Leading in Litigation: 5 Women Litigators Discuss Their Role

Topics: Canada, Diversity, Litigation, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Recently, Thomson Reuters’ Canadian Lawyer magazine brought together a cross-section of leading women in litigation, from private practice and in-house, to talk about how they came into the profession they love, the challenges and rewards they’ve faced, and the changes they have observed as they have risen to the positions they hold today. They discussed the importance of mentors and how they are trying to pay it forward. They also spoke candidly about the myths around women in litigation that still linger in 2018.

The litigators we spoke with were:

  •        Melissa MacKewn, partner at Crawley MacKewn Brush;
  •        Reena Lalji, senior counsel at CIBC;
  •        Andrea Laing, partner at Blake Cassels & Graydon;
  •        Catherine Beagan Flood, partner at Blake Cassels & Graydon; and
  •        Linda Plumpton, partner at Torys

Canadian Lawyer: How did you become the kind of litigation lawyer you are now?

Melissa MacKewn: I thought I was going to be a human rights lawyer all through law school. In fact, the reason I ended up going to Faskens is because I had said I was interested in a secondment to the Human Rights Commission where I went for three months. I did one human rights case in Ontario and decided that it wasn’t what I thought it would be and decided to do commercial work. On the securities side, it happened by accident. I thought it would be quite boring, I had never opened the Securities Act — I thought securities law sounded dead dull, but wanted to get on my feet more and not be in a boardroom looking at documents for 12 hours a day.

Linda Plumpton: I think all of our stories are about serendipity. When I think about how I got into competition law, I had two mentors earlier in my career — John Laskin and Kent Thomson — both of whom practiced in that area. As I started at the firm, there was a criminal trial under s. 45 of the conspiracy provisions of the Competition Act that was ongoing. We also happened to represent the defendants in the first two price-fixing class actions that were commenced at the cusp of a growing, novel area of practice.

Catherine Beagan Flood: I was very interested in public law. I came to Blakes because Peter Hogg is scholar in residence here and Paul Schabas is here, too. I’ve been very lucky to be able to continue to do some of that work — I still get to write constitutional opinions with Peter and go to the Supreme Court with him. On the privacy side, when I first started as a litigator, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in private practice or become an academic. …So, again, that serendipity of learning a new area of law when no one knew anything about it.

Canadian Lawyer: What differences do you think women litigators face compared to male litigators?

Andrea Laing: Maybe one of the more distinct pressures we face is that we are outward facing — we go into court and we represent and are a proxy for our client and so profile and how you approach the court is very important. As a junior in a litigation practice, you are asking yourself: “What is my style?” You’re looking for role models.

I think one of the changes we’re seeing is there is much more diversity of role models now, even if you look around this table there are many more acceptable ways to be a female litigator than there were 15 years ago.

Reena Lalji: I’m a client to external counsel, but I also have internal clients as well and what I find is in our litigation group there are four of us of which three are women so to me that’s fantastic and we’re all quite senior. One of the things I have found is that with in-house positions, I think generally there have historically been more women at junior levels and the senior levels tend to be men. I’m seeing a shift in that and seeing more women in senior roles in legal but in particular in the business. I’m finding at the bank there are fantastic senior women role models.

You can read the full roundtable interview at Canadian Lawyer magazine.