Craig Lewis may not have relished working as a Bay Street lawyer, but he quickly learned there’s a huge advantage for associates exposed to large Toronto firms.
After eight years at two influential downtown companies, Lewis helped start a litigation boutique firm 11 years ago which caters to clients ranging from individuals to large multinational corporations.
It did not take him long to find out why his small firm was thriving.
“I went to Bay Street because all my schoolmates were going there,” recalled Lewis who was presented with a Traditional Practice Award at the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers’ 15th anniversary gala last Saturday night. “I didn’t think I was a Bay Street kind of person and that was where I was (meant) to be.
“Most of us that started the new company, however, began on Bay Street and our clients think that’s important because they feel that Bay Street lawyers are the best trained – which I don’t necessarily believe. What makes the boutique firms attractive is that clients are getting Bay Street-trained lawyers, but not paying Bay Street dollars.
“They are getting the best but not paying the highest and that’s important in this cash-strapped economy where people are trying to save a dollar. If they can get excellent representation and not pay their life savings to do so, I think they feel they are well served.”
Lewis said he was turned on to legal studies in Grade 11 at Silverthorne Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke.
“I took a law course and got a perfect mark and I figured I was on to something good,” said Lewis who graduated from Queen’s University in 1991with a law degree and was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada two years later.
He’s an active member of the Ontario Bar Association, the Metro Toronto Lawyers Association, the Advocates Society and a lifetime member of CABL.
“This award means a lot because I have been with this organization since the inception,” he said. “To be honoured by your colleagues for something that is dear to you is extremely rewarding.”
Two years ago, Lewis engaged in a successful argument under the Hague Convention on Civil Abduction that allowed a young mother to stay in Canada after she had removed herself and her young daughter from an abusive relationship in California.
Former CABL president Phillip Sutherland was presented with the Community Service Award.
Born in Toronto and raised in Peterborough, Sutherland graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology & Political Science from the University of Ottawa in 1981 and completed his law degree at the same institution three years later. He also holds a Certificate in Meditation and Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall.
Called to the Bar in 1989, Sutherland was a partner at Bianchi Presta LLP and Drudi, Alexiou, Sutherland before starting his own firm in Vaughan.
A mentor to high school and university students, Sutherland is a high school Moot Court competition coach and judge. He also coaches rugby and soccer.
Michelle Williams-Lorde, an assistant professor and the director of the Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq (IB&M) initiative at Dalhousie University, was the recipient of the Pathfinder Award.
“I am humbled by this honour because I believe there are many pathfinders who have gone before and helped me along the way,” said Williams-Lorde who earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree at Dalhousie and her Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Toronto.
“This award will inspire me to continue to help others to find their way in law and in promoting justice which I already try to do through my work with the IB&M initiative.”
As the program director, she works to ensure that members of the African-Canadian and Aboriginal communities have access to legal education and the legal profession and to develop Aboriginal & African Canadian legal perspectives.
“I am very proud of the fact that, after two decades, we have over 130 graduates who entered law school through the IB&M initiative,” added Williams-Lorde who was a member of the inaugural class of Global Public Service Law Scholars at New York University where she obtained a Master of Laws degree in 2001 and was awarded a post-graduate fellowship.
Williams-Lorde also teaches criminal law and is an academic researcher with the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice-Community University Research Alliance.
Since its inception, the CABL has collaborated with the University of Windsor Faculty of Law to establish the Julius Isaac scholarship to honour the first Black to be named to the Federal Court of Canada and the first Black to be appointed Chief Justice of the Federal Court. He passed away last July.
The CABL has also recognized Black Bay Street partners, Canada’s Black judges and Black women who have positively contributed to law and the legal profession in Canada, and made submissions on legal, equity and social justice issues to the federal and provincial governments.