Ottawa boasts about 30 female defence lawyers. That's a
big change from the early 1980s when Kimberly Pegg
ventured out to place her shingle as a novice lawyer.
"If a woman wanted a female mentor, she could get one
today," says Ms. Pegg, who entered the field in 1982 and
is today considered one of the city's veteran defence
"I learned from the men," says Ms. Pegg -- men like
Michael Neville, Donald Bayne and Patrick McCann,
stalwarts of the profession.
"I always wanted to be a lawyer because I like the
idea of being my own boss," she says. "I like criminal
practice because of the amount of court time. I still
enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the proceedings. And
it's great when you're able to help somebody and make a
difference in their lives."
Constance Backhouse, a professor in the law faculty
at the University of Ottawa says the increase in female
representation is seen in law schools across the
"We now have a gender-balanced class, which we didn't
have for many years. We actually have more women coming
in, although when women go out into practice, we lose a
fair number, because they find it difficult to have
children and run families under the traditional gender
Natasha Calvinho represents the new wave of female
defence lawyers. She was called to the bar in 2003 after
graduating from the University of Toronto.
"I find clients accepting of women as (defence)
lawyers," says Ms. Calvinho, 30, who practises at the
law firm of Langevin-Morris.
"The hardest thing I've faced is not gender, but age.
I look a lot younger than I am, but once clients see you
can act on your feet and you're capable of doing what
you're doing, nobody passes judgment on you."
She believes female lawyers sometimes have an
advantage over men, particularly in dealing with
domestic assault cases, where women often prefer dealing
with a lawyer of the same sex. Her caseload runs the
gamut of criminal law, everything from domestic assault,
to fraud and theft, which she finds exciting and
"I like that I'm in court every day. I really like
being on my feet and the litigation aspect, and that I'm
thrown in kind of head first." She says it's easier
being an associate at a big law firm, rather than being
on your own, especially as a rookie.
Defence lawyer Karen Reid sees criminal law as the
"sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" of the law profession,
but admits it's not a path for all lawyers.