Making Lasting Contributions: Cheryl Milne Receives 2019 Law Society Medal

Posted: 05/17/2019

Cheryl MilneCalled to the Bar in 1987, Cheryl Milne has had a profound and unique influence on the Canadian legal landscape as a child rights advocate.

She is a leading constitutional and Charter rights litigator, an innovative experiential legal educator and a generous legal community volunteer. She provided front-line legal services to children and teenagers across a wide range of legal needs. Cheryl’s impressive list of accomplishments across a range of issues and legal sectors demonstrate the continuing impact of her huge and lasting contributions to the legal community in Ontario and Canada.

Cheryl is currently the Executive Director of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. As its inaugural director, Cheryl has built the organization from the ground up, leading the development of its distinctive vision.

Cheryl is one of this year’s recipients of the Law Society Medal which is awarded to Ontario lawyers who have made a significant contribution to the profession.

What does this award mean to you?

I am deeply grateful for the honour of being recognized by my profession for my work. For many years, I wondered whether the work that I and others did on behalf of children and youth was only sometimes superficially acknowledged. Receiving this award demonstrates that the work is valued and more importantly, the right of children and youth to have a voice in the legal system is now becoming more fully accepted.

What drives you (or has driven you) in your legal career?

I have always been driven to do work that I thought would have a positive impact. I knew that I wanted to work with young people early on and was lucky to find a perfect match for my legal and social work training at Justice for Children and Youth. At times that work was frustrating because I was frequently arguing for the underdog position, but the relationships that developed with my young clients gave me courage, as did the occasional win. While I now am more removed from direct client work with youth, I enjoy playing a mentorship role with law students who have similar aspirations and have kept my hand in child rights work from a policy and legal education perspective. At the Asper Centre we still tilt at windmills at times by intervening in innovative constitutional cases, but that work is incredibly stimulating and the colleagues I have worked with have been awe-inspiring.

What piece of advice do you have for new legal professionals beginning their career?

The straight-line is not always the best path – you learn a lot from the zigs and zags. I started my practice in an excellent firm, WeirFoulds, but in an area of practice that was a mistake for me. I left the firm and enrolled in social work thinking that I might not ever practice law again, but was fortunate to build on my experience in the MSW (Social Work) program to find success at Justice for Children and Youth.

My advice is to find places to work that are collegial and positively mentor you, then pay it back by doing the same with the young lawyers that follow you.

The Law Society Medal is given for outstanding service within the profession, whether in the area of practice, in the academic sphere, or in some other professional capacity where the service is in accordance with the highest ideals of the legal profession. It may be awarded for devotion to professional duties over a long term or for a single outstanding act of service.

This year, 12 outstanding members of the legal professions will be honoured with Law Society awards on May 22nd.