Atrisha Lewis, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault LLP and vice-chair of the Law Society of Ontario’s Equity and Indigenous committee, is challenging the legal profession to expand beyond its long-established patterns and traditions to remove systemic barriers and increase opportunities for marginalized lawyers.
‘I did a lot of things in the early stages of my career to whiten myself,’ Lewis says
Lewis, one of the youngest LSO benchers, says she ran for the position of LSO bencher in 2019 because she felt an urgent need to represent younger and marginalized lawyers at the regulator.
“I thought it was really important for me to run not only as a young lawyer but also as someone who would be willing to speak up and speak out against some of the opposition to the important equity initiatives of the law society.”
Lewis, who joined Tétrault McCarthy as a U of T summer student, was involved in advocacy from a young age. Working on equity issues in her commercial practice at Tétrault McCarthy motivated her to improve her chosen profession.
“Realizing that the faces around me on Bay Street, in the courtrooms and basically everywhere I went didn’t look like me at all and didn’t reflect the population of Toronto sparked, for me, an interest in advancing equity issues especially within the law.”
Lewis says she encountered many barriers in becoming a lawyer and constantly questioned her place and how she could succeed in the profession because she often stood out. Before law school, she says having no networks or connections often made her feel she was behind the curve.
“I did a lot of things in the early stages of my career to whiten myself.” For example, “I used to straighten my hair every day. I don’t do that anymore.”
Lewis hopes her position in the LSO inspires young lawyers to run for committee positions and think deeply about how the profession can be different from past years.