Alexia Kapralos is assistant editor/videographer for Law Times, Canadian Lawyer and Lexpert. She’s been with Thomson Reuters since 2016 and is a graduate from Ryerson University’s School of Journalism.
|Osgoode Hall Law School dean Lorne Sossin says the LSAT remains an important way for law schools to compare applicants.|
Harvard’s initiative, which will allow students to take an alternative standardized test, is currently in a pilot stage. The law school says the goal of the pilot is to make law school applications more accessible by allowing applicants to pay for only one test instead of two when applying to both graduate and law school.
“If you’re looking at the leading trend in admissions in Canada, it’s not going to be a reaction to the Harvard move,” says Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. “I think here we’re moving away from a more formulaic approach, keeping the LSAT in mind, and toward a more holistic assessment. [The LSAT] is an important component because it gives that comparative dimension.”
Sossin adds that, in Canada, most of the costs incurred by applicants are from optional LSAT preparatory courses rather than paying to take the test itself. To help ease this gap, Osgoode Hall provides the Access to Law and Learning program — a free course to help high-potential candidates with financial need prep for the LSAT.
All Canadian law schools except those in Quebec require applicants to write the LSAT. Quebec law schools don’t require it because it is only offered in English. However, according to Robert Leckey, dean of McGill University Faculty of Law in Montreal, if a candidate does write the test, the results must be shared with the university, even if they perform poorly and even if it’s not required for admission.
Law school deans from across the country indicated to Legal Feeds that, although GPA and LSAT can level out the playing field between undergraduate programs with different marking standards and provide a stable measure of comparison among all applicants, it’s equally if not more important to evaluate applicants holistically. This means looking at their previous professional, volunteer and life experiences, leadership skills, background and personal statements. The drawback of this method is that it’s time consuming and requires additional staff.
“I think it’s fair to say that many [Canadian] schools have sought to expand the extent to which the whole background of the person is taken into account,” says Jeremy Webber, dean of University of Victoria Faculty of Law, adding that relying on numbers alone provides too narrow of an assessment. “Law school interacts with all segments of society, just about every issue in society, and so it’s really good to have people in law school who have a range of backgrounds.”
Although groups such as the Canadian Law Admissions Services and Statistical Information group and the Ontario Law Schools Admissions Services Working Group will be meeting in 2017 to discuss issues in law school admissions, Queen’s Law dean Jane Emrich says neither group has yet discussed changes to the LSAT requirement.
In a statement, Emrich also said that “most law schools would need to amend their admissions policies through their relevant faculty boards in order to make such a change,” such as using the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT.
|Linda Rothstein says the projects will give the foundation insight into how technology can be used to help young people facing legal problems.|
“Access to justice remains a problem and it is something that we need to work to continue to improve,” says Kirsti Mathers McHenry, director of policy and programs at the Law Foundation of Ontario. “I think organizations like the Legal Innovation Zone and the Winkler Institute are taking new approaches to old problems and hopefully coming up with some new solutions.”
The two organizations were selected to receive the grants based on an application process through the law foundation. Mathers McHenry described the process as “not the sort of traditional call” because the law foundation first approached organizations with expertise around design thinking and technology, then selected the recipients.
The law foundation’s former CEO from 2007-2015, Elizabeth Goldberg, inspired the grants, which are funded by revenue from the interest of lawyers’ mixed trust accounts. The law foundation’s current board chair, Linda Rothstein, said in a statement that Goldberg was the first one in the organization who noted that technological innovation could lead to better serving and connecting with youth in the context of the justice system.
“Together, these projects will give the foundation insight into how technology can be harnessed to help young people facing legal problems,” said Rothstein.
The Ryerson LIZ will be using its grant for a project that’s geared toward improving access to justice for urban youth through workshops. They will be working closely with the law foundation and youth to hear about their experiences and specific needs when it comes to accessing the justice system.
From those conversations, the LIZ is planning to produce a white paper outlining the project’s methodology and the recommendations for tech-based access to justice solutions that it will be coming up with from these workshops.
“It’s a fabulous initiative by the law foundation and it’s making sure that youth are better connected with the justice system that’s supposed to serve them,” says Chris Bentley, executive director of the LIZ.
The Winkler Institute will be continuing work started by a youth-led initiative, Feathers of Hope, focusing on developing solutions for aboriginal youth in remote communities to access the justice system in a way that’s culturally sensitive. The institute plans to hold multiple meetings that will foster collaboration between aboriginal youth from fly-in communities and experts in youth justice and design thinking.
“I’m very excited about not just bringing the knowledge of the Winkler Institute to this project but learning a lot from other expertise, including the expertise of youth,” says Nicole Aylwin, assistant director of the Winkler Institute.
|Michael Thorburn holds the first published issue of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal (1958).|
“I thought I wasn’t deserving of any kind of recognition. My race has never crossed my mind when I execute my duties as managing editor,” says Thorburn, who was elected into his role last year by a senior board of students on the law journal. “But this is something that’s bigger and more important than how I might feel internally.”
The publication’s executive editor, Joe McDonald, recently stumbled upon information that Thorburn is the first black managing editor of the law journal.
“When he was elected, I figured that it’s 2016 so surely there’s been a black managing editor before,” says McDonald. “I mean, Barack Obama was the first black managing editor at Harvard [International Law Journal] in 1990, which was decades ago. I guess I just assumed it wasn’t an issue.”
The Osgoode Hall Law Journal has had other people of colour in leadership roles prior to Thorburn, such as editors of South Asian and Middle Eastern descents. According to Thorburn, he’s the only one who’s received recognition for his race in his role.
When asked why he thinks this may be the case, he said that perhaps it’s a reflection of expectations for black students. “Maybe black students have faced a rougher road in the history of Osgoode. I don’t know. But I look forward to the day when you don’t even have to write a piece in a magazine to commemorate a black managing editor because I want it to be normalized,” he says.
"It's through shining the light on the firsts that allows us to inspire the seconds, thirds, and fourths of tomorrow," he says. He concluded by saying that "by documenting these moments we can make our contribution to the history of Osgoode Hall Law School — hopefully students can look back on this a few decades from now, when progress has inched a little bit further, and point to it as significant."
Thorburn and McDonald agree that although it’s a step in the right direction for diversity, there’s more work that needs to be done.
“It’s not about diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s the idea that as a group or lawyers or as a bar, we can serve clients better if we have diversity amongst lawyers because you could understand things from different perspectives,” says McDonald. “I’m a very big proponent of diversity for the sake of better client service rather than because we can check the box that we have a black managing editor.”
Currently, the law journal doesn’t explicitly have a policy in effect for diversity when it comes to electing individuals for executive roles. But it does look for diverse candidates who bring fresh perspectives and different views on journal topics.
Thorburn says he couldn’t have done it without the support of the team, his friends and mentors.
|Panelists Asha James, Shantona Chaudhury, Sandra Nishikawa and Anne London-Weinstein spoke about their experiences as litigators at an OBA panel last week.|
“I am as much worthy of respect as my male counterparts in this career,” said Linda Fuerst, senior partner with Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, on the first of the two panels.
Whether sexism is experienced inside the courtroom, for instance, focusing on a female lawyer’s appearance rather than her job as a litigator, as spoken of on the first of the two panels, or outside the courtroom during meetings with colleagues or clients, or through email correspondence, as spoken of in the second panel, it’s proving to be an ongoing issue.
The speakers agreed that one of the best ways to overcome sexism inside the courtroom is to command authority and have a thorough knowledge of the case at hand. According to panellist Linda Rothstein, partner at Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein, you have to protect your own integrity but also act in the best interest of the client.
“Men who are tall and had baritone voices sounded authoritative. I couldn’t do that because I was short and female,” said Fuerst.
Fuerst added that it’s important to speak with confidence and to practice changing tone and intonation. It’s important to act authoritative because when so much emphasis is placed on a woman’s appearance in court, female lawyers need to command respect.
For instance, Rothstein said that early in her career, as she was delivering a motion, a judge stopped her to tell her that she had “lovely nails.”
Outside the courtroom, the importance of having a mentor was stressed because whether a lawyer needs advice on how to react professionally to sexist behaviour or just have someone to debrief with, they’re there to serve as a guide. Panellist Shantona Chaudhury of Pape Barristers said that inter-generational learning is key and believes that these can be the most important relationships in the profession.
Often, when experiencing sexism outside the courtroom, the verbal attacks on gender are subtle. According to Asha James of Falconers LLP, older male lawyers have tried to tell her how to deal with a client.
“Hey, honey, let me explain to you how this works,” she said, quoting from a past experience.
Another strategy touched upon was taking on a leadership role and expanding one’s sphere of influence. According to Law Society of Upper Canada Bencher Sandra Nishikawa, a big reason she ran for bencher was to help facilitate change in the industry and to help change the institutions that are part of the profession.
Nishikawa, a mother of three, said many female lawyers struggle with juggling childcare and motherhood with a career due to the fear of losing their clients and their position in their law firm when taking maternity leave. Often, mothers are perceived to not be serious about their legal career as their femininity becomes more evident, she said.
“Sometimes, you need to say, ‘I need to leave to pick up my kids from daycare,’” Nishikawa said. “It seems to be more acceptable, even charming, when men do this.”
Another benefit male colleagues have, according to the panellists and the session attendees, is ease at networking with other men. Often, men are able to bond with their clients and network due to mutual interests women might not share. For instance, male lawyers might build rapport with a client by taking them to play golf.
“I think men have a secret society. They golf together and they even go to the urinal together,” said Fuerst. “As women, we could find other things and other common ground to build rapport with these male clients.”
Above all, it was stressed that women in law need to look out for each other and propel each other forward, especially since there’s a shortage of women who make it past the 10-year mark working in law.
“I’d like to share a quote that I’ve read before: There’s a special place in hell for women that don’t support other women. Build bonds with women in the profession rather than see them as just your competition,” said Chaudhury.
Thomson Reuters and the Toronto Lawyers Association announced a new partnership Jan. 17 in Toronto. Former justice Colin Campbell, Monica Goyal and other speakers discussed improving technology in law firms and in the courts.
The discussion around the legalization of marijuana is heating up across Canada, especially because of the Liberal government’s decision to introduce legislation for legalization as early as next spring.
|Lawyer Nathan Gorham says legalization of marijuana could potentially lead to the decrease of violent crimes.|
“I don’t think that people should anticipate that the backlog of the courts is largely due to prosecutions from minor possessions of marijuana,” says Edward Prutschi, partner at Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman Criminal Litigation, when asked whether legalizing marijuana will assist in dealing with court delays. “It will create some opening though because people are not going to be prosecuted for these types of cases anymore and I think that is to the benefit of the system as a whole . . . and it will be a benefit from a police resource perspective.”
Nathan Gorham, partner at Rusonik O’Connor Robbins Ross Gorham & Angelini LLP, agrees with Prutschi, but he adds that he thinks the legalization of marijuana could potentially lead to the decrease of violent crimes often associated with gangs and the selling of marijuana at street level — robbery, assault and even murder — although he is unsure if the potential decrease in these crimes would be enough to make a difference within the justice system.
“If marijuana is decriminalized, presumably we’re not going to have street-level dealers anymore who are able to make a lot of money because there’s a high markup on it. Then you’ll see less of the cases where those dealers are carrying guns or those dealers are the victims of robbery or there’s competition between one another that leads to shootings and other violence,” he adds.
The federal government’s task force appointed to study how marijuana could be regulated and sold once legalized issued a report in early December. The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation’s report contains more than 80 recommendations on how the government could tax, market and distribute marijuana.
The task force recommends that sales be restricted to those 18 and older, with a public possession limit of 30 grams of dried cannabis. Unlike cases of marijuana possession (those below the set legal amount), cases that won’t disappear from the courts are those involving trafficking and growing marijuana.
In terms of sentencing, Prutschi thinks it will be situational. For example, a person who is just a few grams over the legal limit will probably be diverted out of the legal system, whereas a person selling it at street level in large quantities without paying the taxes or having a licence to do so will receive a much harsher sentence.
Since those other related activities aren’t being legalized, he predicts those offences will be treated the same way in the courts, perhaps even with the current level of punishment depending on the situation.
Prutschi also predicts that laws surrounding other drugs will see no impact, especially because there’s a “significant difference between the [health] risks that are posted by marijuana” compared with drugs such as cocaine, heroin or fentanyl, for instance.
On the other hand, Gorham anticipates that marijuana legalization might open up the dialogue on whether or not other illicit drugs should be treated with a “health-based” approach rather than an “enforcement” approach. For example, if a health-based approach is taken, more safe injection sites could be built so people wouldn’t be forced to take those drugs “underground.” Similar to what he believes would happen with marijuana, this would perhaps limit other more serious and violent crimes related to these other illicit drugs.
“If the marijuana policy works out, then it may be an important stepping stone to opening up the conversation for change in regards to other illicit substances and how we try to target them and assist the people who are addicted to them,” says Gorham.
Deepa Mattoo is the latest recipient of the Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship from the Law Foundation of Ontario, a non-profit organization that funds other groups to provide education and initiatives on access to justice.
|Deepa Mattoo will be conducting research around the relationships between race, gender and immigration status.|
Mattoo, the current director of legal services at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, says that while she’s very excited for this opportunity to conduct research around the relationships between race, gender and immigration status under this year-long fellowship, she also feels “very humbled.”
During her time as a fellow, Mattoo’s research will specifically focus on racialized women who have precarious immigration status, as they face violence and barriers in accessing supports and legal services. She’ll team up with the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, academics from the law and sociology faculties and the Rights of Non-Status Women Network for this undertaking.
“The goal of this project is to create a network of individuals who would work with me in reviewing the intersectionality, but to also create solid tools for service providers to provide services and assistance to the women who are going through these experiences of violence and going through the experiences of precarious immigration,” she says.
She adds that there’s a need for “sensitivity toward the service delivery models for women” when it comes to legal assistance and to look at “frameworks and understand the gaps” that exist in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
According to Mattoo, many racialized women who have precarious immigration status, meaning their status as a Canadian citizen or permanent resident is uncertain, don’t feel safe accessing the justice system because they fear deportation.
“Access to justice should ideally be rooted in the concept that [legal help] should be available to everyone, regardless of who they are and what their experiences are, whatever their citizenship is,” Mattoo says. “It’s not just about having the conduit to go to the legal system. It’s also about having the capacity to even think about what my rights are … sometimes even women without immigration status can’t even think of their citizenship rights. They can’t even think that they have access because of the inherent barriers, which are existent in our systems.”
Toward the latter portion of the fellowship, in the spring, Mattoo will offer workshops to share the results and tools of the study with law and social work students, settlement workers, lawyers and key agencies in Ontario that assist with non-status immigrants.
“I’m not the first one who’s doing this work and I’ll also not be the last one doing this work,” says Mattoo. “I’m a small fish in a big sea.”
Isfahan Merali is joining the Law Foundation of Ontario as a member of its board of trustees, adding her depth of experience to the organization tasked with improving access to justice.
|Isfahan Merali says she has a lived experience of some of the issues faced by groups funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario.|
As the first female South Asian bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada, Merali has been a trailblazer as a human rights advocate.
“I’m deeply honoured,” says Merali who is also counsel and deputy registrar at the Ontario Judicial Council. “I’m excited to be able to add another voice on issues of access to justice and barriers that diverse communities face.”
As a legal professional who has practiced mental health law, and as a racialized licensee, she says that she has a lived experience of some of the issues faced by groups funded by the law foundation, which helps her to understand some of the barriers and challenges these groups must overcome when they try to access justice.
“We put out specific calls for marginalized and vulnerable communities, so that includes indigenous peoples, racialized communities, linguistic minorities, and so I hope that myself, coming from the South Asian community, will add to the perspective and the voice and the analysis that the law foundation trustees bring to looking at grant applications,” says Merali.
When it comes to upcoming projects that she’d like to pursue during her time on the board, Merali says she would like to focus on working with indigenous communities, especially since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released, bringing greater interest in looking more carefully and more holistically at the problems this group faces, and on looking at “unique and innovative” projects and solutions coming from youth on access to justice.
“I don’t think there’s only one community that’s grossly underserved,” she says, adding that many groups are underserved and that family law in Ontario is also a sector in crisis.
There’s also the issue of diversity — it’s improving, but there’s still a lot of work to do, she says. Merali believes that the legal community should be as diverse as the people it serves in Ontario, and work needs to be done toward making a “much more inclusive and equitable legal community.”
With intentions of bringing these issues to light, Merali believes that providing tools, education and addressing issues that people face in a holistic and affordable way are keys for improving access to justice within the legal system.
“[Access to justice] is so multi-faceted,” she says. “It means understanding the legal education system and how to access it to get the help people need.”
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