Preparation ‘best defence’ against sexist attitudes

By Staff

Young female lawyers need to know that there are role models within the profession that they can look up to and turn to for support, encouragement or advice, Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia tells The Lawyers Weekly.

Although finding a work-life balance is difficult for women in many professions, Gadhia explains that law is different, as in many cases, a lawyer’s worth is his or her billable time.

“And if you don’t have the time, and you’re not able to bill, and if you’re not able to give the time to your client…firms don’t see you as a financially viable option,” she says.

As a Law Society of Upper Canada report found in 2008, although women have entered the profession in large numbers, they are leaving private practice “in droves,” partially as a result of personal responsibilities. Similarly, a 2016 report found that women practising criminal defence appear to be leaving that area of law at higher rates than men, as a result of “gender-based challenges,” says The Lawyers Weekly.

Gadhia explains that criminal law in particular “is its own animal” and also comes with “banter that isn’t politically correct,” “misogynistic comments” from colleagues and sometimes even sexist attitudes from judges or others inside and outside the courtroom, she tells The Lawyers Weekly.

“You can take offence, or you can just let it roll off your shoulders,” she explains.

Gadhia says she tries to ignore the comments “in a way that doesn’t condone their behaviour and at the same time lets them know you have boundaries.”

“Sometimes a quick word, like, ‘that wasn’t very nice,’ is enough. Or, ‘I’m sorry, you must have been talking to someone else,’ to put them on notice. I’ve actually said to a couple of people, ‘Why would you say something like that? That’s kind of gross,’ ” she explains.

Ultimately, being prepared is the best defence against sexist attitudes and other pressures women face, says Gadhia.

“If you are prepared and you’ve done your work, it doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing a skirt or not,” she says, “at some point a judge is going to have to give you the platform to represent your client.”

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