It’s good you two figured it out. We thought we were going to have to tell you.’” The couple was also carrying on a proud firm tradition. “Back then,” says Elisabeth, “there were a lot of inter-firm relationships.”

The pair had worked together at WeirFoulds since 2004, when Ian was a first-year associate and Elisabeth was an articling student. Over the span of three years, they became great friends. Ian developed a crush and wanted to ask Elisabeth out. But, he points out, “She had to get rid of her boyfriend first.”

Elisabeth Patrick & Ian Mitchell

Elisabeth Patrick
Age: 36
TD Bank
Office of the Group Head and
Chief General Counsel
Ian Mitchell
Age: 39
WeirFoulds LLP
Corporate Securities

 

In 2007, she did. Their first date was at the ROM. “From the beginning, Ian’s been the first person I’ve wanted to tell everything to,” says Elisabeth.

“Whether it’s exciting or terrible news.” Two years after that first date, they got married.

Elisabeth now works in-house at TD Bank, but the two still work in the same building. That has its perks. They drive to work together almost every morning. “It’s also great for days when I forget my keys or there’s things to pick up,” says Elisabeth. “It’s perfect for household management.”

These days, they’re busy parents of a two-year-old son, Luke. “Back when we were associates, it was normal for both of us to work until 9 at night,” says Ian. “Now, one of us has to leave the office by 6 to pick up Luke from daycare.” It’s a good thing daycare is just across the street from their office building.

So who declared “I love you” first? “I don’t know the answer,” says Ian. “That’s terrible. I think having a child erases part of your memory.”


This story is part of our feature on Bay Street couples, from our Spring 2017 issue.

 

 

 


Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth, hair and makeup by Michelle Calleja

The Circuit: Precedent Setter Awards 2015


What: Precedent Setter Awards 2015
Where: Spin Toronto, 461 King St. W.
When: June 9, 2015


Last week, more than 150 lawyers and guests gathered to recognize this year’s Precedent Setter Award winners. Held at downtown ping-pong bar Spin Toronto (the same place where we held this year’s photo shoot), our annual event brought guests together to mingle and meet our winners, who, in their first 10 years of practice, are at the top of their game.

During the evening, Melissa Kluger, publisher and editor of Precedent, presented the winners with their award. This year, we decided to put a spin (no pun intended) on traditional awards and presented each winner with a ping-pong paddle featuring their photo from the magazine.

We’d like to extend a big thank-you to our presenting sponsor RainMaker Group and our event sponsors Laurel Hill Advisory Group, Alexa Translations, Flex Legal Network and the Project Gallery.

Congratulations once again to all our winners:

Aida Shahbazi

Aida Shahbazi
Senior Counsel, BMO Financial Group
Read Aida’s profile

Patric Senson

Patric Senson
Associate, Phillips Gill LLP
Read Patric’s profile

Omo Akintan

Omo Akintan
Counsel, City of Toronto
Read Omo’s profile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Jonathan Saguil

Paul Jonathan Saguil
Counsel, TD Bank Financial Group
Read Paul’s profile

Jason Woycheshyn

Jason Woycheshyn
Partner, Bennett Jones LLP
Read Jason’s profile

Lisa Feldstein

Lisa Feldstein
Founder, Lisa Feldstein Law Office
Read Lisa’s profile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Event photography by Yvonne Bambrick

Winners’ portraits by Jaime Hogge

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