Local lawyers cited as 'Best Advocates' by the NBA
August 17, 2017
In the University of Windsor’s 2012 graduating law class of about 200, less than 10 were Black.
Two of them, Mariam Moktar and Nailah Gordon-Decicieo, were the only Canadians that made the National Bar Association (NBA) ‘Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Lawyers Under-40’ 2017 list.
The young lawyers were celebrated at the NBA’s 92 annual convention in Toronto recently.
The prestigious award recognizes the finest lawyers who exemplify a broad range of outstanding achievement in advocacy, innovation, vision, leadership and overall legal and community involvement.
Moktar is an associate at Lenczner Slaght while Gordon-Decicieo shares a Brampton law office with her mother Joanna Gordon.
“It is truly an honour to be recognized for our hard work and advocacy in the legal profession and the community,” said Moktar who graduated from Carleton University in 2008 with a political science degree and was called to the Ontario Bar a year after securing her law degree.
During her articling year, she worked closely on a high profile case at the Superior Court of Justice and served judges at the divisional court level where she gained a broad experience of civil, criminal, family and administrative law.
Peter Griffin, the managing director of Lenczner Slaght, said the young lawyer represents the best attributes underlying the significant award.
“Mariam is a first-rate lawyer, a major contributor to the broader community and those closest to her and she represents the best in the profession,” he said. “…Her passion for effective advocacy, good judgment and exceptional work ethic is the difference in every case. She makes clients her top priority and vigorously advocates on their behalf. She also understands the importance of knowing clients and their unique legal needs and she provides the practical advice needed to solve those problems.”
Experienced and successful trial lawyer Anne Posno concurred.
“We work together on a lot of complicated and tricky files,” said Posno who is in her 24th year at the downtown law firm. “Mariam is highly reliable, very clever, eager to learn and a lot of fun to work with.”
Fleeing Somalia’s civil war which claimed her father’s life, Moktar and her family found refuge in Canada.
“Growing up in a country without structure and seeing the absence of law and order made me want to become a lawyer,” she said. “Also, my father was a police officer who believed in law and order. I know he would be proud of me.”
Moktar, who co-authored a paper with Superior Court judge Steve Coroza, dedicated the award to one of her Grade Eight teachers at Rockliffe Middle School.
“Even though I knew I was interested in wanting to make a difference in the world, I was trying to find myself in elementary school,” the former Community Legal Aid Clinic caseworker and University of Windsor Mediation Services clinic team leader said. “Mr. Cooke saw me as someone with potential instead of someone trying to find their way and he guided me and helped me to learn more about myself and Black history. It was after meeting him that I also became an active community participant.”
The trial lawyer, who completed high school at Weston Collegiate Institute, is the vice-president of the Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers and a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the Ontario Bar Association, the Canadian Bar Association and the Advocates’ Society.
Gordon-Decicieo was just five years old when her mother enrolled in law school.
The single mother of two children completed degree programs at the University of Windsor and the University of Detroit Mercy.
“My mom studied while raising us, she made education an adventure and in the process showed me how that could change your life,” said Gordon-Decicieo. “She is certainly an inspiration for me.”
The award is seen as a vote of confidence for the 2005 John Holland Memorial Award winner who specializes in criminal, family and general legal matters.
“This tells me that people are always looking at what you are doing and I have to keep going,” she said. “It’s a testament to the people who have impacted my life along the way and have encouraged me to give back, mostly through stewardship. I practice in realms where our community is disproportionately impacted by those particular areas of the law. I am here not only to represent my community, but to serve them. The greatest thing I can do is give back to them through my time and knowledge. There is no point in me holding on to what I have.”
Articling at Blaney McMurtry LLP before joining her mother’s law firm in September 2014, Gordon-Decicieo said it’s not coincidental that the two Canadians on this year’s 40 Lawyers Under-40 list are University of Windsor graduates.
“This is a university that prides itself on social justice,” the former Ontario Justice Education Network social justice fellow pointed out. “It’s not just turning out practitioners who understand legal theory. It’s producing practitioners who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.”
Extremely proud of her Jamaican heritage, Gordon-Decicieo was ecstatic nine years ago when she was selected to participate in the Grace Kennedy summer internship program in Jamaica.
Launched in 2004, the six-week birthright program helps broaden the horizons of second and third generation Jamaican university students living in Canada, the United States and England.
“That program opened my eyes to really appreciate my Jamaican heritage and understand that I am the product of a strong, tenacious, hardworking and bright people,” said Gordon-Decicieo whose family migrated to England before settling in Canada.
This year’s Top 40 Under-40 list included a mayor, chief judge, and two assistant attorney generals in the United States.
“As one of the pre-eminent bar associations in the world, the NBA has an obligation to ensure that our communities are informed of their rights and placed in the best position to receive justice when challenged,” said outgoing NBA president Kevin Judd. “Each of our 40 Under-40 award recipients possesses remarkable intellect and a professional drive that enhances the future of our profession. I am proud to give the inductees the recognition they deserve as they will no doubt continue to make the legal field and our communities a better place for all.”
The selection panel included former NBA presidents and other NBA leaders.
Founded in 1925, the organization represents the interests of approximately 65,000 lawyers, judges, law professors and law students