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  • The YWL Blog provides a forum for writing and discussion on various topics of interest to young women in law. Click on the dark grey icons below to read more or leave a comment. Use the hashtag #YWLBlog and share your thoughts on social media!

    • YWL is now accepting submissions for blog posts. Send your submissions to info@youngwomeninlaw. 

      Please note that the views expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of YWL.

        • 13 Jun 2019 6:06 PM | Anonymous member

          When I finished law school, I, like many of my classmates, had already secured an articling job. I didn’t get an OCI but I found my job during the second large wave of hiring in the summer before third year. The process was by no means easy but it was very structured. My law school gave us links to firms who had postings for articling jobs and I applied to the ones that interested me. At the end of the process, I was very fortunate to get an offer from my first choice firm – a commercial litigation boutique in downtown Toronto.

          My articling year went quite smoothly. I worked hard but the hours were never crazy. I got along very well with the other articling student, all the lawyers at the firm seemed to like me and I got positive feedback on the work that I did. When May rolled around, I was feeling quite confident about getting hired back. My firm had a good history of hiring back students and no one had told me that it wasn’t going to happen.

          When I eventually realised in early June that I had not secured a permanent position, I was devastated. The firm gave me a summer contract and told me they would make a final decision in September. While this was better than nothing, it still felt like a rejection. If I’m being honest, it felt like I had been dumped.  When I wasn’t bawling my eyes out, I was panicking because I had no idea what to do next. No one had prepared me for how to get a job after articling. My law school was silent on the issue and while many of the partners at my firm offered to help me, I wasn’t even sure what sort help I would need if it didn’t involve getting me a job somewhere.

          The first thing I thought to do was to talk to other firms to see if there were jobs available. I looked in the ORs but there weren’t many postings, especially for new calls. I then turned my focus to commercial litigation boutiques who hadn’t hired articling students. I started with associates I had met during my articles. When I didn’t know anyone at a firm I wanted to reach out to (which was most of them), I tried to find juniors I had a connection with. I would look at their firm profiles to see what law school they went to or what their interests were outside of law.

          Then I would cold e-mail them. The e-mail was a 2-3 liner introducing myself and telling them that I was a new call. I told them I had an interest in their practice and asked if they would be open to having coffee with me to discuss it further. At no point did I ever say that I was looking for a job. Even though it was fairly obvious from the e-mail that I was on the hunt for an associate position, I still wanted to speak to people even if no position was currently available.

          My first coffee meeting was exactly the scenario I described above. I reached out to a junior at a commercial litigation boutique who had gone to the same law school as I had. We had both worked at the same legal aid clinic (in different years) so I knew we had some common ground there. He was upfront that his firm was not hiring but was happy to speak to me anyways if I was still interested in hearing about his practice. I quickly responded that I still wanted to chat and I’m so happy I did. Not only did his firm hire me for a document review contract position 5 weeks later, but he also became a good friend.

          This contract was not the end of my journey. After 10 weeks, the contract ended and I was back to looking for a job. I wasn’t back to square 1 though. I had now gained the confidence to approach people and successfully give them my elevator pitch. I met with about 70 lawyers in 4 months. At every meeting, after asking them about their firm and their practice, I asked if they had any tips for me going forward and if they knew of any firms I could reach out to. Some people were very generous with their personal network and told me to reach out to other firms using their name. Others told me about new firms I hadn’t even heard of. Throughout this process I vastly expanded my network in the legal community.

          In addition to networking through coffee meetings, I also joined several organizations to make myself more marketable and to meet people more organically. I started going to events through various organizations like Young Women in Law, The Advocates’ Society and the Ontario Bar Association. The events were a great way to meet lawyers who could help me in my job search as well as other juniors who were in similar situations. After attending several Young Women in Law events, I was asked to submit an application to the board. I eventually joined the board as the Director of Events which has not only been so rewarding but has also greatly assisted in progressing my career.  

          I also started volunteering at Pro Bono Ontario. It was a way that I was able to stay involved in litigation when I wasn’t working. Now, even though I have been gainfully and happily employed for over 4 years, I continue to volunteer there several times a year because I find the experience to be so rewarding and enjoyable.

          After several months of unemployment, I eventually found my current job through the assistance of one of the partners at my articling firm. He introduced me to the person who would go on to be my boss and mentor. After he made the initial introduction, 6 weeks later I started as in-house counsel at a large Canadian Insurance Company. The role I ultimately took was by no means the role I thought I wanted at the beginning of my job search. However, after 4 years of being there I can honestly say that not only do I love my role but that it is also a far better fit for me (both personally and professionally) than my articling firm was for a variety of reasons.

          Now that I’m working, I have continued to use the lessons I learned from those very painful months of unemployment. I continue to keep up with my networking – not because I’m looking for a job but because I love connecting with other people in the legal industry and have made many great friends and professional contacts in the process. I have continued to volunteer for both Pro Bono Ontario and Young Women in Law, both organizations that have taught me many invaluable skills and are a great source of joy. I have also continued to use my network to help me progress my career.

          Not being hired back forced me to really think about what type of law I wanted to practice and what sort of career I wanted to have. You can certainly do all of the things that I did if you have been hired back. But if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine that I would have had the motivation to take all those steps and put in all that time at the infancy of my career had I not had to. At the time, not getting hired back seemed like the end of the world (or at least my professional one). Now, I realise that it was an incredible opportunity that opened so many doors and led me down a path that is far better for me.


          Author: Sarah Naiman 

          Sarah Naiman obtained her JD from the University of Windsor in 2013 and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 2014. Sarah is currently in-house counsel with Intact Insurance and prior to that, worked at a commercial litigation boutique. While attending law school in Windsor, Sarah volunteered at the Community Legal Aid of Windsor where she represented individuals who could not afford to pay for legal services. Sarah currently volunteers with Law Help Ontario PBO and is the Director of Events at YWL.

        • 06 Jun 2019 5:51 PM | Anonymous member

          Brenda Christen is the Managing Partner at Christen Seaton Burrison Hudani LLP. A founding partner of Wilson Christen LLP, and now Christen Seaton Burrison Hudani LLP, Brenda approaches family law with an emphasis on smart, practical solutions. Clients appreciate Brenda’s direct, and approachable manner while opponents respect her skill, experience and track record. 

          Brenda has acted successfully on leading cases at both the trial and appellate levels, and secured the highest child support award in Canada. Brenda prefers a constructive resolution to litigation and now focuses her efforts exclusively on her mediation practice.

          Selected by the National Post as one of Canada's best family law lawyers and ranked in the Canadian Legal Expert Directory, Brenda served as a Dispute Resolution Officer for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Brenda has been consistently listed in the Best Lawyersguide for family law since its inception in 2006. This publication, based on peer review, is considered 'the most credible and definitive guide to legal excellence in Canada'.

          Brenda's experience as a mediator is founded upon over 30 years of experience as an advocate for her clients. She has comprehensive knowledge of the court process, having appeared before all levels of court in Ontario. She understands the limitations of the court process and the inherent pressures that such a process places on families. Brenda brings the skills and insights learned in over three decades of experience to the table in her mediation practice. She focuses on pragmatic solutions and is able to simplify complex issues, creating clarity and offering practical solutions.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?  

          I got involved somewhat by happenstance. I was working at a general practice firm and was not very happy. One of my closest friends had taken the bar admissions course at the same time as me. She reached out to say her family law instructor had an ad in the Ontario Reports looking for an associate. So I reached out, met with him and was hired immediately. A year and a half later he left the respected boutique firm we were with and asked me to join him. We became Wilson Christen Family Lawyers when I was a first year associate. 30 years later we have experienced tremendous success in two areas that we never would have predicted, real estate investment and a class action law suit against the Federal Government. Definitely didn’t see that coming when we started our little firm. 

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?   

          Patience, a sense of humour and most importantly a lack of self involvement. In order to lead you need to believe that others should have the same opportunities to succeed that you would like to have.  Finding the people and giving them that opportunity can be the trickier part.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?  

          Judgment and common sense. You can’t really teach those things.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?  

          Play the long game. Don’t believe that everything needs to be accomplished immediately or that your life should proceed on a fixed timeline, i.e. graduate at age 24, marry at age 27, partner at age 35. Things don’t always happen on your schedule and that is often a good thing. 

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?  

          Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something different. Law gives you a lot of opportunity to do different things. Develop other interests and be open to different paths. After litigating for so many years I decided to become a mediator. Similar components but a much different perspective and I find the work more satisfying. Building resolutions instead of working to impose them is a nice change and, in my view, more suited to family issues. 

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?   

          All of the above. Readjust expectations that the only way to be successful in law is to be a partner in a Bay Street firm or the seven siblings or whatever the people that think those things are important call them. There is lots of opportunity out there if you are willing to let go of those expectations. For example you can be part of something smaller and grow.

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?  

          Go to med school.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?  

          Don’t let men push you around. Call ******** when you see it and stick up for other women in your profession and everywhere else.

          This post is part of YWL's Managing Partner Series. This series features Q&A-style blog posts where women managing partners from small, mid-sized and large law firms answer questions about their path to success and share their advice for young women in law.  

        • 30 May 2019 5:25 PM | Anonymous member

          Luisa Ritacca is the Managing Partner at Stockwoods. Luisa’s practice encompasses a wide variety of areas, including professional regulation; administrative law; general civil and commercial litigation.  She is preferred counsel for LawPro, having acted on its behalf on a number of court motions.

          Luisa frequently appears as counsel for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports on a number of anti-doping cases.  In addition, Luisa acts for students facing academic and non-academic related charges at secondary and post-secondary intuitions throughout the Province.

          Further, Luisa acts as independent legal counsel for the College of Opticians of Ontario, the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, and the College of Veterinarians of Ontario.

          Luisa was appointed by former Chief Justice Warren Winkler to act as court monitor in the administration of two pan-Canadian settlements involving the tainted blood scandal, as well as the settlement involving water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario.

          Luisa has been involved in three judicial inquiries, including serving as co-counsel to the Office of the Chief Coroner in the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology (the “Goudge Inquiry”), counsel for the North York General Hospital nurses during the SARS review, counsel for Peter McCallion in the Mississauga Judicial Inquiry, and counsel to the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario in the Elliot Lake Inquiry.

          In February 2016, Luisa was appointed a part-time member of the Licence Appeal Tribunal, Fire Safety Commission and the Animal Care Review Board.

          She is an adjunct professor for the Trial Practice Course at Osgoode Hall Law School and is a team leader for the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?

          I currently practice both commercial litigation and public law, with a focus on professional regulation. I came into my practice areas much by chance. I always had an interest in administrative law and I clerked for the Divisional Clerk prior to joining Stockwoods, so public law was a natural fit for me. In addition, there were great senior lawyers at the firm doing interesting work in these areas and so I started working for and with them. That gave me good exposure to our existing clients and the opportunity to go out and market myself to potential new clients. 

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?

          I think a good leader needs to know how to draw the best out of her team.  It isn’t about getting your team to do what you want them to do; rather, as a leader you need to create an environment that allows each person to thrive and succeed. It is also important to be able to make tough decisions.  As a leader your goal is to obtain input and build consensus, but there are occasions where you have to make a call, regardless of how difficult or unpopular. Finally, I would say that a leader should be a good listener; your team members no doubt have valuable input. Listen and learn from them. You get more buy-in as a leader if you show that you are willing to take feedback and consider everyone’s ideas.  

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?

          I look for lawyers who are committed to doing the work of the firm and who are willing to take on projects/assignments that may be outside of their comfort zone. I am happy to help a young lawyer who might be working through an area of practice that is new for them. I also look for lawyers who understand that our primary job as lawyers is to serve our clients and to help our clients avoid or minimize problems. It is not enough to be able to identify issues for our clients; as lawyers we need to be able to come to them with solutions. I expect the lawyers who work with me to understand that problem-solving is our main focus. This is true whether you are meeting with a client to explain the legal ramifications of a particular business decision or presenting a case in court. You are there to offer solutions.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?

          You should find other lawyers with practices you admire and offer to buy them coffee. Lawyers are usually more than happy to give advice to other lawyers just starting out. You should also look for a network of lawyers who may or may not be doing the same kind of law, but who you believe will be supportive and encouraging. Law can sometimes be a stressful business. It is important that we surround ourselves with people who understand that.

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?

          If you love what you are doing and where you are working, let your employer know and talk to them about where you see yourself in the next 5 years. Make it clear to them that you see yourself as someone who has been and will continue to be of value to the firm/company. Keep doing great work for your clients and look for opportunities where you can start using the knowledge you have developed to date to give back to the legal community. Teaching and writing are great ways to give back and to showcase the breadth and depth of your knowledge. 

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?

          This is a difficult question as I believe that there are a myriad of different reasons why women choose to leave the practice of law. Sadly, I am sure that there are women who have felt undervalued and unappreciated by their employers and/or partners, such that they no longer believe that the effort is worth it. I also know that there are others who feel the stress of balancing their home and professional obligations is too much to bear. Finally, I know women who have left the practice of law to take on other passions – which I think is great and should certainly be celebrated. That said, as someone in management, I try to make sure that the women on my team are heard and know that they are appreciated. I look for opportunities to showcase their skills and make sure to tout their successes. For women returning to practice after a parental leave, it is important for management to make sure that the work they are returning to is challenging and rewarding.    

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?

          Never say no to a work assignment that gets you into court.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?

          Remember that even the most difficult and acrimonious files will come to an end. Be sure to remain professional and civil with opposing counsel throughout. If you lose, call and congratulate the other side. If you win, call and let them know that it was a pleasure working with them.    

          This post is part of YWL's Managing Partner Series. This series features Q&A-style blog posts where women managing partners from small, mid-sized and large law firms answer questions about their path to success and share their advice for young women in law.  

        • 23 May 2019 4:59 PM | Anonymous member

          Julie Maciura is the Managing Partner at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc. Julie has practised administrative law, with an emphasis on professional regulation, for over 20 years. She acts as general counsel, prosecutor, and independent legal counsel for numerous Ontario regulators. Julie’s general counsel work includes training specific to the needs of statutory committees, guidance to regulators on Registration and Quality Assurance matters, as well as drafting regulations, by-laws, standards and policies. Julie has also performed comprehensive legal audits of various statutory programs and processes for regulators and has experience with strategic planning. Julie has appeared in all levels of court in Ontario representing the interests of regulators on appeals and judicial review applications.

          Julie regularly gives presentations to regulators, law school classes and at professional conferences on health law, administrative law, and professional regulation. She has written numerous articles for the firm’s newsletter, Grey Areas, as well as its blog, Regulation Pro. She is co-author of the first and second editions of The Annotated Statutory Powers Procedure Act.

          Julie has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Lethbridge, a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. She also obtained a Master of Laws degree (Administrative Law) from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2007. In 2012, Julie received her specialist certification in health law from the Law Society of Ontario.

          Julie is a past member of both the Financial Services Tribunal and the Council of Health Quality Ontario.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?  

          It was pure luck that I was hired back after articling into this particular area of law (professional regulation). I was working for a mid-sized firm at the time and this is where there was an opening. For that I am forever grateful because I have really grown to love this area of law.

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?  

          I think a good leader needs to have a multitude of qualities and skills. While I’m not sure that I possess all of these, I think a leader needs to be decisive, fair, patient, hard-working, be able to delegate, be a good communicator and have a sense of humour. I really think that it’s important to be able to make decisions quickly. While considering the factors relevant to the decision is of course important, once you have all of the information you need, it’s important to act quickly and decisively so that things can move forward.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?  

          I look for a detail-oriented person who can meet deadlines. It’s important that they be approachable and personable and a certain amount of maturity, or even gravitas, is also good so that clients are comfortable putting their trust in them. I also value someone who will go the extra mile and will give me the very best product they possibly can. When a junior treats their work product as though it is going directly to the client, and doesn’t assume that I will catch mistakes/polish it up, etc., that’s something that impresses me a great deal. I also look for someone who can prioritize and juggle many things at one time without getting frazzled. Our work entails many very long, detailed research projects as well as routine questions from clients who expect answers quickly – it’s key that a junior be able to maintain focus on the longer projects knowing that they will frequently be interrupted by other matters that need to be given priority in the meantime.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?  

          Find mentors and lawyers in your field who will look out for you. It might take a while but you will be able to make connections and those connections will pay dividends when you least expect it. I would also tell young women to speak up in meetings and make sure their voice is heard. Contribute your thoughts and ideas because they are just as important as those of the men in the room. If anyone views that as being pushy then those are not the kind of people/clients/lawyers you want to work with anyway, so keep talking and keep looking until you find “your people”.

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?  

          Network, network, network; write articles and papers in your field, volunteer to speak at conferences, and get on the board of a charity or organization that means something to you so that you can give back and at the same time you will gain that governance and leadership experience that you can benefit you in your law practice.

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?   

          I think this will require an overhaul of the way that most law firms function and that means changing the way legal work is billed. The emphasis on billable hours makes it very difficult to be a parent, at least when children are young. And most marriages (I can only speak to heterosexual marriages) still put the burden of child-rearing on women, so their careers stall when the children are young, which of course is when a lawyer’s career is just taking off. This is no doubt why many female lawyers leave private practice to go in-house or work in government.

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?  

          Speak up more and don’t be intimidated because you know more than you think you do. Your ideas are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?  

          For your members who are single, I would tell them to choose their life partner very wisely. Who you choose as a partner will have a huge impact on your ability to manage both career and home life. If you want to have children, there is a lot to be said for marrying someone whose job has more manageable, consistent hours. Also, make sure that person likes to cook.

          This post is part of YWL's Managing Partner Series. This series features Q&A-style blog posts where women managing partners from small, mid-sized and large law firms answer questions about their path to success and share their advice for young women in law. 

        • 26 Apr 2019 1:28 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          I am the first person in my family to complete an undergraduate or a law degree.

          I knew I wanted to go to law school and become a criminal lawyer after a personal experience in the criminal justice system. I was the victim of a sexual assault. The law suddenly became the vehicle through which I saw social problems. I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this small group of people who advocated for change.

          But first, there was the cost of the LSAT books. Then, the one thousand dollars that it cost to apply to only four law schools. I was ultimately accepted early to Osgoode Hall Law School and cried on the phone to my parents in celebration. But before I could even hang up the phone, the reality of tuition sunk in. How could I possibly afford more than $26,000 per year for tuition? And what about books? And living expenses? Or even a suit for networking events? And the cost to write the licensing exams? Before I could get excited about what was the biggest accomplishment of my life so far, I counted myself out. There was no way I could accept my admission offer.

          As it turns out, I am one of the few lucky ones. I was later accepted to Osgoode’s Income Contingent Loan Program, which meant that instead of paying my tuition upfront, I could pay it back after graduation, contingent on my income over ten years. I was one of only five students, in the entire province, who had access to this program (today, it supports seven students per year, but it is still the only program of its kind in the province). I will still graduate with upwards of $190,000 in educational debt and related expenses, owed to the school, the government, and to my bank.

          Being the first in my family to go to law school has been a challenge, but I have truly given it my all, often working upwards of 18 hours per day between classes, several part-time jobs, research assistantships, mooting, and extensive extracurriculars. I knew that if I wanted any chance of being successful in a career where I had no connections, and if I wanted to be able to pay my debts back, I would have to work three times as hard. So that is what I have tried to do.

          In my second year, I joined a student-run organization that was only a few years old at the time: The Law Students’ Society of Ontario, better known as the LSSO. At the end of that year, I was elected President, the role I still hold today. It is both a privilege and responsibility to be in this position.

          . . .

          Several years ago, the LSSO published a report on law students’ tuition, debt, and financial aid experiences. It had become slightly outdated, so I decided I would revamp it. Over the course of a few weeks last November, we collected 697 responses to our survey from all seven Ontario law schools, although some had higher response rates than others. I spent the next few months parsing through the data and creating what is now known as the Just or Bust report.

          61.4% of survey respondents identified as women, 27.5% of respondents identified as a visible minority, 14.2% identified as LGBTQ, and 10.4% of participants identified as having a disability. The Canadian population has almost twice the proportion of Indigenous people as our sample, and students from rural Canada were also under-represented. Students whose parents’ highest level of education was less than a university degree are under-represented by 3 to 1.

          We wanted to learn more about what motivated students to attend certain schools and how finances factored into those decisions, if at all. What we learned was that, for at least 40% of students at each school, tuition had an impact on their choice. Mature students, students from rural communities, Indigenous students, and first-generation university students were among the most likely groups to say that tuition impacted their choice of law school.

          16.9% of those who said that tuition costs did not initially influence their choice of law school indicated that, when reflecting on their current finances, they would choose a different law school today. Students at Osgoode and the University of Toronto, where tuition is approximately $28,000 and $38,000 respectively, were most likely to indicate that they would choose a different law school given present finances.

          Our results also told us that a student’s financial position may be determinative of whether they pursue a legal education to begin with. 52.9% of the students surveyed entered law school with no debt.

          Of those who had debt prior to starting law school, most students owed between $10,000 and $40,000, which was owed primarily to government student loans. However, at higher pre-law debt levels, the balances of private sources of debt creeped upwards. This suggests to us that government student loan limits are insufficient, even for lower-cost academic programs.

          And now for the most important numbers: total current debt load. When the survey was completed, winter tuition had not yet been paid at most law schools, so an average of $7,000-15,000 could be added to the numbers that I’m about to tell you.

          For first year law students, the average debt load was $27,447. For 2L students, it was $57,409. And for students in their final year of law school, the average amount of debt was $83,746. These numbers are significantly higher than those found in the 2014 report. 5.5% of respondents expected to graduate with $140,000 or more in educational debt.

          We tracked the data from various minority groups to see how their average debt levels varied compared to the general average per year of study. For the most part, the variance was little, with the exception of one group: first generation university students. For students whose parents did not complete post-secondary education, their average debt levels were more than $30,000 higher than their peers whose parents did have a post-secondary degree.

          Finally, at law school graduation, over two-thirds of law students expected to have more than $50,000 in debt owing to financial institutions alone, compared to just over one-third in 2014. Almost two-thirds of the respondents expected to have over $20,000 in outstanding government loans, compared to only half of students in 2014. And 19.3% of students expected that it will take them more than 10 years to pay back their law school debts at current interest rates.

          . . .

          We also collected a number of student responses that outline the sheer impact that tuition and debt has had on their lives.

          An overwhelming majority of students indicated that financing law school has been a significant source of stress for them during their degree.

          A strong majority of students indicated that the cost of legal education impaired the representativeness of their classrooms. One student referenced the maximum allowable 5% tuition raise each year, saying: “If you want to make law entirely white and elitist, raising tuition by 5% every year is the way to go.”

          Almost no students at any of the seven law schools agreed with the statement that their law school tuition is fairly priced. In fact, almost all students strongly disagreed with the statement.

          . . .

          I would bet that every Ontario lawyer, or at least most of them, want our legal profession to reflect the diversity of the communities that we serve. But that horizon is becoming increasingly elusive. While tuition is not the only determinant of whether students of diverse backgrounds fill law school seats, tuition of upwards of $30,000 per year is certainly among the barriers to ensuring that our profession is representative.

          So too is tuition a barrier on access to justice. A large majority of survey respondents indicated that the cost of attending law school had impacted their career outcome objectives and caused them to deviate from their rationale for pursuing a law degree. Survey respondents spoke passionately about how they couldn’t possibly pursue a career in criminal law, family law, or with Legal Aid Ontario, because of their debt levels from law school. These are the areas of law in which we desperately need passionate law students who are willing to put in the hard work. And yet these students are being precluded from pursuing those careers simply because of the debt they carry. These students may also be less likely to offer pro bono services throughout their career or even a lower billable hour rate, due to the debts they have to pay off.

          . . .

          The reality of the situation is this: I wouldn’t be a law student had it not been for a funding program at Osgoode that allows me to pay my tuition back after I graduate. And I consider that a lucky break. So, for all of those students – all of those dedicated, creative, and diverse students – who don’t have $100,000 or more lying around… those students may never get an opportunity like the one I have now, because law school is financially out of reach for them. We lose important voices when we set tuition at unconscionable rates. Application costs, ancillary fees, and LSO licensing fees after graduation also contribute majorly to this problem.

          I will leave you with a quote provided anonymously by one of our survey respondents, who said: “The LSO washes their hands of this as Not Their Problem, the university claims it’s Not Their Fault, and the Province refuses to return to adequate regulation of the cost of tuition. Student societies do not seem to hold much sway in the face of that level of indifference.”

          But that is why I do this work. I am simply unwilling to accept the indifference. Even though my own debt situation won’t change, I will continue to advocate for tuition that rises only with the cost of inflation, better bursary and scholarship programs, and more transparency with respect to fees. I will continue showing up until something changes.


          Author: Heather Donkers

          Heather Donkers is a 2019 J.D. graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. During law school, she was the President of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario and Student Section Chair of the Ontario Bar Association. Heather will be articling with the Crown Law Office Criminal in 2019-2020, and is an aspiring criminal lawyer. You can follow her on Twitter at @HeatherDonkers.

        • 12 Apr 2019 8:35 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          Representation matters. So, too, does space – space in our society, space in the community, space for our voices, and space in the profession. Alice In Wonderland had it right – sometimes “fit” is more than just a buzz word.

          What is it that makes an issue deserving of space in our discourse? This is something that I asked myself, and later found myself being asked by others, with respect to the robing room initiative in February of 2019.

          Too Small

          In the legal profession, many who are comfortable with a sustained status quo may believe that we have made all the progress we really need to, and the rest is de minimus at best.

          Alternatively, some issues are seen as mild irritants – something to debate for a time, but easy to drop when there are other, more pressing things to be done.

          Too Big

          The other side of this is that seemingly small issues are representative of systemic problems that are inherently difficult to address. Focusing on the system as a whole can make the task of effecting change seem overwhelming. The barriers that women in law and other equity-seeking groups face in both society and the legal profession frequently can and do fall into this category.

          We often treat manifestations of a systemic problem as isolated issues. Individually, these issues can appear so small that they may seem worth overlooking. As a result, these issues have been permitted to exist for so long that they have become omnipresent, blending into the background of our daily lives where they are consistently ignored. These problems become our blind spots: everyday occurrences that we have been looking at for so long that we can no longer see the forest for the trees.

          What Now?

          What do these “little things” really mean? Are they truly so small that they should just be ignored? Is the task of effecting change so enormous that these “little things” will simply not even make a difference?

          Part of the problem in answering these questions is that the “little things”, and their connection to larger systemic injustices, are misunderstood. The issues are nuanced, and often hard to describe to those who haven’t encountered them as part of their lived experience. Expressing the feeling of not belonging can come across as whining, the act of describing microaggressions can itself be perceived as aggressive, and discussing unconscious bias seems to be one of the easiest ways to make an audience comprised of a traditionally advantaged majority become defensive.

          Just Right

          With all of that in mind, when a clear, unequivocal example of inequality appears, it can often be the opportunity to start long overdue discussions and catalyze change.

          When the size of the “Lady Barristers” robing room at Osgoode Hall and the disparity as compared to the men’s robing room came to the forefront of online discussions again this year, it was clearly time to address it.

          While the robing rooms at Osgoode Hall are one example in one courthouse, they are representative examples of the systemic and pervasive inequalities that women in law face on a daily basis in the legal profession. The connection between the unequal physical space in the robing rooms and the unequal allocation of space in the profession is more than just a metaphor. It is indicative of the fact that, notwithstanding the ever-increasing representation of women in law, the issues we face are often still invisible to many members of the profession. In the context of the long oral history of the mentoring, collegiality, and productive, substantive discussions on cases that occurs in the men’s robing rooms, the disparity was not only in space, but also in access.

          Why Bother?

          One of my favourite quotes from the movie based on the young Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, is when her daughter, Jane, states emphatically: “It’s not a movement if everyone is sitting down – it’s a support group.”

          As advocates, we must speak out and step up for ourselves and others when clear examples of inequality present themselves. Sometimes, it can be hard, and often, there is inherent personal and professional risk in doing so. While equality, diversity, and inclusion have become the latest hot issues in law firms and the profession, many engaged in the discourse are only comfortable with talk, and not action. However, only talking about a problem without taking any concrete steps to solve it imbues a false sense of progress, without actually advancing the issues.

          So, what can you do about it?

          Be a Catalyst for the Change You Want to See in the World

          Get involved, be engaged, and support others who are doing the same. Find something you’re passionate about, and stick with it. Come up with a motto that works for you, and apply it. For example, mine is: “See something, say something” and “Don’t like something, do something about it.”

          As recent calls, getting involved can often feel daunting, but advocating for change doesn’t necessarily have to be done with big initiatives or time consuming commitments. Consistently speaking up, supporting others, proposing solutions, engaging with people in positions of power, encouraging participation by allies who already have seats at the table, supporting those who are taking action, and showing solidarity all goes a long way to creating the change that’s needed when it comes to equality, diversity, and inclusion.


          Author: Breanna Needham

          Breanna Needham is as an Associate in the Toronto office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) and a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation practice group, where she maintains a diverse civil litigation practice with a focus on complex commercial litigation and class proceedings. Prior to joining BLG, Breanna practiced in the Toronto litigation department of a leading national firm, where she acted in a wide variety of matters, including defence side class actions, corporate and commercial litigation, product liability claims, and professional liability matters, as well as advised on legal obligations in the political sector, including in the areas of ethical compliance and conflict of interests. Breanna then practiced at a leading commercial litigation boutique in Toronto, where she represented clients in a broad range of complex commercial litigation, as well as in both plaintiff and defence side class actions. Prior to attending law school, Breanna worked as an agronomist and territory sales manager in the agricultural chemical industry.

          Breanna is committed to advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, with a focus on women in law. She recently successfully advocated for the Law Society of Ontario to address the disparity between the robing rooms at Osgoode Hall.

        • 09 Apr 2019 8:36 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          Three years ago, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be a lawyer.

          If someone told me I would be running in the hotly contested Bencher Election 2019, my response would have been, “What’s a Bencher? What do Benchers do?”

          A lot has changed since then. I learned a bunch, messed up a bunch, and ultimately have come to believe that law is a vocation, and this is my calling. Beyond serving individual clients, I want to have an impact on decision-making at the Law Society of Ontario. I cannot do it without your support.

          I am an independent voice with lived experience as a young brown Muslim woman. I work on the front line of providing access to justice for regular people. I understand the importance of managing mental health, the difficulties of hanging out a shingle, and the frustration of inefficient systems. I am deeply concerned about barriers to entry and practice in the profession.

          I do not pretend to have answers to all (or any) of the problems facing our profession, but my perspective will add value at Convocation. I am running for Bencher because I want to serve my community. In the words of Audre Lorde, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

          To better understand my platform, look up any of the following hashtags on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook:


          The Law Society is governed by a board of directors, who are known as Benchers. Their mandate is to govern lawyers and paralegals in the public interest by ensuring licensees meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct.

          There are 40 elected Benchers. To ensure regional representation, 20 are elected from inside Toronto and 20 are elected from outside Toronto.


          Benchers gather at Convocation to make policy decisions and to deal with other matters related to the governance of Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals. Benchers also sit on panels as adjudicators to hear discipline cases concerning conduct, licensing, competence and capacity.

          The Law Society has a duty to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario, and to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.


          Total voter turnout for elections at the Law Society has steadily declined, falling to 34% in 2015. In Bencher Election 2015, the total eligible recent call voters (under 10 years) was approximately 15,000. Only approximately 4000 of them voted.

          This year, fellow candidate Sean Robichaud and I want to see more engagement from this underrepresented demographic. We have a growing list of candidates committed to two things: 1) A donation for every participating voter by a lawyer who was called to the bar in the past 10 years, 2) If elected, a commitment to advancing a recent call category of bencher.

          This post is part of YWL's Bencher Candidate Series. In this series, young women bencher candidates under ten years of call explain why they think that Convocation needs young women. 


          Author: Caryma Sa’d

          Caryma Sa’d practices law in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. She is focused and results-oriented, with sharp analytical problem-solving skills. Her practice is devoted to defending civil liberties, including “crimes of vice” such as sex and drug offenses. She works efficiently to keep your costs down.

        • 02 Apr 2019 8:38 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          Convocation Needs Young Women.

          I was sitting in my office late one night in February when I read the Law Times article “Young Lawyers Face Challenges in Bencher Election”. The article highlighted for me that there is a generation of lawyers whose concerns are not being heard and addressed – a generation that I am a part of. Coupled with the knowledge of the various challenges women in this profession face, I recognized that there was a lack of representation within the leadership of the Law Society for lawyers like myself.  I had read the article a few days before nominations closed and came to the conclusion that I should run in this bencher election.

          Retention of women in the legal profession has been an ongoing issue for years. Despite women entering into private practice in record numbers for over the past two decades we have also been leaving in droves.  The overrepresentation of women leaving private practice is not surprising to me.  Private practice has not adapted to the realities women face, such as childbirth and taking on a significant portion of family responsibilities.  Organizational and practice cultures that remain resistant to flexible schedules, time gaps between jobs, and parental leaves also play a significant role.  Women who own their firms are faced with the additional hurdle of who will carry on and support their law practice while taking parental leave.

          These issues that all women in this profession face are particularly pertinent for early-career female lawyers.  Historically, the legal profession has seen women drop out of the profession within their first five years past call.  Statistically, as a lawyer in her fifth year of practice I should be dropping out of the profession right about now.  I don’t plan to any time soon but I understand why some of my female colleagues would make that choice.  The lack of retention of young female lawyers is problematic for access to justice and the public generally.  Women dropping out of the legal profession after five to ten years of practice means that few female lawyers will ever reach the stage of becoming judges.  We must recognize that today’s young lawyers will become tomorrow’s leaders within this profession.  This is why representation of young female lawyers within our regulatory body matters.

          As part of my platform, I support expansion of the LSO’s Parental Leave Assistance Program (PLAP), which provides financial benefits to practising lawyers in firms of five lawyers or fewer who do not have access to other maternity, parental, or adoption financial benefits under public or private plans and who meet the eligibility criteria.  PLAP was one of the nine recommendations developed by the Law Society’s Retention of Women Working Group.  It was designed to empower women to take charge of their careers and assist in maintaining the viability of small firms and sole practices.  While it was not developed to be an income replacement program, the funding helps with defraying some of the overhead costs associated with maintaining a practice during a leave.  While it is a good start, the program could implement initiatives that have been adopted by other provincial law societies.  For example, the Barreau du Québec’s “Bébé Bonus” program allows a new parent who has taken a minimum 6-week leave to reclaim one-half of their annual dues paid to the Barreau.

          I firmly believe that the regulation of the legal profession should reflect the demographics of the legal profession and the lawyers within it.  I have chosen to run because I want to bring my perspective and lived experience as a young female lawyer to how our profession is regulated and the Law Society’s elected leadership. I feel that I would be able to represent a demographic of our profession that is currently underrepresented.  Despite the vast number of women entering this profession, retention of women within this profession remains an issue – a reality that I hope will change within the span of my career. The decisions made by the Law Society now will have a pivotal role in whether this will change for generations to come. I have submitted my candidacy in the hopes of championing initiatives that will support young lawyers and women to help facilitate the change I wish to see in this profession.

          This post is part of YWL's Bencher Candidate Series. In this series, young women bencher candidates under ten years of call explain why they think that Convocation needs young women. 


          Author: Deepa Tailor

          Deepa Tailor is the founder of Tailor Law Professional Corporation, based in Mississauga, Ontario. She is a candidate in the 2019 Bencher Election for the Central West region. To learn more about her platform visit

        • 02 Apr 2019 8:37 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          There were many defining moments this past year that led me to run for bencher of the Law Society of Ontario.*

          In early 2018, I wrote an article about my experience as a racialized woman in law. I was nervous to be so candid about my experience. I was afraid to reveal that I often felt alone, that microaggressions and lack of representation within the profession deeply impacted me, and sometimes I felt like my race was an insurmountable barrier to my success in the profession. I was nervous about the reception the article would receive in light of the small, but seemingly powerful group of lawyers who advocate against the statement of principles and who deny the existence of systemic discrimination. Although I was nervous, I am glad I put myself out there. The feedback was overwhelming and positive. People from across the country reached out to me to say my experience resonated with them. The positive reception sparked my confidence that my voice was an important one for the profession.

          This experience was foundational to me being able to put my name forward. The specific desire to run for bencher came later though.

          Convocation has made and continues to make decisions that impact junior members of our profession and those who are not even part of our profession yet. Yet, the perspective of recent calls is not reflected at convocation. There are no benchers in their first 10 years of practice. 75% of Toronto benchers were called in the 1980s. I knew there was a problem. In particular, I was troubled by the licensing debate (i.e. the debate about whether we should eliminate articling, the LPP program or revise the programs) after observing the demographics of current benchers.

          In the fall of 2018, I became frustrated after observing Convocation’s debate on governance reform. A working group presented a robust set of recommendations on governance reform. One recommendation was that term limits should be reduced from 12 years to 8 years and that the notion of ‘life benchers’ ought to be eliminated. I was troubled when at Convocation, in hopes of persuading benchers not to ratify those specific recommendations, a life bencher compared himself to elders in First Nations communities as justification for the continued role of life benchers. I was also troubled when a bencher stated that longer term limits were needed because ‘women and minorities need more time to gain traction at Convocation in order to obtain senior positions at Convocation.

          Frustrated with the discourse at Convocation, I wanted to run for bencher. I wanted to run because I thought I would bring a different kind of voice to Convocation. But I needed some pushing. I was encouraged by a lot of amazing women in law to run. Lots of research shows that women need to be asked or convinced to run before they make that leap themselves. It turns out I am not immune from that phenomenon. Putting yourself out there in such a way is nerve-wracking and difficult. I needed encouragement even though I knew in my heart I wanted to run.

          Sadly, only 28% of bencher candidates are women. This is a huge problem because it suggests Convocation will not have gender parity this upcoming term.

          As YWL members, I encourage you to vote. Vote for women. Vote for recent calls. Most importantly vote. It is time our perspectives are heard.

          *The Law Society of Ontario is the governing body for lawyers and paralegals. The Law Society of Ontario regulates lawyers and paralegals to ensure competency of the profession within the public interest. A bencher is essentially a member of the board of director. Together, benchers are referred to as ‘Convocation.’

          This post is part of YWL's Bencher Candidate Series. In this series, young women bencher candidates under ten years of call explain why they think that Convocation needs young women. 


          Author: Atrisha Lewis

          Atrisha Lewis is a litigation associate at McCarthy Tétrault LLP, a trial advocate, and a champion for diversity and inclusion. In the last year, she won the Precedent Setter Award for being a precedent setting lawyer, the University of Toronto Arbour Award for outstanding volunteerism, and the inaugural Inclusion Now Award at McCarthy Tétrault, in recognition of her  contribution to diversity and inclusion, at the firm. Learn more about her at or @atrishalewis.

        • 09 Feb 2019 8:39 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          Let’s face it. Career planning and goal-setting can be daunting. For many people, the unknown potential of the future (both good and bad) is a source of stress. However, taking the time to set goals and reflect on your objectives is a great way to focus your personal and professional aspirations; it helps you consider your priorities, identify upcoming challenges, and achieve specific targets.

          Goal-setting also has important retrospective benefits. When you take time to identify your goals, you are more likely to recognize your own achievements. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s all too easy to breeze past a major accomplishment without taking time to reflect on a job well done. It’s important for successful, goal-oriented women (and men) to recognize their successes before getting swept up in the next challenge.

          While the initial task may seem daunting, goal-setting is actually a great way to refocus in times of stress or anxiety. It’s important (and strangely nerve-racking) to think about what you want out of life. But once you do, you will be better-equipped to handle overwhelming professional and personal decisions. Do you have a new job opportunity? Are you facing a move? Struggling with a friendship? Revisit your goals to remind yourself of what is important to you and gain perspective on what you are looking for going forward. 

          So where do I start?

          Don’t put too much pressure on the goal-setting process itself. Keep it relaxed.Grab a drink or a coffee or a little treat. Find a relaxing spot in a park or curl up in a cozy chair and jot down some things that you want to accomplish. 

          One tip before you start: try not to “we”. While it may feel awkward or even selfish to make a list of “I wants”, the focus of your goal-setting should be on what you want to do with your life. Do you want to work at a Fortune 500 company? Do you want to make a move to a new firm? Do you want to start a family? Write it down. Avoiding the term “we” does not mean that you can’t work towards those goals with a partner or friend, but if it’s important to you then write it down.

          If you find working from a template easier, try this Goals and Planning Worksheet (PDF). I like to divide goal-setting into four categories: short-term goals, long-term goals, upcoming expenses, and priorities. You may choose not to distinguish between professional and personal goals. I prefer to keep everything in one place. Sometimes your professional goals will take priority, sometimes not. Sometimes your short-term goals will be mainly personal, other times they will be mainly professional. That’s just the ebb and flow of life. Don’t worry too much about it. 

          Short-Term Goals

          Short-term goals are a good place to start because they are easier to identify than their long-term counterparts. You’re probably already working on them. They might include things like completing a degree or accreditation, getting a job in your field of interest, securing a promotion, taking a summer trip, or finding a new apartment.

          Long-Term Goals

          The best way to approach long-term goals is to think of things that you would like to accomplish without pigeonholing yourself by defining your goals too narrowly. For instance, if you love to travel, a good long-term goal might be “travel once per year”. This allows you to take a staycation in a nearby city one year and travel internationally the next. It gives you something to work towards, but allows room for changing interests, finances and relationships.

          Think carefully about your professional long-term goals. Do you really want to make [insert salary figure here] or do you want to make enough money to be able to live a certain lifestyle (i.e. dining out, concerts, travel, clothes, etc.)? Both are great goals, but they’re different goals. Other long-term professional goals may include working in a certain field, working in a meaningful position, finding a mentor or sponsor, achieving a particular career distinction, or working abroad. Get creative and give yourself room to grow!

          Upcoming Expenses

          When I initially started goal-setting, I didn’t include this category. But managing your finances is an important part of planning for the future. Whether or not we like it, many goals require you to save a certain amount of money before you can take the next step. Therefore, it can be useful to account for any major upcoming expenses, so that you can financially plan accordingly.

          Some of the things under this category will be related to your long-term or short-term goals. For instance, if you want to buy a house or make a career move that requires you to take a salary cut, you will need to adjust your finances. There may also be things that aren’t related to your goals, but require some thought nonetheless. For instance, you may be in a friend’s wedding or facing a rent increase. Keep these things in mind as you build your plans.


          As part of your goal-setting process, it is often helpful to make a list of things that are important to you. While this may seem abstract at the time, it will prove helpful when you feel overwhelmed with a big personal or professional decision. Your priorities list may be something as simple as “Be happy”. If this is the case and you find yourself stuck in a relationship that makes you feel insecure or at a job that is making you miserable, then you know that it’s time for a change.

          Other priorities may include family, academic achievement, friends, career success, travel, creativity, or giving back to your community. Whatever your priorities may be, write them down and look back to them for guidance when you are faced with tough decisions. And remember, like your goals, your priorities may change. That’s okay. Use career and goal-planning as a pencil sketch of what you want, and then go out and live life.

          You’ll do great.


          Author: Anastasia-Maria Hountalas

          Anastasia-Maria Hountalas is an associate at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc, where she advises and represents clients in all aspects of professional regulation. Prior to joining the firm, Anastasia-Maria summered and articled in the litigation department of a leading national law firm, with a focus on health law. Anastasia-Maria completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History at McGill University and obtained her law degree from Queen’s University. During law school, Anastasia-Maria was actively involved in the Queen’s Law community, participating in the Prison Law Clinic and several study abroad programs. Anastasia-Maria Hountalas serves on the YWL Board of Directors as the Director of Marketing & Communications.

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