Amici Curiae: Anti-Bullying & Bill 13, SlutWalk’s Second Year, and the Dewey & LeBoeuf Bankruptcy

Unholy Alliances? Gay-Straight Clubs, Catholic Opposition and Ontario’s Anti-Bullying Bill 13

The Canadian media has been awash with reports of support and opposition since the Ontario Minister of Education, Lauren Broten, announced the provincial government’s stance on certain amendments to the existing Education Act on May 25, 2012. Officially called the Accepting Schools Act (“ASA”), Bill 13’s grander scheme is to design solutions for the problem of bullying in the province’s schools. The Ontario government has also shown its support for the naming of anti-homophobia clubs as “gay-straight alliances,” if that is what students would like to do. The opposition comes mainly from organizations like various Catholic School Boards across Ontario, the Institute for Canadian Values, and members of the clergy themselves. The main point of contention is of course, the oft-touted status of homosexuality as contradicting “deeply held religious beliefs,” and legal experts are already predicting a collision course between the constitutionally-entrenched rights of religious freedom (s.2) and equality (s.15), as per the Charter.

While both sides on the Bill 13 debate are no doubt, entitled to their respective opinions on the matter, it is the opponents’ framing of their arguments that casts a shadow on their motivations. They have been adamant about supporting anti-bullying legislation from the start, going so far as to introduce another, more conservatively worded Bill 14, that focuses entirely on its prevention. However, this latter bill notably excludes references to gender and sexual identities, and discrimination based on these, thereby effectively disincluding some of the most vulnerable groups of bullied victims in the first place. And even more disconcerting, perhaps, is the opposition’s focus on the ‘gay-straight’ label, and its disagreement with the “particular emphasis” on LGBTTTIQ people that Bill 13 places. While the concern that anti-bullying legislation must be as inclusive as possible is certainly a valid one, the intentions behind it are belied by the fact that the opposition is framing Bill 13 as coercive, which is a strange interpretation, especially because the whole point of the bill is to expand the freedom of choice. It seems as if opponents of the bill should consider calling a spade a spade in this instance, because the bigger issue – one of schoolchildren being bullied, is at risk of being sidelined in the petty politics of naming versus name-calling.


SlutWalk: Take 2

Last Friday, over 1000 individuals joined forces in Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto, for a march to Queens Park, for the second annual SlutWalk. In February 2011, a Toronto Police Constable advised a group of students at a York University law seminar that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not be victimized.” Needless to say, two women, Heather Jarvis and Sonia J.F. Barnett, the co-founders of SlutWalk, were not impressed. The Constable’s comment, which he later apologized for, was sufficient to serve as a catalyst for similar marches running in over two hundred cities.

The objective of the walk is for women to reclaim the word “slut,” particularly in order to eradicate such victim blaming statements. While there is a great deal of debate surrounding SlutWalk as a right versus behaving in one’s best interest, one of the purposes is to look at the conversations about risk management. Since the data on victim accounts purports that the clothing of the victim does not necessarily increase the odds of being assaulted (75% of assault victims know the perpetrator), victim blaming statements do more harm than good in reducing violence against women.

Although the organizers have said that they will continue holding these marches so long as the problem of calling survivors and potential future victims “sluts” remains an issue, they hope that they will not have to organize one again next year. That being said, with some responses to SlutWalk reiterating the same sentiments as the Police Constable, it is a regrettable truth that more marches loom in the near future.


The Biggest Law Firm Bankruptcy in the United States: Should We Blame The Economy, Or Ourselves?

Dewey & LeBoeuf was once the darling of the legal profession. At its height, it had employed over 2,500 personnel, including 1,400 lawyers, around the country and the world. Its roots can be traced back to 1909. Despite its lustrous history and glitzy name, the firm could not conquer the modern challenges of running a viable business. After a series of partner deflections and financial pressures, Dewey & LeBoeuf filed for bankruptcy on Monday night (May 28, 2012), burdened by over $315 million in liabilities. The filing marks the largest law firm collapse in United States history.

Some are eager to point out the miscalculations made on the part of Dewey’s management. For instance, the firm offered multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts to partners. For very human reasons, these partners often failed to deliver. But other legal commentaries consider this bankruptcy to be symptomatic of the corporate legal profession as a whole. Recent trends, in their opinion, have destroyed the fabric of a law firm partnership, where there was once a shared sense of purpose. Partners and associates alike were committed to weathering the storm. Loyalty, collegiality and a sense of equality have been eroded as a result of a number of factors, according to Peter Lattman of The New York Times. They include “unfettered growth, often through mergers; aggressive poaching of lawyers from rivals by offering outsize pay packages; and a widening spread between the salaries of the firm’s partners and its most junior ones.” Many firms, not just Dewey & LeBoeuf, employ these strategies.

Set against these approaches are the realities of the world economy in recent years. In 2007, Dewey Ballentine merged with LeBoeuf, creating one of New York’s largest firms with a formidable global presence. The timing, however, coincided with the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. Its heavy debt load started then. To add to Dewey & LeBoeuf’s woes, corporations, which were trying to deal with the same declining economy, had to become vigilant about reducing legal expenses, according to Lattman. Corporate clients often asked for discounts for legal services; an hourly price tag of up to $1,000 was too steep for even the biggest companies. Similarly, corporations more readily asked law firm to share risks, by agreeing to be paid partly for successful completion of a case. All of these trends emphasized the bottom line. This focus on narrow economic self-interest does not only result in financial collapse, but also a collapse in professionalism and professional ideals, according to the legal historian, Robert Gordon. Desperately trying to hold on to clients, lawyers would often give clients the advice they want to hear (unless illegal or obviously wrong), for example.

And before we complain about how our law degrees are no longer paying off, or at least as handsomely as they did in the past, we should consider the growing incongruence between that handful of high-powered law firms and the struggling middle- and lower- classes who are desperate for legal representation. Lattman, at the end of his article, asks us the very uncomfortable question: “Isn’t it time for lawyers to reshape corporate practice so they make less money, [but] have time to serve other legal needs and approach their work with the independence that would make them true professionals?”

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