Our Fogler Rubinoff family strongly condemns the unprecedented, barbaric attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel.
While we in Canada live with the privilege of having the expectation of a peaceful existence, the Middle East presents a much different matrix of facts which make peaceful co-existence idealistic when the government in Gaza is a terrorist group that denies Israel’s right to exist. It is important to speak out against organizations like Hamas who wish to annihilate the Jewish people.
We support Israel and all its people. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the innocent victims of this tragedy. We specifically pray for the safe return of the kidnapped civilian bystanders.
Last week, Fogler, Rubinoff’s annual meal sponsorship to Lawyers Feed the Hungry, provided 250 people with a much-needed warm meal. Although we were unable to be there in person, we were glad to support this important program in our community.
We sat down with Micheline Gray-Smith, who volunteers her time at the Ryerson Law & Business Clinic. The Law & Business Clinic provides free legal services in a variety of business law matters to entrepreneurs and small businesses that cannot afford to retain a lawyer. Micheline shared with us her experience and the mentorship opportunities she has been able to provide.
Micheline, tell us how you got involved with the Ryerson Business & Law Clinic?
I was first introduced to the organization as a first-year Associate by Rick Moscone. Seeing a Partner with a full practice make the Clinic a priority, tells you that it’s something important. His commitment inspired me to stay involved with the Clinic and my role has evolved over time. At the beginning, I was working with one group of students and I would supervise their work, provide them with precedents, give them instructions on how to communicate with clients, and coach them through the process of advising clients. Now, in addition to providing that guidance, I have taken on a mentorship role to coach our first-year Associates alongside the group of volunteer Ryerson students and I supervise the whole process – answering any questions and guiding the our Associates, the student volunteers and the Clinic’s clients through the program. The reason I stay involved in the program is twofold: one it’s helping under-served individuals and businesses who need legal services and potentially don’t have the resources to pay for them and secondly, it is being able to provide students with exposure to the practice of law, which can help them decide whether they want to pursue attending law school. I have mentored four cohorts of students and being able to stay in touch with them over LinkedIn and see what they’ve done with their careers after graduating from the Ryerson Law & Business Program is really interesting – especially when they decide to go to law school in part because of conversations and experiences I’ve shared with them.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for more opportunity to give back to their own community?
I would say the most important thing is finding something that is rewarding for you personally because that will give you that extra boost in your contribution. For example, when I was in law school, I was involved in a similar law clinic program. It’s something that I really enjoyed as a law student. Now that I’m participating in this program as a lawyer, I remember what it was like as a law student – not really knowing what my career would look like; not knowing what practice area I would pursue; and discovering that along the way. It’s really rewarding for me to see students discovering what they want to do and how they want their careers to unfold. It gives me energy, a sense of purpose, and encourages me to dedicate the time because I know what it was like, especially having graduated so recently.
Does this experience give you a different perspective, which you can bring to your law practice?
Helping the businesses in this program is really interesting because you get to see their growth from a start-up stage as they figure out how to structure their business. After three years, I can look back at the companies we helped initially and see how the decisions that we made together impacted the trajectory of the business.
The experience has even helped me when working with our firm clients, whose businesses are more established, because I now understand why their entity is set up the way it is and what challenges they might have faced early on. Seeing the whole evolution and working with entrepreneurs is inspiring. I can understand how they got to where they are now and what types of decisions they had to make at a really early stage that led them to where they are. Sometimes it is about what legal advice they should have gotten — but didn’t, and how we fix that at the point when they seek our advice. The reason I stay involved in the program is twofold: one it’s helping under-served individuals who need legal services and potentially don’t have the resources to pay for them and secondly, it’s being able to provide students with exposure to the practice of law, which can help them decide whether they want to pursue attending law school.
What has been the most rewarding aspect about volunteering with the Clinic? Do you have an anecdote about an experience that really moved you?
Firstly, it’s a great opportunity to grow as a lawyer. Particularly as a young lawyer, it was a chance to interact closely with clients and be their main point of reference. Secondly, being able to give back to the legal community because we were all in that position at one point. Wondering whether we should go to law school and whether it was the right path for us and looking for someone who can give you that kind of guidance and mentorship. If you can be that for a student, it’s very rewarding. Thirdly, I enjoy seeing the impact that some of the services and advice the students provide have on the Clinic’s clients. We work with entrepreneurs who are taking a risk in starting something new, who are looking to pursue what is often a lifelong vision and start their business. Being able to contribute to that dream, even in a small way, is really rewarding.
To learn more about Ryerson Business Law Clinic visit: https://www.ryerson.ca/tedrogersschool/lawbusinessclinic/
Foglers along with our friends at Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP, Adair Goldblatt Bieber LLP, WeirFoulds LLP, Weintraub Erskin Huang LLP and Israel Foulon Wong LLP were able to collect and donate hundreds of pre-loved winter coats, hats, scarves, glove shoes and boots to support the clients of New Circles Community Services in its efforts to #KeepTorontoWarm.
We sat down with Bonnie Fish, who serves as the Board President for the Israel Cancer Research Fund, to hear about her experience being part of an organization that for the past 45 years has helped support scientists in Israel make major breakthroughs in cancer research.
Bonnie, tell us how you got involved with the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF)?
I was first introduced to the organization through my colleagues, and current ICRF board members, Ian Kady and Tammy Anklewicz, who invited me to attend a number of ICRF fundraising events including, their Women of Action event which recognizes women for their achievements in health sciences, community, philanthropy and business. At that time, I had recently lost a close friend to cancer and after learning more about the history of the organization and the cancer research ICRF was funding, I decided I wanted to do more to give back to this cause and to honour my friend. So I joined the Board and then spent a year on the Executive Committee and now I am in the third year of my term as Board President.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?
ICRF’s mission is to support the best and brightest scientists conducting ground breaking cancer research in Israel. What stands out about this organization is that the funds raised for ICRF go directly to life-saving scientific research and not to “bricks and mortar.” Annual grants are given directly to Israeli cancer researchers at all of the leading academic and biomedical research centers in Israel. To date ICRF has contributed more than $83 million to support over 2,700 grants for Israel based cancer researchers. ICRF has funded scientists who went on to make incredible medical breakthroughs in cancer including discoveries which led to the development of Gleevec, an important treatment for leukemia, and Doxil, a drug for the treatment of ovarian, breast and AIDS related cancers. Two ICRF-funded scientists (Professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology) received the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Choosing to serve on a non-profit board of directors enables you to become an integral part of solving problems in your community. Similarly, as a lawyer, much of your time is spent solving problems. Does this experience with the ICRF give you a different perspective, one which you can bring to your law practice?
Absolutely. The not-for-profit world is a whole world unto itself and it has been a very different experience from my law practice. In my volunteer role, the experiences and connections I’ve made have enhanced my understanding of the world outside of the law and have given me a much broader perspective. I feel like everything that you do outside of your legal practice in a volunteer capacity, adds a new dimension to your work and a better understanding of the people that you deal with on a regular basis.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for the opportunity to give back to their own community?
That’s a really great question. I would say in my very earliest days of practice when I was struggling with not only my own time commitments to the practice, but also raising a family, I would have found it extremely hard to commit to doing something at this level, like being President of a Board. However, even early on in my career, I would always try to get involved with something – a charity walk, volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating food and clothing to those in need and I’d get my family involved. Small commitments at first. Making the time to help out a cause or support a charity even if just for a few hours, allowed me to feel like I was doing something other than being a lawyer. As time went on, I was able to give back more and build upon those experiences. Then one day you reach a point in your career where you have some connection to a charity, either through a colleague or experience and you are able to take the next step and play a bigger role in giving back to that cause. It is very satisfying when that moment comes.
To say Michael Fraleigh likes to help is an understatement. In addition to his busy health law practice, he manages to spend a considerable amount of time giving back to his community. According to Michael, who is the President of Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto and on the Board of Directors for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario, “when you invest the time and energy to volunteer, you are investing in yourself just as much as the causes you support.”
For almost two decades, Michael has been involved in leadership roles with both the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto and now the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario. When asked about how he became involved in his various volunteer commitments he jokingly replies “Most of the time you get involved because someone ropes you in.” Joking aside, as a community based organization, Michael plays an important role in helping to direct the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario’s strategic focus and fundraising efforts. He says, instead of focusing on research, the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario is focused on providing support to local chapters which provide programs, counselling and education, to support individuals and families who are affected by Alzheimer’s. This shared purpose to create a community of support is a feature of the organization Michael highly values.
Currently over 500,000 Canadians are living with dementia, a number that is set to reach 912,000 in 2030 due to a rapidly aging population. In addition to those who are themselves afflicted, one in five Canadians have experience caring for someone with the condition. Michael, whose father, mother and grandmother had suffered from dementia, with the latter two also having Alzheimer’s, is able to relate to what many Canadians currently face. Having lived this experience prompted Michael to get involved, so that he could learn more and help others who are going through what he and his family went through.
For many, choosing to serve on a non-profit board allows you to become an integral part of solving problems in your community. In addition to his work with the Alzheimer’s Society, Michael is also the President of Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto. Like many organizations, he has spent much of his time this past year working with the executive and staff to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic to help the Temple Sinai Congregation stay connected. When asked about his volunteer experience, and any advice he had for younger lawyers on the benefits of giving back to their community, he shared: “Volunteering provides you the opportunity to contribute in ways that are different from your day-to-day job. When you are focused on a common cause, you use and develop different skills and engage with people on a different level.”
It is common for many of us, especially older adults, to feel isolated and lonely. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this isolation worse. Through Circle of Care’s Phone Pal program, volunteers provide companionship and social contact to older adults through weekly phone calls. As a volunteer with the program, Aida Nabavi and her Pal, an elderly gentleman, communicate a couple of time a week – and sometimes every day. As his Pal, Aida’s role is to check in with him on a regular basis to see if he has everything he needs including groceries and medication, and most of all to be his friend. Aida has been volunteering with Circle of Care since 2015 and is a champion of the Phone Pals program as she wholeheartedly aims to address her Pal’s isolation and seeks to find ways to improve the overall qualify of his life.
So Aida tell us how you first got involved with Circle of Care and what do you do as a volunteer?
When I was in undergrad, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that would work with my busy schedule and Circle of Care’s Phone Pal program offered me that flexibility.
The first Phone Pal that I was assigned to was an elderly gentleman who wanted to talk on the phone everyday as he was concerned about his health. From our first phone call and over the years, we developed a great friendship. It felt great being able to help someone else but also to find a friend. Generally with my Phone Pals, my role is to check in and see if they are doing well mentally and physically and if my Pal has everything they need. Simple things like asking someone how their day went; do they have plans; and giving them ideas for things they could do can make a big difference in someone’s life if they are isolated. With my current Pal, who I have been matched with for two years, rather than speaking on the phone, we email frequently because as he was a Professor and writer before his retirement, he explained that he would be better able to express himself through emails. He often writes me beautiful and thoughtful messages about life, philosophy, and every day subjects and through this we have created a mutual friendship. He has written great books, which I have read and spoken to him about.
Tell us what motivates you to stay involved year over year supporting this program?
My motivation comes from identifying what my purpose in life is, which is to help others in need. As a Phone Pal, I am invested in these relationships and it hurts me to think that there is someone out there that feels lonely and isolated. However, knowing that I have the power to easily change that feeling of isolation and loneliness by providing my friendship motivates me to continue. Also, respecting our elders is a big part of my culture and I have been taught from an early age to love, respect, and help my elders. Lastly, this is a mutually beneficial volunteering role – not only have I been providing support for my Pal, but he also provides me with his time and genuinely cares for me. For example, if I mentioned to my Pal that I was not feeling well, he would check up on me and see how I am feeling. Despite the gap in our ages, we have become great friends.
What has been the most rewarding aspect about volunteering with Circle of Care?
Circle of Care started originally as a program for the elderly Jewish population in the city, but gradually over the years it expanded its services to individuals of other faiths and cultures. I believe part of what makes Circle of Care so successful is that the organization and its volunteers have created a very strong community—one that is focused on helping people in any way possible. In addition to the Phone Pal program, throughout COVID, Circle of Care provided volunteers to assist with meal deliveries, getting the elderly registered for vaccination clinics and arranged drivers, and many of us also got groceries and dropped them off for those who were unable to do it themselves. Every volunteer is always willing to lend a helping hand and the organization is very strong and supportive of its volunteers. Being in a strong organization who is organized and focused on reaching its purpose naturally drives one to continue supporting its mission and the people that it targets to assist.
What advice would you give to other younger lawyers who are looking for the opportunity to give back to their own community?
There are many opportunities to give back in our communities and it is very rewarding. We just need to prioritize our time efficiently and identify what is important for us in our lives. Volunteering adds a lot of meaning and purpose in our lives beyond our jobs. Not only do we contribute to the society, but volunteering is great for our own emotional and mental health. We get to connect with others and create genuine friendships with people who also care for others. It really takes a small part of our days to just listen and be a friend to someone else. Throughout this experience, I am very blessed and grateful to have met such a knowledgeable and genuine Phone Pal whom I call my friend.
For 19 years Ron Davis and some of Canada’s finest musicians have donated their time and talents to bring music and cheer to the less fortunate at the annual Lawyers Feed the Hungry Christmas Dinner. The Lawyers Feed the Hungry program was established in 1998 to support those residents living with food insecurity, in poverty, or homelessness. It is one of the City’s few year-round programs providing approximately 60,000 meals each year. For Ron, who volunteers with a number of organizations that support the Arts, volunteering with Lawyers Feed The Hungry has been one of his most rewarding experiences –allowing him to help those in need, and spread some holiday cheer through music.
Ron, tell us how you first become involved with Lawyers Feed The Hungry?
I had the privilege of being involved as a volunteer serving with the founder of the program Martin Teplitsky. When I started in the 90’s, the program took place once a week and we served breakfast. The program has grown over the years to offer dine-in meals four times a week and has pivoted to take-out meals during the pandemic.
As a volunteer with Lawyers Feed the Hungry, what did you do to help out?
Early on my involvement consisted only of serving meals to those in need. However, sometime before 2000, I was asked, in addition to serving meals, to bring my band to perform for the annual Lawyers Feed the Hungry Christmas Dinner. I had no trouble rounding up some of the greatest musicians in Canada to come and volunteer their time play for two hours because the joy that we could see on the clients’ faces at those holiday events was unimaginable. Music is the glue that brings us all together – and to be able to provide two hours of music, with some of the greatest jazz musicians in Canada, was really a joy. Through the program I had the pleasure of meeting a part of my community that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to meet. To my surprise, I even met many fellow musicians who were in the program.
Given your experience with Lawyers Feed the Hungry has been so rewarding, what advice do you have for a young lawyer who is looking for opportunities to give back to the community?
I have three pieces of advice for young lawyers looking to give back.
First, in my experience it’s about quality, not quantity. If there is a concern that you don’t have five hours a week or ten hours a month to participate, then find a cause that moves you and interests you and do as much as you can. It might be five hours a year, or the odd email to your network to help promote the cause. Don’t presume something is undoable if it is something that’s meaningful and important to you.
Second, don’t lose sight of the fact that giving back to your community may impact your work as a lawyer as much as your work as a lawyer may impact your giving back to the community. Volunteering gives you a set of superpowers – it provides you with an understanding of your community and the people within it that you may not necessarily get from law.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is a mistake to focus on what contributing to the cause can do for you. Focus on what you can do for the cause without expecting anything in return other than contributing to the community. In my experience the rewards have always presented themselves when I’ve just thrown myself into something without expecting anything in return. It was always unintentional, but I can’t tell you how many gigs I got just through performing for the Lawyers Feed the Hungry program.
Alex Kolandjian is a Partner in our Real Estate practice who volunteers his time behind the scenes at the Pomegranate Film Festival as part the organizing committee – a group of young Armenian professionals bound by a passion for film and culture. The Pomegranate Film Festival, established in 2006 stems from the Toronto Chapter of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society. Now in its 15th year, the Pomegranate Film Festival is a unique community event celebrating Armenian inspired films.
Tell us how you got involved with The Pomegranate Film Festive?
I actually met one of the founders of the festival through the Armenian Bar Association (he’s also a lawyer). The festival focuses on Armenian-inspired film (be it the subject of a film, actors, directors, producers, etc.) so being of Armenian descent, it hits close to home. Pair it with my love of film and it was a natural fit.
In your volunteer role with the Festival, what are your activities and what do they involve?
I’m the head of sponsorship, so I deal directly with a lot of our business and individual sponsors, try and find new sponsors and co-ordinate other volunteers. I also love being hands-on with the festival with everything from screening films, event planning,selling tickets and welcoming patrons to the films. From time to time, I also introduce the films during the festival and run Q&A sessions with actors/actresses, directors and producers.
You’ve been with the Festival for eight years, what motivates you to stay involved?
It’s a way of giving back to my community and promoting the arts. Like I said, I really enjoy the films as well and meeting some of the actors, directors, producers. The other volunteers, sponsors and patrons are also fantastic people and many have become close friends and even clients over the years.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that the Pomegranate Film Festival does?
The goal of the Festival is to promote the arts, give a voice to the voiceless and draw attention to issues around the world through film. We’ve screened films from over 60 countries over the years with over 37,000 attendees. Through our POMgrant bursary program, the festival provides up-and-coming and aspiring film makers with funding towards their cinematic efforts.
What has been the most rewarding aspect about volunteering with this organization?
The festival has an on-going program with a local Armenian high school where the students have been creating their own short films. It’s amazing to see their work and be introduced to the next generation that will run the festival one day. I’m hoping that my daughter, Sophia, will take an interest when she is older. I’d love to think that the festival may inspire the next Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Ararat, Chloe, Remember) or Sev Ohanian (Searching, Run, Judas and the Black Messiah). Many of the films that we screen have serious subject matter, including genocide, human rights and war. It’s amazing that the festival draws attention to those issues.
While volunteering, you will meet people from all different walks of life. Have you had the experience where those paths cross with your law practice?
Absolutely. I’ve gained clients through my involvement in the festival, from individuals to businesses for corporate, real estate and litigation work.
Does this experience volunteering with the Pomegranate Film Festival give you a different perspective – that you bring to your law practice?
It really lets me see things from a different perspective and appreciate the trials and tribulations of artists and small business owners. As a part of a non-for-profit organization, the goal of the festival is not to make money, but rather to cover its expenses and contribute to the arts and the next generation of film makers. In terms of my practice, this helps me by putting myself in the shoes of business owners and understanding their varying goals.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for an opportunity to give back to their community?
Find something you’re interested in (it doesn’t have to have anything to do with the law), figure out how you can get involved and give back. Find the time (having an incredibly patient wife helps) and try to balance work, family and volunteering.
Each year millions of refugees make the difficult decision to flee their homelands in search of a safe place to call home. For Adam Varro, an associate in our litigation practice, volunteering his time on the Board of Directors of Adam House to help refugees establish new lives in Toronto has been a rewarding experience. Adam House is more than just a shelter. The sense of community and friendship the envelops anyone who walks through their doors is shared by the staff, volunteers and residents – many of whom come back as volunteers themselves.
Tell us how you got involved with Adam House? I was looking for a summer job in my first year of law school. My church’s young adult Facebook page posted an ad for a Volunteer Summer Teams Coordinator with Adam House through the Canada Summer Jobs program. It looked like a good opportunity to get involved with an organization doing good work for vulnerable populations. I applied and got the job. The following summer I worked for Adam House on a part-time basis, and then I was asked to join the Board of Directors in 2018, where I have served since along with eight other board members.
In your volunteer role on the board, what are your activities and what do they involve?
As a Board member, I attend quarterly board meetings to discuss all matters relating to the operation of our properties (we now have three). Projects that the Board has discussed this year include the acquisition of our latest property (Booth House) and planning out a renovation project on the main property. I also assist in between meetings on sub-committees to provide strategic advice. I also try to stay active with Adam House simply as a member of the community. I attend their events throughout the year, including World Refugee Day, the Scotiabank Charity Challenge Run, and Friday night socials. I have gotten members of my church involved in these initiatives as well.
Given your busy schedule what motivates you to stay involved?
It’s the people that keep me motivated to stay involved. It can be difficult to set aside the time for my volunteer commitments, but I always feel fulfilled when I turn to my work with Adam House. Everyone on the Board is committed to helping Adam House thrive, and many board members have been serving for many years. Beyond the Board, I love seeing and interacting with the residents of the house, the staff, and the volunteers. There is a certain bond we all share in that we’re working toward the same goal of helping refugees and making the transition to Canada easier for them. I’ve gotten to know various refugee families and individuals, many of whom have transitioned into comfortable and successful lives in Toronto and the GTA. Knowing these people have endured such hardship in their country of origin and seeing them approach life here with such positivity helps me remember how important this work is.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does? Adam House gives refugee claimants more than a place to live, but a sense of community in an otherwise isolating and stressful time. Adam House supports refugee claimants financially, socially, and spiritually, addressing needs and meeting them. This requires time, patience, and creativity, and I am fortunate to be a small part of that good work.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for an opportunity to give back to their own community?
Think about the causes you’re passionate about and how to leverage any community involvement or networks you already have. You may not realize your unique skills and knowledge could be very helpful to an organization. You sometimes just need to ask if they need help. My primary sources for volunteer work are my church and the connections I made through my law school extracurricular activities. Keeping an open mind and staying in touch with people you enjoyed working or volunteering with can sometimes lead to really interesting opportunities. That is how I remain connected to Adam House, the Fair Change Legal Clinic, and Pro Bono Ontario.
Does this experience with Adam House give you a different perspective, which you can bring to your law practice?
It helps me understand the specific needs of non-profit organizations from the perspective of a client. I see how important legal advice is to Adam House’s everyday operations, such as a compliant employee manual, and larger scale things like acquiring a new property and Building Code compliance. It helps me bring a greater sense of duty to my practice when I’m advising clients on the best way to move forward in their disputes. While many of Adam House’s matters can be dealt with by the organization’s staff and directors, many require legal assistance, and that can be invaluable in resolving issues in a timely manner. Most of the subject matter I deal with through Adam House does not relate to my litigation practice at all, but I have been able to assist fellow board members and staff on a preliminary basis with certain legal questions. I often realize that I am maybe the only lawyer that some people know.