Do Lawyers have an Ethical Obligation to Defend the Unpopular? |

Do Lawyers have an Ethical Obligation to Defend the Unpopular?

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Professionalism (Ethics, etc.): 1.5
100 minutes
Saron Gebresellassi
Carol Hansell
Danielle Robitaille
Philip Slayton
Jamie Watt
Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA)
100 minutes
$119.00 plus tax

For many lawyers, taking on an unpopular cause is viewed as a post of honour.  The oath that lawyers swear in Ontario mandates that they “not refuse causes of complaint reasonably founded.”  This implies an objective standard, one of a reasonable person.  But, what about a lawyer’s conscience? At what point should the lawyer’s own moral compass be involved in the decision to take on a client or cause? In a growing age of unease, this program is designed to allow lawyers to reflect and offer new insights on how they see themselves and their work.  The panel of  practitioners and experts will discuss the following considerations that are important  for every lawyer (barrister or solicitor):  The competing obligations between one’s professionalism and personal  identity.  The fact that the lawyer will not be liked by everyone, or may even make  enemies when taking on certain causes or clients.  The need to find something human in a client with whom you have nothing in  common (or may even find reprehensible). The public and media scrutiny when taking on an unpopular cause or client.


Saron Gebresellassi Owner and Partner

Saron Gebresellassi is a young lawyer, entrepreneur and nationally renowned advocate earning her place in Chatelaine Magazine’s “Top 80 Amazing Canadian Women to Watch”. Saron is of Eritrean-Canadian heritage having arrived in Ontario with her family at the height of a civil war in the region. Raised in a Toronto Community Housing Corporation high-rise located at Keele and Eglinton, it became abundantly clear that education would be the key to a better future. Having excelled academically early on, Saron went on to earn three university degrees from the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa, entirely financed through private scholarships and was called to the Bar in 2014.The day after the ceremony, Saron immediately opened and launched her own private litigation firm headquartered in the same neighborhood that raised her—Weston Mount Dennis. Saron quickly established a reputation in the industry as a distinguished advocate and has successfully run numerous high profile cases. Being recently hailed as one of Toronto’s top eight change makers, Saron continues to use her position of power to help others.

Carol Hansell Senior Partner

Carol Hansell is the Founding Partner of Hansell LLP, providing expert independent legal and governance advice to boards of directors, shareholders, management teams and regulators. Her firm is regularly engaged on matters that include special committee mandates, board investigations, governance reviews and shareholder engagement. Carol has extensive experience as a director. She currently serves on the boards of Munich Reinsurance Company of Canada, Life Storage, Inc. (NYSE: LSI) and the American College of Governance Counsel. She has served on the boards of a number of other organizations, including the Bank of Canada and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board. Carol has been involved in governance education and thought leadership throughout her career. She is the author of a best-selling book for directors and a four volume loose-leaf service. Carol served as the only non-American Chair of the Corporate Governance Committee of the American Bar Association (Business Law Section) and continues to serve as Special Canadian Advisor to the Corporate Laws Committee of the ABA. She has taught more than 5,000 directors as an instructor in the ICD-Rotman Directors Education Program offered in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Directors and the American College of Governance Counsel. She is also the Chair of the Business Law Advisory Council, appointed by the Province of Ontario. Carol has received a number of awards and recognitions and was awarded the Hennick Medal for career achievement from the Hennick Centre for Business and Law. She was also recognized as one of the top 25 most influential lawyers by Canadian Law Magazine and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in investor relations from IR Magazine.

Danielle Robitaille Partner

Ms. Robitaille is a partner at Henein Hutchison, where her practice focuses on criminal, regulatory and disciplinary litigation at both the trial and appellate levels. Ms. Robitaille defends both individuals and corporations charged with regulatory or criminal offences. She has appeared before all levels of court in Ontario. Ms. Robitaille has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto and an LL.B. from Dalhousie University, where she won the Muriel Duckworth Award for “raising consciousness of women’s issues and feminism in the legal community.” Ms. Robitaille has lectured extensively including at The Law Society of Upper Canada, Osgoode Professional Development, The Advocates’ Society, the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, Ministry of the Attorney General’s “Crown School” and the Ontario Court of Justice. Additionally, Ms. Robitaille is an instructor for the University of Toronto’s Trial Advocacy course. 

Philip Slayton

After studying law at Oxford University as a Manitoba Rhodes Scholar, Philip Slayton clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. Then, for thirteen years, he pursued an academic career, teaching at McGill University and becoming dean of law at the University of Western Ontario. Philip then went into legal practice with a major Canadian law firm in Toronto, and worked on many of the biggest corporate and commercial transactions of the time. He retired from the practice of law in 2000. Since leaving legal practice, Philip Slayton has written two best-selling books: Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession, published in hard cover by Viking Canada in 2007, in paperback by Penguin Canada in 2008, and as an ebook in 2010; and Mighty Judgment: How the Supreme Court of Canada Runs Your Life, published in hard cover and as an ebook in 2011 by Allen Lane and as a paperback by Penguin Canada in 2012. In 2014 he independently published Bay Street: A Novel, a legal thriller. The Toronto Star described Bay Street as “expert and engaging… exciting and hilarious… a first rate crime novel…” Mayors Gone Bad was published in hard cover and as an ebook by Viking in May of 2015. How To Be Good: The Struggle Between Law and Ethics (with Patricia Chisholm), a collection of essays first published in Canadian Lawyer magazine, was published in 2017. The Future of Tennis (with Peter Figura) will be published in August 2018 by Skyhorse Publications of New York. Philip is now working on a book about freedom in Canada, to be published by the University of Regina Press in 2019. Philip divides his time between Toronto and Nova Scotia. He is married to the writer Cynthia Wine.

Jamie Watt Executive Chairman

Jaime Watt is the Executive Chairman of Navigator. He specializes in complex public strategy issues, serving both domestic and international clients in the corporate, professional services, not-for-profit and government sectors. Widely regarded as Canada’s leading high stakes communications strategist, he is a trusted advisor to boards of directors, business and professional leaders as well as political leaders at all three levels of government across Canada. Jaime has led ground-breaking election campaigns that have transformed politics because of their boldness and creativity.

Jaime has been involved in governance education and thought leadership throughout his career. He is a guest lecturer at a variety of Rotman School programmes at the University of Toronto and is a Lecturer at the Ivey School of Business at Western University. He regularly provides expert opinion in challenging governance situations.

Currently, Jaime chairs the board of OCAD University and the Literary Review of Canada. He serves on the boards of many organizations including the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation in Toronto, the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, as well as Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre and Crimson Asset Management. He is a past president of the Canadian Club of Toronto and the Albany Club.

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