Retiring former Osgoode dean honoured by WLAO

Trailblazing women in law were recognized by the Women’s Law Association of Ontario at its annual awards gala on June 19.

Osgoode Hall Law School professor Marilyn Pilkington and family law lawyer Judith Huddart and were the recipients of this year’s WLAO’s President’s Award, which “recognizes women who have made substantial contributions to the legal community as academics, adjudicators, litigators, solicitors, authors, or related professions.”

Two female law students were also presented with awards for their contributions to the legal community. 

Samara Secter, who just graduated from Osgoode, received the equality award for her efforts in advancing equality rights, presented by Aird & Berlis LLP and WLAO. She has done tremendous work tackling the issue of sexual violence against women. She is also the co-chairwoman of Osgoode's women's caucus.

When accepting the award, Secter said, “I hope one day we don’t need this award as the justice system inches towards equity.”

Benita Ann King, who recently graduated from the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, received the community contribution award for her extensive volunteer work, presented by McCarthy Tétrault LLP and WLAO. She was recognized for her fight for equality as well as spearheading initiatives to address violence against women. King was unable to attend the awards gala because she is currently completing a human rights legal internship in the United States.

Huddart was also recognized for her substantial volunteerism. She has chaired the Canadian Bar Association’s national family law section, the Ontario Bar Association’s family law section, the OBA’s feminist legal analysis section, and the family law group Collaborative Practice Toronto. She has also served as president of the Ontario Collaborative Law Federation. Currently, she is co-chairwoman of the CBA’s Women Lawyers Forum. 

“I encourage everyone to volunteer,” she told the audience at the awards gala, hosted at the Rosewater Room in Toronto. Volunteering does take time away from your legal practice and family, she added, but it’s well worth it because you’ll receive so much value from it. 

“It’s been difficult to make change in a male-dominated, adversarial legal culture,” Huddart also said, but noted many women lawyers have become leaders in non-adversarial areas. Women “don’t need a court battle to prove that we’re capable,” she said.

Pilkington said times have changed for women in the legal profession. “Women have developed their voices and they’re not afraid to use them,” she said.

Pilkington was the first female dean of an Ontario law school when she held the position at Osgoode from 1993-98. After 33 years as a faculty member at Osgoode, she will retire at the end of June.

“Women’s issues have advanced our understanding of the role of the law,” she said, adding she hopes young students will look to the law not only to be of service to their clients and figure out how things work, but provide leadership in a continuing process to build a civil society.

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