Justice Joan Lax died unexpectedly on November 4, 2013, at age 68, shocking colleagues who thought her unstoppable. Her career path was impressive – Bay Street litigator, assistant dean of U of T’s Faculty of Law, Ontario Superior Court Justice – but equally so were the barriers she broke and the impression she made. “She was one of those incredible women who didn’t look at the obstacles and turn away but forged ahead,” says Mayo Moran, current dean of the faculty. “And she made a huge difference.”
Lax faced down unvarnished Bay Street sexism in the 1970s to not only get hired (by Toronto firm WeirFoulds LLP) but to pioneer maternity leave policies in the Canadian legal profession. At U of T from 1986 to 1996, she was one of the law faculty’s senior administrators and director of admissions; she wrote course materials and presided over the student Moot Court.
Though Lax loved the university, she left to become a judge where, in and out of court, she fought to make her profession more just and accessible. She helped found the African Canadian Legal Services Clinic and Community Legal Education Ontario and her even-handed judgments were frequently cited. The notice of her passing was one of the Faculty of Law’s most-read news stories of 2013.
“She was a real leader,” says Moran. “Incredibly smart, wonderfully warm, determined and courageous.”