Nadia Guo has never been a stickler for civility or following societal norms. While an articling law student a few years ago in Toronto, she tweeted that she wished it were socially acceptable to spit in the faces of Crown prosecutors, publicly dissed justices of the peace who “love to powertrip,” and once flipped her middle finger at courthouse staff.However, when complaints about her behaviour started piling up with the Law Society of Ontario — threatening to derail a legal career that had barely started — Guo agreed to rein herself in and get professional help to control her quick-to-trigger impulses. Satisfied that the 28-year-old has passed the test for “good character,” a law society tribunal recently gave her the go-ahead to obtain her law licence.That doesn’t mean everyone in the legal community is pleased with the decision. It also doesn’t mean Guo, who first gained notoriety when media reports about her behaviour called attention to her previous work as an escort, has suddenly transformed into a shrinking violet. Though chastened, she remains hell-bent on being “the most badass criminal defence lawyer this country has ever seen.”
The Law Society Tribunal said it was satisfied Guo has taken responsibility for her conduct and expressed remorse.
Peter J. Thompson/National Post
Guo has a number of theories as to what’s behind her rebellious streak: being raised by a Chinese-immigrant mother in “white suburbia;” being taught by her father — whose family was persecuted during the Chinese Cultural Revolution — to be skeptical of centralized bureaucracies “who act as if they exist for your wellbeing”; and hanging out with “sk8r bois,” smoking weed and listening to punk and rap in her early teens.When studying at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, she says, she identified most with Alan Young, a renowned legal disruptor who often made headlines for standing up for the wrongfully convicted and for launching constitutional challenges against Canada’s marijuana and prostitution laws.“When he told me he used to shut himself up in his room on Friday nights to get stoned and play on his Casio, that’s when I knew I wasn’t totally alone,” she says. (Young, who recently retired, confirmed to the Post that anecdote sounded like “something I would say.”)It didn’t take long after Guo graduated from law school in 2015 for her to clash with her peers in the legal community. She racked up four complaints with the Law Society of Ontario over six months while articling.Her indiscretions included once giving the finger to court staff after growing impatient at how long it was taking them to process her paperwork, which led to her being escorted out of the building.I’m certainly going to be much smarter in the way I criticize what I think is unjust or backwards about the worlds I work and operate in
On another occasion, Guo engaged members of a Criminal Lawyers’ Association listserv in a discussion that devolved into an argument about white male privilege. Some lawyers felt her comments were denigrating and offensive and they also alleged she had breached confidentiality when she posted tweets about the listserv discussion.“Most of us have some valve there that kind of stops us from doing things impulsively, but she doesn’t seem to have … that mechanism,” lawyer John Hale, one of the complainants, told the law society.“It seems that she’s a person who feels that if she wants to do something, she bloody well has every right to do it or say it. Damn the consequences, it doesn’t matter.”Another person criticized comments Guo made about justices of the peace, including an assertion that they weren’t qualified to perform their jobs because they didn’t have law degrees. The same person also denounced a GIF that Guo had tweeted of a llama (Guo says it was a goat) blowing a raspberry, under which she wrote: “i wish spitting in people’s faces like that was a socially acceptable response to dumb shit. like e.g. when crowns make silly submissions.”
Guo said she identified with Alan Young while attending Osgoode Hall Law School.
Brett Gundlock/National Post file
During this period, Guo was also maintaining a site on Tumblr that kept a database of police officers, Crown prosecutors and justices that she alleged were eroding civil liberties.This prompted a complaint from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General that Guo had made “personal, inflammatory, and egregious statements” about the justice system and its personnel and that she had publicly described sensitive case information.Over the course of multiple interviews with the law society, Guo told investigators she regretted giving the finger to court staff, that she had engaged in self-analysis and that she still “had a lot of maturing to do.” She said she recognized that her approach of “naming and shaming” problems in the justice system had “backfired.”She also told investigators that while she still struggled to understand where to draw the line between civility and freedom of speech, she recognized it was better to err on the side of caution.Guo’s supporters told the law society in writing and in interviews that they were impressed by Guo’s “strong sense of her moral responsibility in the world” and praised the “fire in her belly” to call out injustices. With the right mentorship, “she can go from being off-putting and being confrontational and aggressive to channelling that into … better submissions,” one lawyer said.She is very much at a fork in the road, and I hope for her sake that she chooses the right path
Another supporter and fellow articling student at the time told the society he expected Guo to comply with the rules, “but she will not be an easy member.”“She will make life difficult around her, this is her calling.”The law society heard that in March 2016, Guo took a break from articling to work with an executive coach on her professional conduct. In 2017, she completed her articling with criminal lawyer John Kaldas and has continued to work for him part-time. Kaldas told the tribunal Guo’s work was excellent and that she is able to master complex factual scenarios and produce well-researched arguments.The tribunal also heard that Guo enlisted the services of a psychotherapist in early 2018 who helped her work on her “self-regulation, impulsivity and … emotional awareness” and that she had written letters of apology to two of the complainants.The tribunal concluded last month that while Guo had shown a “remarkable lack of judgment, sensitivity and self-control” during her first months of articling, she has since taken responsibility for her conduct and expressed remorse.“She has come to understand that being loud and abrasive does not necessarily equate to being an effective advocate, and that restraint can often prove a useful tool for resolving conflict,” the tribunal panel wrote in its decision.
Guo says she expects to be called to the bar in the coming months
Peter J. Thompson/National Post
Within days of the decision, Guo, in true form, was back on Tumblr arguing that the demands for civility could lead to a certain conformity, which is antithetical to the goals of achieving the diverse perspectives “the legal profession so badly needs.”If the law society wants to get serious about inclusion, it should be more accepting of law candidates who “come from diverse backgrounds, and whose ideas and manner of speech do not immediately conform to the standards of the elitist genteel society traditions the more senior members of the bar seem to squeeze on tightly to,” she wrote.Asked if she was looking for more trouble, Guo told the Post she was just trying to point out that the law profession is very “closed off” in terms of its accessibility to the general public and the “hoity-toity” manner of speaking contributes to that.In a column published on the Huffington Post website this week, Guo decried the “joyless types” of the law profession who looked down on her because of her past as a sex worker. “As someone who had always found being sexually objectified rather appealing, I got a thrill out of meeting men who fulfilled me sexually and paid me,” she wrote.Guo, who expects to be called to the bar in the coming months, insisted she has learned to be “more selective about when and how I speak out.” She says she is less inclined now, for instance, to call out every individual instance of “sexism, racism, classism, etc.” and focus instead on “systemic injustices.”“I’m a lot more aware of how sensitive people are in legal circles compared to other social circles I’ve been in,” she said.“I’m certainly going to be much smarter in the way I criticize what I think is unjust or backwards about the worlds I work and operate in,” she added.Hale, one of the original complainants, is not convinced.“If she has genuinely arrived at the conclusion that her behaviour a few years ago was unprofessional, hurtful and disrespectful, and if she has taken steps to control some of her worst impulses on social media, I think she has the potential to have a brilliant career,” he said in an email. “She is very much at a fork in the road, and I hope for her sake that she chooses the right path.”• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: dougquan