LLD awards scholarships to students with disabilities

Legal Leaders for Diversity has handed out 12 more scholarships to law students with disabilities — bringing the total to 21 since the fund was launched in June 2014.

Julie Harmgardt and Julia Munk were awarded scholarships of $3,000 each at a reception held by LLD at the offices of Gowling WLG in Toronto last night.

Munk is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School and is attending Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program. She has been doing a work placement at ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto since May engaging in client advocacy.

Munk said the LLD scholarship program is important because having a disability “shapes the way you experience law school, the legal professional, articling, interviews and client interaction.”

She is one of the founders of Canada-Wide Accessibility for Post Secondary Students, and in 2002 she started Students for Barrier-free Access, an association of students with disabilities and their allies.

Harmgardt is currently articling at Stikeman Elliott LLP, having completed her JD at Queen’s University Faculty of Law. She is also the founder and executive director of InvisAbilities, a registered Canadian charity that promotes awareness, education and support to young adults living with hidden, chronic illnesses.

As someone who has suffered from arthritis from an early age, Harmgardt created the organization to help break down societal misconceptions associated with invisible illnesses such as lupus, diabetes, arthritis, Crohn’s disease and others.

“She has transformed the initiative from what began essentially as a university club into a registered Canadian charity now with chapters on several university campuses and is now working to add a chapter that will serve young professionals in Toronto,” said Scott Jolliffe, head of international development and past chairman and CEO of Gowling WLG, who is also a member of the LLD board of trustees.

She has also worked as a legal intern for Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, India.

Harmgardt said for her the scholarship represents recognition from the corporate law community of the challenges faced by disabled students.

“I feel welcome in the corporate community and that’s something I might not have said a few years ago,” she said. “I would like everyone to take back to their firms and companies some thoughts about invisible disabilities. It’s something when I was at Queen’s that wasn’t really on the radar. Now I feel like we’re getting to the point where people are observing and being more knowledgeable. For example, sometimes I have a hard time with stairs. From what I look like I might not necessarily appear to have that issue, so I have had to be an advocate for myself and tell people there are impediments in everyday life that we experience.”

With the goal of advancing diversity and promoting equal access to the legal profession, the LLD Trust Fund offers annual scholarships to young people with disabilities who are pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies in law.

The scholarships provide financial assistance to students with physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments.

More than 42 general counsel and managing partners from law firms across Canada have committed to give $5,000 to the trust fund.

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