Friends Who Argue

In Conversation with Linda Rothstein: Trailblazer and Recipient of the 2021 Advocates’ Society Medal

May 17, 2021 Various Season 1 Episode 8
Friends Who Argue
In Conversation with Linda Rothstein: Trailblazer and Recipient of the 2021 Advocates’ Society Medal
Show Notes Transcript
Speaker 1:

Welcome to friends who argue a podcast from the advocate society.

Speaker 2:

Each episode, we'll bring you conversations with advocates across all areas of litigation who share their stories, insights, tips, and tricks from their journeys as advocates .

Speaker 1:

We hope you'll find this podcast informative, inspiring, and most of all entertaining. And that you'll subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to stay up to date on the latest episodes.

Speaker 3:

In this episode of friends who argue Michelle altern tribunal, general counsel at the workplace safety and insurance appeals tribunal speaks with senior member of the bar and founding partner at Palio Roland. Linda Rothstein, Linda Rothstein is the recipient of the 2021 advocates' society medal , which is the highest expression of esteem, which the advocates society can convey to one of its members, recipients of the advocate , society metal . Our leaders of the bar have been dedicated and active members of the society and have made a significant contribution to the profession of law and to the wellbeing of the community. At large, this episode is the first in a series of interviews produced by the women in law working group part of the 10 plus standing committee at the advocate society.

Speaker 4:

Linda Rothstein is one of the leading council of regeneration and a founding partner of palliate Roland Rosenberg. Rosene LLP, one of Ontario's top litigation boutiques. Linda has a diverse practice, encompassing, many areas of civil and administrative litigation with particular expertise in class actions, commercial litigation, profess professional liability, public law, and appeals. She's a past president of the advocate society where she championed civil justice reform and access to justice. This past summer, she became the first woman editor of the advocates journal. Today, we'll be talking to Linda about her impressive career and her journey as a woman advocate. So welcome Linda,

Speaker 5:

Thanks so much, Michelle, delighted to be here.

Speaker 4:

So we thought today that we would start by just talking about the beginning of your career , um, what led you to choosing law and how you found it, your own firm and whether or not you are ever considered something different.

Speaker 5:

Uh, so let me take those in order. Um, how did I end up choosing law a bit of an accident? Uh, I moved to do my undergrad at U of T from my hometown of Vancouver. And I can honestly say that in high school, it had never occurred to me , um, that I would ever become a lawyer. I didn't really know any lawyers other than really second or third hand. There was a neighbor on the street who I knew was a lawyer of some sort, but that was it. Um, but , um, I quickly changed from what I thought was my life goal, which was to become a speech pathologist , um, to having to consider something else because I wasn't any good at linguistics was, which was part of the core curriculum for becoming a speech pathologist. And I ended up gravitating by second year into political science courses and met a lot of people, many of them, women who were writing their L steps , which was actually all sort of news to me. And , um, as a lot of those people in particularly the women became close friends and they were going off to law school that seemed like a good thing to do. And I really just followed my little group of peers. Um, and from there, you know , entered law school, not really knowing what I was getting into without even the really clear and driving ambition to be a lawyer. Um, so I would say it didn't go very well in my first year of law school and I was deeply ambivalent about it and didn't do very well at the beginning and ended up taking a year off with the permission of the associate Dean at UT . Um, she told me I could have up to three years to think about it went off and did some work and did some traveling, which I'd never had the chance to do. Um, and came back again. I would, I would have to say mostly out of a lack of imagination about what else I could do and very much attracted to the fact that becoming a lawyer would secure a reasonably income for me, which was something that I , uh , understood. Um, but things got very much better in second year law school. And I started to like it better. I wouldn't say that I was passionate about it. Um, I got some , um, some help early on in choosing a good firm for me and I articled at a firm that did , uh , that was a litigation boutique in its day, although not described that way, of course, called camera room in Scott. And I would say that that was a huge turning point in my life as an advocate because I love the place. I love the kind of work they did, which was a lot of labor on the union side, did men, as well as a lot of civil and public law. Um, and it started to feel like something that I could not only do, but enjoy doing. Um, so a long story , um, Cameron and Scott morphed into Gallins marched with gallons in 1983 , uh, became the sort of litigation arm in the Toronto office , um, became quite a large firm in the Toronto office. And in , um, uh, 2000 , uh, the Toronto office of gallons was probably about 150 lawyers and it was actively looking for a merger partner to really enhance the business law group of the firm. And that created a series of conflicts for not only me, but a number of my partners in the litigation , uh, group at , uh, gallons in Toronto and led us to think about options that we had, whether we were going to, you know , stay at the firm and kind of divorce ourselves from some pretty important clients or whether we were going to try and, and , um, forge out on our own. Um, certainly , um, my partner in law in life, Ian and I decided that we were very much attracted to the idea of creating our own law firm. And eventually there were 18 of us who left gallons in the summer of 2001 and founded Pallier Roland , um, in the almost 40 years that I've been practicing. Have I considered a different path? Um, I'd have to say , um, I've certainly considered leaving private practice. Um, particularly when I was a young parenting young mother , um, yeah, there were lots of cold dark nights where it really felt impossible. Um, and, and I would also say there were other, you know, other kind of dark and depressing times in my career when you lost a major client or lost huge cases where it really felt like I wanted to get off , um , the , uh, private practice treadmill. Um, and I would say that I didn't because I'm kind of a hanging in kind of person and I didn't because, you know, nothing ever stays the same and things would change enough to get better. And I didn't because I could never really come up with another career path that I thought would give me the same type of , um, economic security and , um, Hmm . Interesting work. So

Speaker 4:

That's great. So I had no idea that that was your history or like how you came to where you are now. So it's really interesting to hear that , um, you're, you're recognized for having a very diverse practice you're recognized as an expert advocate. Um, can you talk about how you came to be seen as a leading advocate, like how you came to get to where you are, like part of that journey?

Speaker 5:

It's no, it's, it's not by design, you know, I mean, the thing I would say to all young lawyers is , um, if you spend time trying to design how to be , um, you know, an important lawyer, that's just different , got to go very well. I mean, you really have to just, I think you really have to focus on what's in front of you most of the time and doing the very best with what's in front of you and making the best with what's in front of you. Um, you know, I mean, I think I'm typical of my generation of advocates. I don't think I'm unique in that we all started as generalists . I don't think that you speak to very many litigators from the early eighties who didn't have the experience of doing family law and criminal and maybe even some immigration and public law and private law. Um, you know, there were certain things you didn't do if you acted for unions, you didn't act for employers against unions, but we were lucky at my firm that didn't, that didn't preclude us from acting for employers where there wasn't a union on the other side. And I think that , uh, gave me an early kind of , um , um, commitment to , um, looking at the world from both sides, not exactly being a cause lawyer , um , understanding sort of the range of legal disputes that were incredibly interesting. Um, so I think that we all started out with fairly diverse practices and we all aspire to be generalists, all the great advocates that we followed and admired and learned from were incredible generalists. You know, whether it's, you know, John J Robinette or Ian Scott, who was my particular mentor or Steve gouge or any of these people, they were hugely , um, they had hugely diverse practices. There was nothing they wouldn't do , um, until the end, they would take on a criminal trial and take it to the Supreme court of Canada. So the notion of specialization is , uh , is, is something that came to the profession after I started. And so it wasn't nearly as difficult for me to maintain , um, you know, some reps to the areas of law that I, that I was able to , um, practice in. Um, but I held onto that. I was pretty steadfast about that. Um, so that even in, you know , 2001, when we found it , how your role and , um, and I had to rethink how to create a practice that was sustaining apart from a big firm and some of the advantages that you get in a big firm. Um, I just made a deliberate decision that I was going to have to expand my practice from what it then was. I was doing a lot of professional liability and misconduct. I was doing a lot of, sort of, you know, bread and butter, civil litigation. Um, I was doing some labor and employment, but I thought, you know , uh, one of the ways to really expand my practice and , um, and create some challenging work would be to , um, try and become a class action lawyer. Um, and that was also something that a number of other workers in my firm were more minded to do. Some of whom have already had more experience than I did, but we sort of set a path for ourselves of becoming , um, mostly class counsel , mostly on the plaintiff side, but , um, you know, taking on class actions and that's been for me , um, you know, a very steep learning curve. Um, but one that I won , one that I really enjoyed because of the challenges.

Speaker 4:

That's great. So you're talking about, you know, you lawyers, if you're trying to set out for a goal, like you kinda gotta roll with it a little bit right. And take the good with the bad, I think. And sometimes I think one of the things that's hard to deal with is the opportunities are kind of just based on luck. Like where are you in your office on that day when a partner was looking for somebody to help out with something. And if you weren't, then you miss out on that opportunity. Um, what can you tell us about, you know, advice for dealing with setbacks, dealing with disappointment sometimes when you don't get picked to work on something and it's something you're interested in and how you want to like how to get involved and how to take some control over your career, recognizing that you can't control

Speaker 5:

Everything. I don't know if I have a great answer for that, Michelle . I mean, I have been, you know, remarkably lucky in my career. I think anybody who's had , um, you know, the , the kind of experiences I had early on was such great lawyers would say that, you know, you stand on their shoulders. And so much of what you've done is an obvious and natural legacy of having worked with , um, those lawyers that you did when you were young. Um, so for example, you know, public inquiries is something that I've been very lucky to have participated in to a very significant degree in the latter part of my career. And that was, again, just sort of the fluke of the fact that someone like Ian Scott, I think early on , um , was a go-to guy for public inquiries in particular, for example, the Susan Nellis or otherwise known in the hospital for sick children , uh , public inquiry run by , um, uh , justice, Samuel Grange , uh, Eleanor Cronk was one of his lead commission council . So that was something that Ian did when I was a young lawyer. It was started, I think in 19 83, 19 84, I wasn't directly involved, but I started to know and understand the vocabulary of a public inquiry. I started to hear it talked about it, lunch and dinner. Of course, you sort of get a little piece of a file and it sounds interesting. So I think it was probably about nineteen eighty eight, nineteen eighty nine. I got a call from the CMPA, which was a longstanding client of gallons, particularly in Ottawa and also the Toronto firm asking me if I would represent a physician who had become involved in the Devin inquiry. Um, then , uh, uh, chief justice at the Ontario court of appeal , Charles Dublin was responsible for , um, uh , commission of inquiry into , um, the doping scandal that had , um, uh, uh, overtaken , um, track and field in Canada as a result of Ben Johnson's , um , disqualification at the 1988 summer Olympics. It was a national tragedy, it was a national scandal. Everybody wanted to understand the implications of doping and sport. And I was asked to represent a physician who had allegedly prescribed , prescribed , um, performance enhancing drugs to not Ben Johnson, but to another of , uh, another high profile , uh, Canadian athlete, Angeles GENCO . So anyway, I got involved in that inquiry. I had a small, very , uh, very, very supporting, supporting role, but I did get to watch that one up close and personal, and I did stand up and attempt to cross examine , um, a very, very compelling witness and Angelina SSA , GENCO. Um, and you know, again, you sort of end up in a situation where, okay, so now you've got some experience. Where does that leave you? Um, all of which, if you fast forward to 2002 , um, we formed our new law firm at Palio Roland. It was the summer. Um, I was actually on a vacation with my husband in Africa when the firm got in those days. Um, I think something in the mail that suggested that the city of Toronto wanted to , um, w was actually putting out an RFP for council to represent the city in relation to the computer leasing inquiry , um, which was , um , headed up by justice, Denise Bellamy. And, you know, it was, I don't even know how they got my name. It was addressed to me at the time. I don't, I still to this day don't know why they came up with my name, but they did. Um, and , um, those were the days when people didn't call you even at your firm when something like that came in the door and they didn't send you twenty-five emails. And I don't, we didn't have at the time , um, uh, email other than through our desktop or laptops and we weren't carrying smartphones with us. So we didn't even know that the firm had been tapped to make a presentation in response to this RFP. Um, let alone that a very talented group of lawyers at my firm had prepared a very, very compelling written response. And as a result, we got an interview, something like three days after we returned. Oh, wow. Um, yeah. And so, you know, we went to the true beauty contest. I wa I still remember that I was so nervous that my voice , um, was quavering through the whole interview. And I was pretty sure I'd blown it on behalf of the team, the team put me forward as the lead. Um, and I remember apologizing to the team members afterwards that, you know, I, I just kind of into nervous, I kinda choked. Um, but we want , um, so, you know, how do you explain things like that? You really, you just thank your lucky stars. It's part of being a teen it's part of being in the right place at the right time. Um, and that ended up being one of, for sure. Um , the highlights of my career in terms of the challenge, how interesting that was. I think it went for 264 days of hearing over about three years , um, a team of six of us , uh, uh, Pallier role and worked on it. All of us taking turns , um, cross examining leading evidence. Um, it was a really spectacular , uh, team effort , um, and ultimately resulting in a report , um, that I think many people thought was truly groundbreaking for the city of Toronto. I mean, we didn't have any role in writing the report, but we made some submissions that we hope nudge the commissioner in the right direction , certainly how our clients saw it. And I think all of us who worked on that together , um, all view that as a really pretty powerful and formative experience for us as advocates.

Speaker 4:

So that sounds amazing. Uh, you know, and it's always nice to hear about these like key highlights from people with like someone with a career like yours. Are you telling me there's no setbacks,

Speaker 5:

No, I'm not going to tell you that at all, Michelle, there were lots of, as I always tell people, because I think that sort of analogies to a canoe trip helped bring it home. There were lots of cold, dark nights in a very wet tent where I wasn't at all sure the sun was going to come up. And the Frank reality of early parenthood was, was pretty grim. Um, you know, really just feels like a fog. I don't remember it all that well, other than it's the obvious , um, sort of implication of all the new responsibilities, you feel like you're riding two bicycles at the same time and you can't stay on either one of them. Um, and you kind of feel like that most days, like it's not even just one day a week, it's more like you feel that 3.5 or four days out of seven. Um, you know, it was a different time. And I often , uh, I often Marvel at how young parents do it now, when you're so connected to the office. Cause for me, I can tell you that the , the ticket to finding some way to manage both , um, being a parent and being a , an advocate was to do a really stark compartmentalization that just isn't possible with modern technology. So what I did back when was, when I was at the office, I was at the office, I had great childcare. I trusted in it. And I wasn't , um, checking in on how my kids were doing during the day, unless there was a particular reason to do so, but equally when I went home at the end of the Workday, I, I, I was with the family and I wasn't doing work. I mean, I might pick it up after everybody went to sleep, but I really did feel like I had unimpeded time to just hang out with, with my kids. Um, so that for me, felt like a viable way to sort of keep your head above water. I really don't know in the jumble of, you know, work home where there's really no boundaries anymore, including for me, particularly during COVID how the heck young parents are managing it. And particularly now that they're actually working from home, I mean, it just feels absolutely impossible when I think about it. Um, but you know, what's my advice. My advice is you hang in. I mean, I had a lot of, not the best years I had . Um, it's not to say that I don't think I did good work on client files, but it is to say that it feel great doing it. It is to say that there was an awful lot of stress in my life. Um, and it is to say that, you know, you can't certainly work at the same capacity as you can when you're managing it all much better. I mean, you know, in , in my day we called it the mommy track and I was definitely on one for a number of years where, you know, my billable hours, weren't super impressive. Um, I'm all about the long game. Uh, I , you know, at the time, for example, I can remember when I was first a parent first, a mom that I basically said to everybody, you know, no out of town cases, well that really limits your, you know, your options. Um, and it did limit mind. It meant that I was doing a lot less interesting work and I wasn't doing the new, cool pace that was sort of a given , um, you know, and I wasn't making as much as some of my male peers, I was prepared to live with that, that turned out to be, you know, certainly economically viable for me at the time. Um, and the only reason I say my male peers is because that's mostly all I had and they weren't, as I remember it , um, you know, sort of taking on the role of a primary parent, which I felt very much that I was so , um, you know, there's lots of lean and kind of not so fun bits in what we do. And , and then the other part of it is that we're managing people's conflict all the time and that can absolutely get to us even the most experienced advocates. At least it still gets to me , um, you know, very, very high conflict files , um, you know , um, are hard to shake off. Um, particularly if you not only have , um, you know , uh , a difficult opposing counsel, but you also have a difficult client or a difficult opposing client, but you also have your own difficult client. That's a really unfun place for most advocates to be, you know, if you like your client, even if the case is boring , um, there's lots to be able to do with that. And , um, you know, even if the case, isn't a sure winner, if you like your client, I never found that too hard, but boy, when you don't like your client particularly well, or you think that they, you know, they behave irrationally from time to time, that's a tough go for any advocate and it does take its toll.

Speaker 4:

I, you know, you've been talking about different things in your career and you've been, I think you mentioned a few people who were mentoring you and you're talking about starting in the eighties. So did you have female mentors during that time and what was your mentorship experience like?

Speaker 5:

Um, so I don't think I had anybody that I would truly call a female mentor in my first, you know, half dozen, years of practice. Um, but I did have female heroes, so I did have the opportunity to see both Sheila block and Eleanor crunk in court. Um, I went on an inquest with Eleanor crunk when I was in my second or third year of practice. And I just was just enthralled. I, how effective a counsel she was and how much everybody in this giant courtroom doing this very significant or so it seemed at the time inquest , um, you know, listen to every syllable that she uttered. And , um, I had a couple of other experiences watching Sheila block in the court of appeal when I was a junior. And it did the same thing for me. I mean, it's really inspiring to see, you know, women that weren't that much older than me who were obviously so successful. So I certainly had female heroes, but I didn't know them well enough to seek them out as mentors, but what I did have, and I do think that this made a difference and I hope this makes a difference for, you know, racialized lawyers is I had a lot of early entrance like me, like I wasn't alone in starting out as an advocate in Toronto. Um, and there were lots of other women who were two or three years ahead, or two or three years behind who were also trying to do what I did. And , um, you know, we didn't have time to hang out together a lot, but there was a kind of support network for sure. And in a sort of sense that, you know, we weren't entirely alone. We were, we were to some extent, you know, in our own individual law firms more alone than we like to be. I was the first woman that was hired by Cameron Bruna and Scott. And I was one of the few young women lawyers , um, at gambling's in the early eighties. Um, and certainly I think I was, there were only a one or two or three of us that were doing advocacy as I recall it in Toronto. Um, but , um, but we did have a sense that , um, we were on the cusp and that we could make some changes and that, you know, kind of the wind was a little tiny bit at our back if we played our cards, right. Like I don't want to overstate that. Um, but it , you know, we looked at it optimistically. Um, we approached it on the basis that, you know, we were going to find a place in this profession somehow, at least I know that's really how I, I thought about it. Um, you know, it, wasn't always easy to think about that. You know, when you got criticized for going to court wearing trousers, as I did in the early eighties , um, you know, obviously by a male judge, it wasn't exactly fun, but you know, if you sort of treated it as a badge of honor and you tell all your friends about it and even tell the men about it, you kind of tell them that that's just not okay. Um, you start to have a , you know, a kind of enjoyment in it. You know, I can deal with the adversity I can put up with that. You're not gonna stop me from , um, my chosen career path. I mean, look, I'm overstating in retrospect how confident I was in the face of some of those barriers, because of course there was lots of, you know , ambivalence and, and , um, lack of confidence, but you know, if more days than not, you can get up with the confidence feeling. It really gets you past all of that. So I would say that , um, I didn't have any female mentors to speak up, but I was really, really lucky as I've already indicated to you, Michelle, that I did have lots of men who really wanted to find a place for me , um, in the firm and in the profession. Um, and if I start thanking them individually, I'll, I'll leave someone out. Um, but I would say that, you know, the partners that at, at Cameron Bruin and then at galleons , many of your listeners will know who they were and still are. Some of them are still my partners today. We're , um, particularly for the time remarkably progressive in their views and pretty determined to try and assist , um, a young woman and making it work parenthood and all. So I was very much the benefit of the beneficiary of that. And then on top of that, just actually being in the midst of so much terrific advocacy, it really does rub off on you. This really is a process of it . Most of us Moses, I noticed this all the time when I see young lawyers, those that are just in , um, you know, affirm where there's lots of good advocacy going on in the lunch room every day , um, you know, are very, very lucky because they do inhale that air and it does change , um, who they become as advocates. That was my experience for sure.

Speaker 4:

So now just for our last question, you know, we've been hearing about your amazing career , um , talking about, you know, everything that you've done. So if I could just get you to reflect on, you know, how, how things changed in law , um, and then where do you think we're going from here?

Speaker 5:

Well, I think , um, things have changed enormously and mostly for the better in law. I mean, we've lost a little bit of the collegiality probably along the way. I'm sure that's true. I'm sure that if you, you know, went into the, then men's robbing room in 1982, when I started practicing law, there was a kind of collegiality that is harder to find certainly on the internet or on Twitter or law, Twitter, and certainly in the pandemic. Um, but mostly because there's just so many, you know, diverse and different people who, who are now part of the profession and there's no room for it to feel clubby in my view. Um, so I think that we may have lost a little bit of that, but I think we've gained enormously from basically the , the push both in the profession and, you know , um, outside the profession in the courtroom to make our word world a more equal place. Um, and I think lawyers have a big role in making the world a more equal place. I've had my, you know, small contribution to that effort on behalf of women, but there is obviously a lot more work that needs to be done, both for women and for, you know, racialized and other , um, you know, unfairly and marginalized , um, individuals and groups. And , um, you know, that's the lawyer's job. That's the advocate's job, at least on the side, if not every day is to help make the world fair. Um, so I , you know, I think that, you know, the job of the advocate is to feel excited about that. The job of the advocate is to challenge yourself. The job of the advocate is to allow yourself and your attitudes and your practices to change when needed to adapt to better thinking, newer thinking. Um, but that's the great gift and , um , being even a small voice in that big conversation for me, that's been a source of great professional, a great professional fulfillment. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Linda,

Speaker 3:

Thank you to Linda Rothstein and Michelle altern for this inspiring discussion, as well as to the women in law working group for series production. Thank you to my co-editors Chris workings and Chloe Snyder. Our production leads Ian Brennaman, Natalia Rodriguez, Laura ger , Matthew WACE and John seaman shone Holtz to Danielle Baglivo of Dentons our technical sponsor for her editing assistance and to the advocate society team for their support. This is webinar's highly co-editor of friends who argue signing off.

Speaker 1:

That's it for our show. We hope you enjoyed listening to this episode and that you'll tune in next time.

Speaker 2:

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Speaker 1:

Friends who argue is brought to you by the advocates , society, and association of advocates with over 6,000 members from all areas of practice across Canada. For more information about the advocate society go to www.advocates.ca or follow us on Twitter at, at advocates underscore SOC

Speaker 2:

Until next time we are friends who argue.