It’s official. The #MeToo movement has hit Canada. It is sweeping politics and has hit the media sector as well.

It is unlikely that any major industry will be left untouched by this powerful movement. So some have been asking — when will #MeToo hit the legal sector? It is hard to find any woman in law who hasn’t experienced some sort of sexism. But law is a discreet industry: lawyers, by training, keep things quiet. I think it’s unlikely that the #MeToo movement is going to affect the sector in the same way it has impacted other industries.

That said, the Law Society of Ontario is alert to this movement. It recently sent an email to all of its members, reminding us of its Discrimination and Harassment Counsel Program. This program confidentially assists anyone who has experienced discrimination or harassment by a lawyer or paralegal.

This program is one of the few windows we have into harassment and abuse in the profession. It publishes semi-regular reports about the complaints it receives. In its most recent report, which details complaints issued in the second half of 2016, the anecdotes are striking. There is, for instance, the female articling who reported she “was sexually assaulted by her male principal at an after-hours work-related social event.” There is the female lawyer who complained about “a male opposing counsel’s paternalistic and sexist communications.” And then there is the female articling student in private practice who reported that her firm’s partners “mis-handled her complaint about a sexual assault by a client and committed reprisals against her for having made the complaint.”

It would be interesting to know what the outcome of these complaints was — and if complaints have spiked in recent months.

I anticipate that the greatest impact this movement will have in the legal industry is a subtle shift in workplace cultures. Law firms may be taking a look at their own internal sexual harassment policies to ensure they are effective and up-to-date. There may be less tolerance given to behaviour that would have been brushed off several years ago.

One of the most interesting things about the #MeToo movement is the timing. Why now? The major waves of the feminist movement happened decades ago. Women have had legal protection from sexual harassment in the workplace for years.

The timing likely has to do with the fact that women have finally reached a critical mass in power positions in the workforce. There are more women CEOs, presidents, partners and executive board members than ever before. This creates a more supportive environment for women to come forward with allegations of misconduct.

I believe our social-media culture has also played a role. People have gotten used to sharing just about everything on social media, including sensitive issues that were once stigmatized (like mental health). There is something very empowering about being able to share your story in your own words, on your own terms, which many of the more prominent #MeToo champions have done. The act of sharing personal stories online creates an instant community of support when others share your post, comment positively and “like” it.

There has been criticism of the #MeToo movement. Some have called it a witch hunt and have complained it promotes a presumption of guilt. All major social movements that come in with a bang face push back. I think it’s is a fair point that there is a certain “mob mentality” that the social media world tends to facilitate. Due process and fairness are important and cannot be overlooked.

But on the whole, this movement will probably have a bigger impact on women’s rights and equality than anything else in the past 30 years. And it’s about time.

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As a female and a soon-to-be lawyer, you will receive many invitations to “women in law” events during your first few years of practice.  Most of them tend to feature female powerhouse lawyers talking about how to manage the elusive “work-life” balance — how to get all your work done and still make it home on time for family meals and dance recitals.

I still remember one event I attended, where a lawyer said she would meditate forty-five minutes every morning before her kids woke up, to help her become more productive at work. I would scribble down pages of notes, and marvel at these women who seemed to have mastered everything in life. Now, four years into private practice and one kid later, I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all when I barely have time to eat breakfast, let alone meditate.

While there’s nothing wrong with events that focus on lifestyle topics, I believe what’s more valuable for young women in law is to learn how to promote themselves at work and build a book of business. To get anywhere in the legal world, we need to overcome our social conditioning and get comfortable with being assertive and bold. Life after law school is just around the corner, so start working on these skills now.

Lawyers are business people. Learning how to market yourself and sell your expertise to clients early on in your career will make you an asset to any firm. Doors will always open for you if you can do good work and keep bringing in clients.

Once you start working, get your name out there by finding ways to publish your work and by signing up to speak on panels. Get out in the legal community and volunteer. Don’t just hide away in your office.

Other things to keep in mind are your relationships. The legal world is a small one and you will encounter the same people again and again. Get to know other lawyers, your clients and the various people in your industry. While you’re still in school, build a strong relationship with your peers. Because in five years, you may be working with some of them on a file, or calling a former classmate for help on a case.

Lastly, get yourself a mentor to guide you through major career decisions and smaller things like salary negotiation and work arrangements after you have a child. Mentorship is especially valuable for women, since you’ll probably find yourself at a firm where most, if not all of the partners are men.

Finding a mentor who’s good for you is sort of like dating. It may take some time, but once you meet the right person, it will click. There’s a strong mentorship culture in law, which is one of the best things about our chosen profession. Make the most of it.

This article was originally published in Precedent Magazine.

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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.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

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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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