The Liberation of Being Unapologetic – An Articling Student Considers Public Disagreement
On December 1st 2022, as part of a professionalism series, we had the pleasure of hosting and hearing from Marie Henein at the Toronto Lerners office. As an incredibly experienced litigator and former managing partner of Henein Hutchison Robitaille LLP, her words were insightful and informative for everyone in the room, ranging from articling students like myself to senior associates and partners at Lerners.
Perhaps best known for defending Jian Ghomeshi in his criminal case, few Canadian lawyers gain public notoriety the way Marie Henein has. Likely alluding to this, she told us that she is often asked, “How do you do this work?” For Henein, practising law and representing clients is not a question of morality. Each and every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence under the Charter, and it is not a lawyer’s place to pass judgment or “gatekeep” who is and is not worthy of the right to retain and instruct counsel.
But pop culture tends to portray lawyers as morally corrupt for taking certain cases or defending clients charged with particularly objectionable crimes. Police Procedurals, especially, celebrate violations of civil rights when the ends justify the means, which can make it difficult to explain why civil rights – for everyone, including those accused of heinous crimes – are the bedrock of our democracy.
It is understandable that the public may disagree with the “choice” to take a certain case or represent a certain individual. With the ubiquity of social media, the public’s disagreement can be difficult to avoid as well. The criticism often turns personal, especially for women when harassment is gendered. Marie Henein has dealt with more than her fair share of personal critiques and attacks. She handles it with poise, explaining that she does not have to read them nor does she have to respond to them. Legal literacy and legal education are important, but lawyers do not necessarily owe the public a response to everything. This was incredibly liberating for me to hear and I imagine many others in the room, who have struggled with speaking up on misinformation.
As an articling student, I have often been told that this is the time for me to determine what kind of lawyer I want to be. Halfway through my articling term, I have already had the pleasure of discussing this with and learning from my mentors at Lerners and lawyers like Marie Henein. Though it is a question I am still contemplating, I know that I will be unapologetic in my approach, and for that I am grateful.
About the Author
Vanshika Dhawan is an articling student in the Toronto office of Lerners LLP. She is passionate about legal literacy and access to justice, particularly in the realm of sexual and gender-based violence. In addition to having a Masters in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Bachelor of Medical Sciences from Western University, she acts as a freelance writer with a focus on these issues from a trauma-informed and survivor-centric lens.