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

The Circuit: Sutts, Strosberg LLP expands Toronto office

What: Sutts, Strosberg LLP expands Toronto office
Where: The Chase, 10 Temperance Street
When: Thursday, September 22, 2016

A little bit of rain can’t keep the lawyers at Sutts, Strosberg LLP from having a good time. The few drops that fell from the sky on Thursday had no impact on the bustling atmosphere and trays of delicious seafood atop the fifth-floor patio at The Chase.

The occasion? Sutts, Strosberg LLP, a Windsor-based firm known for its class-action practice, has opened an office here in Toronto. The firm has had space in Toronto for close to five years, but it was mainly for lawyers to use if they had motions, appeals or trials in the city. But the firm now has two full-time litigators —David Wingfield and Nicholas Cartel — based in Toronto.

“David has a tremendous amount of experience,” says Jay Strosberg, a partner at the firm. “He’s a former head of the anti-trust/competition law division of the Department of Justice. And Nicholas worked with David at the DOJ, so it was a perfect fit.”

As for now, it’s just the two of them, but Strosberg isn’t ruling out the possibility of expanding the team.

“David and Nicholas are already extremely busy,” he says. “We may need to look for another associate to assist them.”

To learn more about Sutts, Strosberg, visit the firm’s website.

The Discovery: This app delivers healthy meals in a snap

Amidst the chefs prepping the day’s meals in this Corktown kitchen, there is every element of a bustling restaurant about to start service — except for tables and chairs.

Feast. Niçoise, salad, ingredients, prep

The ingredients for Feast’s tuna Niçoise salad, sliced and diced by sous-chefs

“Our dining room is all of Toronto,” says Paul Cowan,chief marketing officer for Feast, a five-month-old app-based meal-delivery service whose executive chef is Curt Martin, formerly of the Harbord Room. Monday to Friday, for lunch and dinner, Feast shuttles hundreds of healthy, prepared-to-order meals around the city, each one made from locally sourced ingredients.

“We want to take out the thought around, How do I eat well?” says Cowan. The app displays each meal in an eye-catching photo and details its ingredients. Service can be as quick as five minutes. Rain or shine, Feast’s couriers use hybrid cars and Danish cargo bikes to deliver meals from Lakeshore to College, Dufferin to the DVP, and a small stretch on Bloor. “Some of these guys are just gladiators when it comes to working through the elements.”

Cowan says the most popular dishes right now are the steak Cobb and Mexican chopped salads, but the menu changes daily. Orders can also be made online. “We want to make it dead simple. I just need to tap the app three times and my food’s going to come, and I know it’s going to be healthy and restaurant quality.”

Cover of the Summer Issue of Precedent Magazine

This story is from our Summer 2016 issue.




Photography courtesy of Feast

Cover Story: How to make partner at a small firm

1. Pass the lunchtime test

Making partner at McLeish Orlando LLP takes stellar legal work, rainmaking savvy and something less tangible. “I’ve got to want to have lunch with that person, only because I enjoy their company,” says John McLeish, co-founder of the 14-lawyer personal injury firm, which has seven partners. “We call it the lunchtime test.”

"We all make an effort to know each other on a personal level."— Rikin Morzaria, McLeish Orlando LLP

“We all make an effort to know each other on a personal level.”— Rikin Morzaria, McLeish Orlando LLP

And associates take the test nearly every day. “Unless I’m at a discovery or a mediation, I almost always have lunch with the rest of the firm,” says Rikin Morzaria, who made partner at McLeish Orlando in 2011, as a seventh-year lawyer. He says he chats about his personal life as often as he does about work. For Morzaria, that means providing updates on his two young children, while the hockey players on staff recount their latest on-ice triumphs. “We often have different interests outside of work,” says Morzaria. “But we all make an effort to know each other on a personal level.”

At any small firm, notes McLeish, everyone has to gel. “At a large firm, some lawyers might not even know each other’s names. But there’s no hiding at a small firm.” And McLeish says that’s a good thing: no one should want to hide. “I love all my partners and I love coming to the office. If I don’t like the lawyers, it’s not going to work for them and it’s not going to work for me.”

2. Master the small-firm formula

One afternoon in October of 2014, Jacquelyn Stevens marched nervously into a boardroom at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers. At the table sat the five partners of the 14-lawyer environmental boutique. Stevens, a tenth-year associate, was about to argue that she, too, should be a partner at the firm. It was the biggest moment of her career.

Being a partner is a big responsibility. We take it seriously.— Donna Shier, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers

Being a partner is a big responsibility. We take it seriously.— Donna Shier, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers

Like many small firms, Willms & Shier doesn’t have a partnership track. When associates want to take the leap, they are encouraged to make the first move and pitch themselves to the partners. If the partners like what they hear, associates become “partners-in- training” — kickstarting a trial period of at least one year, throughout which they attend all partnership meetings and see all the financial information for the first time. Only if the trial period goes well can they join the partnership, and have an equity stake in the firm. The vetting process is long. And that first meeting is no joke.

“It’s one of those times when they come in and straighten their ties,” says Donna Shier, who co-founded the firm 37 years ago. “This firm is how we support our families and our staff. Being a partner is a big responsibility. We take it seriously.”

Indeed, it’s a rare occasion when the firm’s relaxed tenor dissipates. Stevens felt the pressure. “It was pretty stressful,” she recalls. “Because I knew they might say no.”

But Stevens had prepared a detailed presentation that touted what she could bring to the business — and her pitch sheds light on what it takes to make partner at a small firm. For one thing, Stevens raised her reputation as a hyper-specialist. Most small shops, after all, brand themselves as the leading lawyers in a narrow field of law. On this point, Stevens introduced ample evidence in her favour: she was a certified specialist in environmental law and a superstar in a range of environmental areas, from mining to renewable energy.

He shook my hand, gave me a hug and said, ‘You’re in.’— Jacquelyn Stevens, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers

He shook my hand, gave me a hug and said, ‘You’re in.’— Jacquelyn Stevens, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers

She also had a strong reputation in the dry-cleaning law world, where she’s a go-to lawyer for both industrial cleaners and property owners who have sued such cleaners for damaging their land. At the office, colleagues called her “the dry-cleaning queen.”

Next, Stevens had to prove she could bring in new clients, a touchstone for partnership at all firms. But rainmaking at small firms is a unique challenge. “Most small firms don’t have institutional clients that feed it all of its work,” says Stevens. “Most of my work comes from one-off clients.” Business development, in other words, is a constant grind. Which is why Stevens keeps in touch with potential clients year-round. For instance, she reaches out to them and says, “I hope you don’t have any problems, but if you do, remember to give me a call.” And, as she told the partners, that tactic has borne fruit. “It’s taken six years, but I finally feel like I’ve gained the trust of certain clients, and I’m getting files.”

At the end of her presentation, Stevens ambled back to her office, leaving the partners to confer. Five minutes passed. She heard a knock at the door. “It was the managing partner, Marc McAree,” she recalls. “He shook my hand, gave me a hug and said, ‘You’re in.’”

Stevens went on to spend all of 2015 as a partner-in-training. Then, this January, she broke out of that cocoon, and emerged as a full-fledged equity partner. “It’s a big responsibility,” she says. “But you know what? I’m ready for this.”

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

Secret Life: This tennis-playing litigator nearly turned pro before university

As a teenager, Lidiya Yermakova faced a life-defining choice: leverage years of intensive training as a tennis player and take a crack at going pro, or leave it all behind and go to university in the hopes of getting into law school.

“It was a big decision,” she says. Yermakova had been playing since she was a toddler growing up in the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih. (Both her dad and her older brother were also serious tennis players.) “But ultimately, I really wanted to be in court.” And here she is now, an Osgoode Hall alum nearly two years into her health-law practice at Lerners LLP.

Lidiya YermakovaThough she chose a career in law, Yermakova has not let go of tennis. “After my undergrad, I took a break,” she says. “I probably didn’t play at all for four months. But I missed the competition.” So she picked it up again during law school, even getting named a York University all-star. And she still plays about once a week. “I have a lot of competitive drive. And that’s the same reason I like litigation: it takes hours of prep to be able to stand up and feel good about the argument you’re making. It takes a lot of work, but the days I get to do that are the greatest.”

Lidiya Yermakova

Lerners LLP







This story is from our Spring 2016 issue.




Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth. Hair and makeup by Shelbie Vermette.

Life Without Parole: Why you should treat your child like a client

“Mommy, my taco broke,” shouts your four-year-old son. “Fix it.” It’s Tuesday Taco Night and from the look on your son’s face, things are about to get decidedly un-fiesta like, and fast.

You have a flashback to that afternoon, to the moment when the unruly client sitting across from you yelled, “You are my lawyer! Fix it.” Both as a parent and as a lawyer, you are supposed to be a miracle-worker. Fix everything or brace yourself for a tantrum.

Earlier, you tried to explain to your client, “I’m sorry, but the law is not on your side.” It didn’t work. Your client seemed on the verge of throwing a fit. You know the look. And so, when you tell your son, “I can’t put the taco back together,” you aren’t all that surprised to hear him scream back, “YES YOU CAN!”

OK, so how did you fix things with the client? To start, you asked for more facts. By rearranging the facts, you reasoned, you could make them fit the law to the client’s advantage. You tried, but it was useless. The facts just wouldn’t fit the law. But you refused to give up. “Mr. Smith, do not worry,” you declared. “We’ll do some research. I’m sure we can find another case that applies the law with a ‘flexible’ approach.” After doing the research, though, you still came up empty-handed. When you delivered the news, your client’s face went red, as smoke shot out of his ears. He shouted at you.

You had wanted to avoid this, but decided it was time to get the senior partner involved. Surely she would be able to manage your client’s expectations. As soon as she walked into the meeting, she said to the client, “You’ve got a great lawyer in your file. She will take good care of you. Got a problem? She will fix it.” With that, she turned around, walked out and shut the door. WHAT?! you thought. This is no time for compliments. Then, you did what you should have done from the start: stopped giving out false hope and stuck to hard truth. Eventually, the client, though unhappy, accepted reality.

Back to Tuesday Taco Night. Just like when you elicited more facts from your client to make them ‘fit’ the law, you get more toppings like salsa and cheese to ‘fit’ the taco. You hope this will distract your son from the broken taco shell but to no avail. Then you search the pantry, but can’t find another taco.

Next, similar to when you brought in the senior partner that afternoon, you call over Daddy, who just walked by. “Good, let him deal with this,” you think. “Daddy, my taco broke,” your son shouts hysterically. “Oh don’t worry,” he replies. “Your mom will fix it.” And he walks away.

As your son falls to the floor, arms flailing, you remember the solution that worked with your client: make him accept reality. And so you issue an ultimatum: “You either eat this broken taco or you’re having Monday’s Mystery Meat again!” In an instant, the crying stops. He eats the taco, broken shell and all.

Looks like your kid won’t be filing a parental negligence complaint with the grandparents after all.














Sharon BauerSharon Bauer is a partner at Fireman Steinmetz Daya LLP and Precedent’s parenting columnist. Follow the mother of two on Twitter at @SharonBauerLLB.



This story is from our Spring 2016 issue.




Illustration by Hudson Christie

Opinion: Meditation is your secret weapon against stress

When I started articling three years ago, I was overwhelmed and constantly on edge. Frustrated, I decided to try meditation. At first, I would spend five minutes a day, using the timer on my phone, inhaling “let,” exhaling “go.” After two weeks, it made a real difference. I was less reactive and more focused — I was hooked. Since then, daily meditation has kept me happy as I meet the demands of the profession. And I’m not the only one.

Mindfulness has reached its tipping point. Once a mysterious, fringe practice, it simply means becoming more attuned to the present moment, often through meditation. Top achievers — from financier Ray Dalio to media magnate Arianna Huffington — have raved about its benefits. And a recent feature story in Time magazine argued that we are in the midst of a “Mindful Revolution.”

It’s easy to see why. A team of researchers from Harvard recently found that consistent meditation can actually decrease the size of the amygdalae, the area of the brain that processes emotional responses. (When the amygdalae are activated, your heart beats fasts, your hands shake or your cheeks go red.) As a result, those who meditated were less prone to stress. Better still, meditation can increase the size of the hippocampus, thereby growing our capacity to make rational decisions.

As this research has gone on, lawyers continue to feel stressed. Studies continue to proliferate that show how lawyers flounder when it comes to managing anxiety. And what do people do when they are unable to cope?

For some, it means they drink in excess or use drugs to escape. For others, it means they completely shut down on their partner and alienate the people in their lives who are their best support. This, in turn, can cause them to neglect their work and fail their clients. And sadly, some will become downright hopeless, slipping into depression. Stats are hard to come by, but a well-known study on the mental health of people from across 28 professions, published by Johns Hopkins University in 1990, found that lawyers were the most likely group to suffer from depression.

Mindfulness and meditation offers a better option. They can alter the way our brains process stress, and make us better at managing the pressure points of our jobs.

Even that low-grade, buzzing feeling we get before a deadline gets the stress receptors in our amygdalae going. And when that happens, the pre-frontal cortex essentially goes offline, meaning our brains cannot think in a completely logical, rational way. This makes us stressed and, as lawyers, bad at our jobs.

One of the fastest ways to calm down the amygdalae is through deep breathing — a key part of meditation. Over time, through consistent meditation, I’ve even found that I am more aware of my own breath and can control it when not meditating. This helps calm down my amygdalae (easing stress), and bring my hippocampus back online (helping me think more clearly).

Meditation can do a lot more, too. Research has found that it can significantly increase empathy, improve how the immune system functions and boost cardiovascular health.

The benefits are so astounding that the profession has taken notice. Several law schools — such as those at Dalhousie University, Berkeley and UC Davis — now offer courses that show how mindfulness can make lawyers healthier and better at work. And this February, the Ontario Bar Association launched, for the first time, a professional development series called The Mindful Lawyer. The mindfulness revolution is here. It is helping all sorts of professionals. And it can help lawyers too.

















Catie Fenn is a third-year associate at Brown & Burnes. Since taking it up as an articling student, she now teaches meditation in her spare time.



Illustration by Jeannie Phan

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

Grounds For Appeal: How to pick the right beans for perfect homemade coffee

“This morning, with her, having coffee.” Johnny Cash, on his definition of paradise. It’s the kind of quote that stays with you, mostly because of how true it is: a good day usually starts with well-made coffee and great companionship. And recreating Cash’s definition of morning bliss doesn’t even require a daily trip to a hip café. With the right beans, you can make high-quality coffee right in your kitchen. (You’re on your own for the companionship part.)

While you can get decent coffee beans at the grocery store, if you want a really unforgettable cup of coffee, you should buy your beans from a specialty roaster. Most independent coffee shops sell custom blends prepared for them by local roasters. (Or, you can buy directly from the roaster online.) Just a few examples are Detour Coffee Roasters in Burlington, Pilot Coffee Roasters in Toronto and Social Coffee & Tea Company in Richmond Hill. Some even offer coffee subscriptions, so you can try different beans every few weeks. If you pick a Canadian roaster, the shipping fees are usually pretty reasonable.
Wherever you get your coffee beans, ask these questions before picking up a bag.

What’s the roast date?

Brett Johnston, head of innovation at Pilot, says good coffee should have a roasting date on the bag and suggests consuming beans within about four weeks after they were roasted. “Not because coffee beans go bad,” he says, “but the flavour dissipates and becomes flat after a month.”

Will you go to the dark side?

You’re going to have to make a choice between light-, medium-, and dark-roast beans. But what do those even mean? “As coffee gets browner, it gets more caramelized, more chocolate,” says Sam James, of Sam James Coffee Bar in Toronto. “The flavour becomes simpler the darker it is. The lighter it is, the fruitier it tastes.”

The choice is yours, but don’t stress too much about the decision — nearly every roaster I spoke to said there’s too much emphasis placed on the roast level. Instead focus on what flavours intrigue you. Specialty coffee should always list its flavour notes, which can vary from blueberries to Reese’s Pieces.

Do you want to buy ethical?

You’ve got choices: fair trade, direct trade, certified organic and eco-friendly, to name a few. Their definitions are complicated, so I suggest you worry less about the formal certifications and ask the roaster which beans make a difference to the farmers and their communities.

Where are you going to keep the beans?

“Store your coffee in a cool, dark place,” says Geoff Woodley, head roaster at Detour. A cupboard usually works fine. He says the trick is to keep your coffee beans out of direct sunlight.

Contrary to popular opinion, freezing or refrigerating your beans does not keep them fresh. You just have to keep the oxygen out, either by wrapping them up tight in the bag or storing them in an airtight container.

Consider yourself ready to make coffee worthy of paradise. Now you’ve just got to carve out the time in the morning to make it.

Iman’s go-to coffee choices:

Coffee Choices










Iman AkoborIman Abokor is an insurance defence lawyer at Lawson LLP and Precedent’s coffee columnist.



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

Best Practices: Meet the reigning expert in aboriginal-banking law

TIFFANY MURRAY’S BIG BREAK CAME IN 2013, just one day after giving birth to her second child. The timing wasn’t perfect, but she had received an email she couldn’t ignore. A big aboriginal organization needed legal advice on creating a brand new financial product. The deal is still pending, so the details can’t be released, but suffice it to say that it would completely innovate the way aboriginal communities can achieve financial independence. It’s a big deal for the parties involved, and they wanted a lawyer with a particular expertise in a complex new area of law: aboriginal banking.

For years, Murray had worked to build an aboriginal-banking practice at her firm, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, where she launched her career as a summer student in 2006. But it was hard. Murray already had a full finance-law workload. “When you want to establish something new,” she says, “you have to inch it forward over and above what you’re already expected to do.”

But with this email she could prove to the firm that her idea for a new practice area in aboriginal banking had potential — and, more importantly, a client base. “I could then make the business case for this area to the firm,” recalls Murray. “It was a game-changer for my practice.” So, with a two-day-old in her arms, she got down to work.

Murray, now 35, had long seen the demand for lawyers with an expertise in aboriginal finance law. She knew that, under the Indian Act, “Indian bands” are unable to use most on-reserve property as collateral. So borrowing money to raise capital is difficult. “Because they can’t leverage all of their assets,” she says, “they often have to pay higher interest rates when they get a loan.” Yet bands need to borrow money for all kinds of things: to build community centres, schools or wastewater plants. Which means they need lawyers to help them navigate the maze of securities law and aboriginal law to make these financial transactions possible.

Tiffany Murray, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Tiffany Murray, Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Earlier this year, two years after that email showed up, Murray made partner. Her firm, clearly, was impressed. “Tiffany’s distinctive expertise will become more in-demand,” says Stephen Redican, a partner in BLG’s financial-services group. “Aboriginal bank- ing is an emerging market in Canada, and major financial institutions in Canada are targeting this growth area.”

Murray has been drawn to aboriginal issues since her undergraduate days. At the time, she took a co-op position with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs transcribing old church and residential school records. “As you can imagine, some of those records were very difficult to read,” she says. “My experience there was one factor in why

I wanted to go to law school.” Murray identifies as Haudenosaunee (Six Nations, Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan, to be precise), but her relationship with her own history is complicated. “I have struggled with my authenticity as an urban First Nations person who is disconnected from reserve life,” says Murray, who grew up in St. Catharines, Ont. While some of her aboriginal law-school friends at the University of Toronto — a group Murray calls “the community I felt most at home with” — have returned to reserves, Murray has spent her legal career at an office on Bay Street. “I struggle with being disconnected.”

After nearly a decade at BLG, Murray is leaving Bay Street. Later this year, she will join the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation as an in-house lawyer. It’s a dream job for Murray, but it means she’ll be moving her daughters and her husband of eight years from their home in Etobicoke to a brand new life in Ottawa. She sees it as an adventure, rather than a sacrifice — plus, in her new role, she’ll be able to make a direct impact on communities in need.

“It’s a Crown corporation that helps Canadians access housing — which is pretty important,” she says. “They work with First Nations on-reserve housing programs, one of the things that drew me to the opportunity.”

Murray wasn’t looking for a career change, but when the job offer came her way, she had to say yes. “Every now and then, life pushes you in a new direction. This was a major sign. I couldn’t ignore it.”

Tiffany Murray

The lowdown

Year of call: 2008

Favourite legal character: Erin Brockovich

Favourite item in closet: A Kate Spade purse given to me by a dear friend

Greatest extravagance: Flying to Florida to participate in runDisney races

If I weren’t a lawyer I’d be: A university professor

Pet peeve: Tim Hortons at Scotia Plaza (I really need to start going somewhere else)

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




Photography by Raina + Wilson