The administrative tribunal of the Law Society of Ontario has ruled in favour of an application for licensing as a lawyer by a University of Toronto law school graduate who berated courthouse staff and posted offensive comments online about police, Crown prosecutors and judges, all while articling.
Though pleased with the ruling, the young female applicant — an avowed escort with an explicit website that promotes her services — says her case illustrates the many shortcomings of Canada’s legal education system.
She adds that the tribunal’s decision “was fine but provided incomplete context regarding the disrespect I was responding to and little of the actual mentoring, or lack thereof, I was receiving at the time.
“I have also learned a great deal about the differences between how lawyers say they act and talk and how they actually act and talk,” says Guo.
The 28-year-old also laments the fact it took three years to resolve her case.
“Thank god I was good at seducing men and knew that I would be more financially secure as an escort than I ever would be as an articling student or an associate in criminal defence,” says Guo.
“This is especially so, given that I had huge amounts of student loans to pay back and neither Osgoode Hall Law School nor University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law were very accommodating in that regard.
“I got something like $3,000 combined in financial aid to contribute to just under $90,000 in tuition costs. An ordeal like this would have bankrupted most law graduates today.”
Guo also sent an excerpt from a recent blog she posted on diversity.
In it, she says that if the LSO wants “to get serious” about embracing inclusion, diversity, and equality it should be “more accepting and understanding of law candidates from diverse backgrounds whose ideas and manner of speech do not immediately conform to the standards of elitist genteel society traditions...”
Guo’s ran afoul of the LSO in 2015 when the first of four complaints were filed against her over a six-month period.
Those complaints ranged from her conduct at a civil clerk’s office, leading to her being escorted out by a security guard, to her posting many derogatory comments about lawyers online, including mocking a partner in a law firm who didn’t know what a PDF file was.
More ominously, she was accused of making derogatory remarks about legal professionals and justice system workers on Twitter.
She also created a public website that listed the names of 50 “Bad Cops,” two “Bad Crowns” and two “Bad Judges.”
Guo’s online activities also led to an LSO investigation into Toronto lawyer Marco Forte, who she was articling for at the time.
In a Jan. 15 decision — Law Society of Ontario v. Forte, 2019 ONLSTH 9 — the LSO tribunal reprimanded Forte for not monitoring Guo’s social media rants.
Forte, a lone practitioner who had never had an articling student prior to Guo, was ordered to pay $3,500 in costs and to participate in law society programs like Coach and Advisor Network and webcasts on advertising and solo and small firms.
In Guo’s case, the LSO tribunal says that while her use of social media was central to the complaints, it was not her use of social media that was the issue.
“The parties agreed that it can be good for students-at-law and licensees to use social media actively, voicing opinions, engaging in debate, advocating for change or advancing positions in public that may be unpopular or even uncomfortable for other participants in public discourse,” reads the March 27 ruling by the three members of the tribunal — Shayne Kert (chair), John F. Spekkens and Jerry B. Udell.
“However, the nature and tone of a significant number of Ms. Guo’s communications and actions during the material time raised concerns about her judgment and insight into the impact of her actions.”
The adjudicators noted that at the December hearing, in which Guo testified on her own behalf and called one character witness, she “admitted that the facts set out in the [agreed statement of facts] established that there existed an issue about her good character, and that the onus was on her to establish, on a balance of probabilities, that she is currently of good character.”
They noted that Guo’s lawyer, Kris Borg-Olivier, provided evidence that his client has acknowledged her misconduct and taken steps to better deal with her stress and anger.
She notably saw a licensed psychotherapist who provided a letter saying Guo “had good insight” that would help her to understand and better express her feelings.
“At the conclusion of the hearing, we reserved our decision,” the adjudicators wrote at the outset of their ruling. “For the reasons that follow, we find that Ms. Guo is presently of good character. The application is allowed.”