Labour and employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh opens her practice as part of 'building a brand'

Long-time colleague at Howard Levitt's firm strikes out on her own with four others

Labour and employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh opens her practice as part of 'building a brand'
Employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh officially opened her law firm on June 1.

It was time to strike out on her own and “build my brand,” says Muneeza Sheikh when asked why she had decided to leave a long relationship with well-known employment and labour lawyer Howard Levitt.

“It was a good time to start my own shop and build my brand,” says Sheikh, who had been with Levitt’s firm since 2010 and became a named partner in 2021 when Levitt’s firm added Sheikh, Sunira Chaudi and Tatha Swann to change its name from Levitt LLP to Levitt Sheikh Chaudru Swann LLP.

Sheikh adds that she ran her practice pretty much as its own entity at the firm Levitt founded and received much support, “it got to the point where I felt like a sole practitioner working with a firm but with all the perks and benefits of a firm environment.” 

Litigation is one of the foundations of Sheikh’s practice, appearing before various courts, human rights tribunals, labour relations boards and other regulatory bodies. She has also honed her skills as an arbitrator and mediator.

For employers, Sheikh ensures that their employment and human rights policies are enforced and applied consistently. She also conducts workshops to help employers understand their obligations under the law. 

For employees, Sheikh has handled hundreds of cases involving those who have been harassed and targeted because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.

Sheikh is also the City of Brampton's integrity commissioner and lobbyist registrar, responsible for ensuring transparency about council members’ ethics and conduct.

Still, she felt that leaving the firm to start Muneeza Sheikh Employment and Human Rights was critical to furthering her brand. So far, the response from the legal community has been positive.

“I’ve really gotten fantastic support within the legal world,” says Sheikh. “When I made the announcement that I was going on my own, I could not believe the number of lawyers who were excited to see me go out on my own. They would say, ‘You’re finally doing what you should have been doing.’”

She adds: “When you first hear that, you think people are being nice, but when you hear it again and again, you say to yourself, ‘I wish I could see myself the way others do.”’ And she’ll be basking in that limelight on June 25 when she hosts an official launch party, though her firm started doing business on June 1.

While going out on her own is part of building a brand, it’s not as if Sheikh was a shrinking violet within the legal world. She regularly appears on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and has written columns for the National Post and the Toronto Star. She works for both employer and employee clients, and most of her practice focuses on women, minorities, and those with disabilities.

This desire to help the underdog "naturally” leans into Sheikh’s advocacy work for marginalized communities, which is why she feels it is essential to add “human rights” to her firm’s name. “I want to practise law that is meaningful to me,” she says, adding that having her firm allows her to do that and pick a team that reflects that desire.

“We’re all on the same page when it comes to fighting for social justice,” she says, noting her firm includes principal lawyer Saba Khan, who is also a part-time professor teaching human rights law at Seneca College; associate Hania Jahangir, who volunteered with Pro Bono Students Canada while at Lincoln Alexander Law School at Toronto Metropolitan University, and also served as VP of the equity, diversity and inclusion group of the Law Students Society; and paralegal Antonio Gemarino, who holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of London ad a paralegal diploma from Sheridan College.

Sheikh’s firm also includes Lincoln Alexander law school student Aisha Abawajy, a second-generation Canadian with Oromo roots from Halifax.

The focus on human rights and working for the marginalized reflects Sheikh’s humble beginnings. She grew up in public housing in Toronto’s St. James Town complex after her family immigrated from Pakistan. Her father, who worked as a janitor at the Hospital for Sick Children while taking university courses, suddenly died when she was 13. Her mom was widowed at 37 with four children.

“I don’t want to sound too tragic because a lot of people come from humble backgrounds, Sheikh says, “but one of the reasons I decided to go to law school was, in the simplest of terms, my chances of being poor would be slimmer than if I didn’t go.

“However, my background does bring a certain lens to my practice, and it’s made me the lawyer that I am and who and what I fight for.”

Being a woman with two children (a daughter, fifteen, and a twelve-year-old son) in a demanding profession also makes her keenly aware of the challenges of other working caregivers, predominantly women, whether they are in the legal profession or not.

“Certainly, when it comes to lawyers who are also caregivers, you get a certain perspective on work-life balance – it isn’t always easy to maintain,” she says, though acknowledging that working from home and bringing her kids to the office were part of life at her old firm, especially during COVID-19. “I want to bring the same flexibility here, letting people know you can be a great lawyer and do great work even if you are a caregiver.”

Sheikh acknowledges that her biggest reservation about running her law firm is the “business side of things.”  She adds, “I love the practice of law.  I love being a lawyer. And anything that falls outside of that, I think, ‘Oh, my goodness, am I going to be able to make the right decisions?’ But the truth is, there are good people out there who can provide that help, and I have surrounded myself with good people.

“I’m very grateful for my past experiences; I’m thankful for any new experiences. And I think this is all about my story moving forward. And that’s why I’m having the launch party. It’s a celebration of moving forward.”

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