Criminal Law

Zita finds her home in criminal law

By Staff

When Toronto criminal lawyer Jessica Zita walked into the offices of Hicks Adams LLP as a summer student, she felt her career click into place.

“Ever since I was young, helping people has always been my goal. I just didn’t know how I would do it,” she explains to “When I was at university, I thought that would mean helping people in starving countries. At law school, I was interested in social justice law firms.

“But in that summer of second year, it all became clear to me. I knew this was what I had to do,” adds Zita, now an associate with the firm.

Despite the recency of her call to the bar — she joined Ontario’s bar in 2017 after graduating from Osgoode Law School — Zita brings an unusually broad range of legal experience to her job.

The summer before starting at Hicks Adams, she got an intense view of the justice system as a judicial extern in the chambers of Justice Helene White of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal, working on a broad range of cases involving matters as diverse as voting rights and the death penalty.

“That was when I became alive to the idea of working on appeals,” says Zita, whose current practice is focused mainly on criminal appeals. She has also appeared in court as a junior on a number of murder trials during her tenure at Hicks Adams.

Having seen the view from the bench and the defence table, Zita completed the set by spending a semester on the prosecution side of criminal law at the Crown Law Office in Toronto, where she again worked on appeals.

“That was a wonderful and formative experience for me,” she says.

Her hiring by Hicks Adams represented another kind of homecoming for Zita, since her first contact with the criminal bar came after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, when she was hired to run the offices of three young criminal lawyers.

“It was a newly formed office, and I oversaw their file management, court dates, accounting, disclosure … basically everything,” she says.

At the time, she wasn’t sure about where her own future lay. Despite encouragement from her family to become a lawyer, Zita was put off by academic advisers who warned about the tough job market in the field. However, after a couple of years seeing the profession up close in her administrative role, she decided to make the leap.

“I loved the job. It was clear that to get more out of it, I had to go to law school,” she says. “That experience gave me a confidence that most law students wouldn’t otherwise have. I knew many of the faces in the criminal defence bar in Toronto, which made the transition much easier.

“It was like coming back to a group of old friends,” she adds.

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