In a few short months, many young Canadians will be starting university or college.

They will be excitedly pouring over glossy school brochures and booking their campus tours.

In preparation, they will probably have lots of questions. Things like where to find the quietest study spots, where to buy the best latte and what kind of meal plan to get.

Though these are valuable questions for first time students, given recent events, there’s one question that should be immediately asked by each and every incoming post-secondary student: do you have a stand-alone sexual assault and harassment policy? If so, can I read it?

This is a question that depressingly many schools will have difficulty answering. Despite it being 2016, many universities and colleges in Canada do not have an official, stand-alone policy to address incidents of sexual violence on their campuses.Many schools simply slot their sexual assault and harassment policies into a broad student code of conduct. Out of 100 Canadian post-secondary institutions, only 12 have stand-alone policies. These numbers are simply unacceptable.

Sexual violence and harassment on campuses have reached an epidemic level. It is a real and pressing issue for both female and male students, and post-secondary institutions have a duty to take action and ensure that their students are safe.

North American research suggests that 15 to 25 percent of university aged women will experience a form of sexual assault in their academic career.

At Canadian universities, four out of five female undergraduate students surveyedreported having been the victims of dating violence and, of that number, 29 percent reported experiencing sexual assault.

These stats are alarming, but we don’t need stats to tell us that we have reached a crisis point. All we need to do is turn on the news or read the paper. In the past several months alone, there has been a steady stream of distressing stories about instances of sexual violence and harassment on Canadian campuses.

At Brock University, it was recently revealed that a faculty member had allegedly sexually harassed one of his students.

Last month at the University of British Columbia, a student was allegedly attackedand sexually assaulted while walking through campus.

In February, a University of Victoria student was arrested after four victims came forward saying they had been sexually assaulted.

Several weeks ago, police arrested a man in connection with a series of sexual assault allegations at McMaster University.

Cases like these have highlighted the severity of the problem of sexual violence and harassment on Canadian campuses. They have also exposed the truth that many campuses are woefully unequipped.

Many schools lack the basic policies, protocols and tools to prevent and adequately address sexual violence and harassment, as well as properly support victims. In fact, many schools adopt a policy of ‘silence’, forcing victims of traumatic sexual assault and harassment to keep their mouths shut.

Brock University came under fire after it was revealed that the school had told the victim not to speak about an internal investigation that had determined her professor had sexually harassed her.

Students at the University of Victoria have alleged that their school is encouraging a “culture of silence” when it comes to sexual assault victims speaking out. The University of Victoria is one of the campuses that does not currently have a stand-alone policy to deal with sexual assault.

Assault victims at Brandon University have alleged
they were required to sign an agreement stipulating that they could not speak about their assault to anyone except for counsellors. The consequences of failing to abide by this agreement allegedly involve expulsion.

Several weeks ago, Brandon University stated that they would do away with these silencing agreements. This is a good first step. However, Brandon University has continued to come under fire after they did not produce minutes or meeting agendas for the university’s sexual violence task force that allegedly convened last fall. They have also been accused of plagiarizing parts of their task force report on sexual violence.

There are some post-secondary institutions that have taken positive steps to improve upon, or in some cases implement, stand-alone sexual assault and harassment policies.

However, the fact remains that most post-secondary institutions have more robust policies to deal with plagiarism than they have to deal with sexual assault and violence.

It is time to take a stand against sexual violence and harassment on Canadian campuses. No more excuses — every post-secondary institution from coast-to-coast should have a strong stand-alone sexual violence and harassment policy.

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I was taking a break from court today when a friend sent me a link to an article that is so cringe-worthy and blatantly sexist that I could barely read it.

Narcity, a Toronto lifestyle magazine, penned this ridiculous piece entitled “16 of Toronto’s most Beautiful Female Lawyers”. The author, Nicole Kalashnikova, writes:

“There is no stronger force than a beautiful lady who knows her rights. I mean, who could resist a beautiful woman in the courtroom? These ladies have got the looks, the knowledge and the attitude to prove your innocence. Here is a list of Toronto’s most beautiful female lawyers that will use their time, dedication, passion and beauty to sweep the judge off the bench.“

The article displays the photos of 16 lawyers, along with their names and practice areas. The photos have been taken from their professional LinkedIn profiles or their law firm websites, and some of the lawyers are even wearing their official court robes.

A source has confirmed that at least two of the lawyers in this list were included without their permission or knowledge.

While I am sure Kalashnikova thinks this piece is funny, it is just pathetic and sexist. Newsflash, it is 2016. Females are lawyers, and the correct term is “lawyer”, not “female lawyer”. We have worked hard to get to where we are in a profession that is still largely male-dominated. Law is not what you have seen in the movie “Legally Blonde”. Looks do not matter – your legal arguments and hard work do.

I welcome Kalashnikova to join me at my next “Young Women in Law” event so that she can meet some amazing, brilliant lawyers, and get over her stereotypes of women in the legal profession.

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I am very excited to announce that we my law blog Lawsome.ca is a winner in the 2015 Canadian Law Blogs Awards! Lawsome was named the winner in the Legal Culture blog category. The folks over at Clawbies.ca had this to say about us:

Winner: Lawsome. This lively and interesting blog covers “all things law-related in Canada, including law news, industry, events, jobs, cases, legal issues, articling, students and work/life balance.” Written by Vancouver litigator and columnist Kathryn Marshall, Lawsome has a particular interest in the prospects of women in the modern legal profession, as well as in career planning and legal innovation.

Thank you to all my readers!

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Gender quotas in the corporate sector are something that many people are advocating for. Law is no exception – many lawyers are advocating for some form of policy to help ensure there is gender balance in the legal profession. But is it necessary to go the quota route when some firms are achieving gender parity without them?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lisa Munro, a partner at Lerners LLP – a London, Ontario based litigation firm. Lerners has managed to achieve something that many firms dream of: gender parity. And they did it without implementing gender quotas.

Munro, who is a commercial litigator in the Toronto office of Lerners, explains that gender parity simply happened organically, over time. It was not necessarily a hard objective or a set goal. It happened as a result of making it a goal to attract good lawyers and keep them. Keeping good people is just a good business decision, stresses Munro.

Munro believes that firm culture is essential to ensuring that women lawyers stay practicing law (we know the attrition rate for women in private practice is high). Having women among the leadership in a firm is key. Munro points to a past female managing partner at Lerners who was a real trailblazer. She helped shape the overall culture of the firm, acting as a role model and mentor, and making it easier for women to succeed. Others partners at the firm have also made the advancement of women a priority, notes Munro.

Lerners is part of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Justicia Project, and has such things as flexible maternity and parental leave policies. But according to Munro, policies are not enough. “There needs to be demonstrated support for these initiatives from the top and ingrained in the culture”, says Munro.

To be clear, Lerners parity is at the associate level and not at the partner level. But it is still a huge achievement, especially given that almost half of the women lawyers at Lerners are partners. More firms can follow their example of how to achieve parity without resorting to quotas.

 

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As lawyers, we are often told we can do many things with our law degrees beyond just practicing law. But what can we do with a law degree if we want to actually practice law? The list is perhaps a little more limited. Work with a firm in private practice or as a sole practitioner, or work in government, not-for-profit or in-house.

But wait, there’s another option: freelance lawyering. That’s right, freelance lawyering is a real thing and there are people doing it quite successfully.

I first became aware of this interesting niche-area when I was attending a women’s lawyer networking event several months ago. I met a lawyer there who introduced herself as a “freelance lawyer”, a term which was so new to me I had to ask what it was. That lawyer turned out to be Erin Cowling, a Toronto-based freelance lawyer who is also the co-founder of “Flex Legal Network” – a network of freelance lawyers who practice law independently.

Here is how it works. Let’s say a law firm gets a really big case and needs a few extra lawyers to assist with the legal work, but they don’t want to hire new associates to help with just one project. This firm would give Flex Legal Network a call and get set up with a lawyer with the appropriate expertise and background to help them on their big case. Other things Flex Legal Network can assist with include legal research, drafting, second-chairing a trial, document review, website content production such as blog posts and court appearances.

Flex Legal Network was founded by Erin Cowling and Ashleigh Frankel, both busy moms who, after years of practicing law in traditional firm environments, decided they wanted more choice, flexibility and balance.

They realized there are many lawyers out there who need an extra hand or two to help with large projects, and are looking for cost-effective and flexible solutions. Flex Legal Network involves lawyers from all different areas – criminal, family, corporate, etc. so they are able to meet a wide variety of needs. Because freelance lawyers do not have the overhead that law firms have, they are able to keep their rates reasonable and make themselves an attractive option for firms looking to outsource their overflow work.

Because I practice insurance law, of course I wanted to know how their insurance works. Cowling says that the lawyers in her network are all registered with the Law Society of Upper Canada as sole practitioners. Their professional relationship is with the lawyers they service, not the clients of those lawyers. However the same professional responsibility requirements exists for them as would any lawyer in a lawyer-client relationship.

Freelance lawyering is certainly innovative and interesting, but is it a good thing for the legal industry as a whole? Could it result in less associate lawyer positions for young lawyers because it is easier for firms to opt to outsource their work?

Cowling believes freelance lawyering is a positive, not a negative, to the legal professional by providing lawyers with alternative fee arrangements and meeting an industry demand.
Time will tell what the impact of freelance lawyering is on the legal industry as a whole. But it is a great that it exists as an option, especially for lawyers who want to utilize their skill set but are looking for more flexibility and work-life balance.

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