Welcome to the first post in my "Women Leading in Law" series.
My goal is to focus on some good news stories and highlight some amazing women succeeding in the legal profession. Each post will include the profiled lawyer's answers to six questions. Prepare to be inspired!
My first profile features Eva Chan a lawyer turned social media consultant for legal professionals. While technically she is no longer practicing law, as the legal profession evolves and innovates, "lawpreneurs" like Eva will be essential in helping lawyers transition to new ways to practice law.
I first met Eva, not surprisingly, on Twitter in 2015. We grabbed a coffee and quickly hit it off. I am so happy that Eva agreed to be the first woman I profiled:
1.Tell me a little about your practice or business.
I’m a lawyer turned social media consultant for lawyers. I help lawyers save time in learning how to use social media to achieve their professional and personal goals. Often they aren’t sure of where or how to start, or even what to say. I give them direction focused on employing social networking platforms in a purposeful manner.
Also, I help lawyers define and refine their personal brand, as doing so is significant in developing a strategic plan. I incorporate my knowledge and experiences based on having practised law for over a decade, my personal brand re-invention, and education from Harvard Extension School where I achieved a Professional Graduate Certificate in Marketing Management.
Regardless of a lawyer’s comfort level with the use of technology, I really enjoy training lawyers on how to use different social networking platforms. If lawyers require help with implementing a social media plan, I can also assist with such consulting services. This may include revisions to social media profiles, curating content, and creating posts/tweets, among other things.
It’s been wonderful hearing lawyers tell me that they enjoy adopting social networking platforms they originally had negative impressions of, and are checking into their accounts more often when they thought they would be doing so once in a blue moon. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of their journey in growing their practice and knowledge. I look forward to helping more lawyers, including enhancing their confidence to use social media in a more personal way.
2.Why did you go to law school?
Being the only child of immigrant parents, the career choices were clearly set out for me: be a lawyer or a doctor.
I decided to be a lawyer so I could help others, particularly those in the entertainment industry, not be taken advantage of when entering a contract. I was set on becoming an entertainment lawyer because, at that time, I was very interested in how the music industry worked.
3.How did you get to where you are today?
Open-mindedness, courage, and support from others.
I went to law school to become an entertainment lawyer. Then I took the course “Computers, Information and the Law” while at Osgoode Hall Law School and loved it. IT law became a new area for me to pursue. I wonder whether I would have been interested in this area of law as much as I was if I hadn’t taken computer science in university. The funny thing is that I was so closed-minded when a good friend of mine suggested I take computer science with her and I said no. I can’t recall what changed my mind, but I eventually took computer science courses and really liked them.
I ended up practising IT, advertising, marketing, and some entertainment law while at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. I co-led the firm’s Advertising, Marketing, and Sponsorship Law Group, and edited the firm’s Not-for-Profit and Charity Law in Canada Blog. In those roles, I gained more experience with marketing and business development. I was really excited that I was able to develop and implement a vision of what I wanted the Group and the Blog to achieve. I was able to be a bit more creative and do things differently. This desire to do something more creative grew stronger in my later years of practice. I felt like I lost myself as a person with the never-ending long hours of work. I felt like I was always there for others, and not myself.
I took some time to do some self-reflection. What was something I didn’t want to give up? Social media, which is funny because I wasn’t an early adopter of it, and even questioned its value. As I started to use it more, I realized the benefits. I enthusiastically logged in to learn new things about the law, client industries, and personal interests.
Becoming a social media strategist, consultant and trainer for lawyers is a very different career direction from what lawyers traditionally do when they stop practising law. With my background and desire to not practice anymore but still stay connected within the legal profession, it made sense to test it out.
I was delighted to have received so much support from family, friends, former colleagues, and new acquaintances with my career change. I think it intrigued them as much as it did for me. I felt alive as a person again. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to draw upon knowledge and experience from my law practice days to help promote other lawyers.
No matter what stage you’re in, excel at what you’re doing and make time to invest in yourself. Be open to new interests and opportunities presented to you, and adjust your course accordingly. Be grateful of the support you receive and help elevate others.
4.What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
This is a hard question to answer given the wonderful guidance, support, and opportunities I was given at the firm I practised at for over a decade which allowed me to achieve many things. I was thinking of describing an award I won, a successful negotiation, or something else personally fulfilling; however, I believe my most significant achievement is becoming a lawyer. That achievement has led to the acquisition of knowledge, experience, skills, credibility, and connections that allow me to help others in a valuable way. It also has led to friendships I truly treasure.
I still remember spending an extra few seconds on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall to take it all in when my name was called at the Call to the Bar ceremony. I have my parents to thank for steering me in the direction of becoming a lawyer. At the time I graduated from law school, no one in my or then-extended family was a lawyer. For me to become a lawyer was very important to my parents, especially being their only child and they being immigrants to Canada. I am proud to have achieved their wish, as they really worked hard to give me the privileged education I received.
5.What are some key challenges and opportunities for women in law?
Time is a key challenge. Before practising law, I thought I could have it all. Then I realized what being part of the sandwich generation meant and how fragile life is. So having it all may not occur as quickly as I thought (especially with wanting to do a lot in life and there’s only so much time in a day you can devote to accomplish things), and it may not be everything I thought I wanted (as goals and interests change especially with different life stages and experiences). Prioritize what’s important to you at that time, and take small, manageable steps to achieve what you want.
With diversity and inclusion being watched carefully in the legal profession these days, now is the time for women to proactively seize and create opportunities for women to shine. For example, comments are often being made about there being all-male panels. Make sure you’ve submitted your name to be considered as a panellist, or create your own talk/panel to showcase your knowledge and value. Too afraid to speak? Co-speak with someone you feel comfortable with. You need to step outside your comfort zone to grow and excel. For me, being an introvert, doing presentations was quite scary. We all need to summon up the courage to speak publicly. Over time, you start to get used to it. Also, when you talk about a topic you love, you get energized doing so like I do when I speak about social media now.
Also, social media, blogging and podcasts have given lawyers a voice without needing to pitch to third parties like the media or conference producers. They are valuable tools, especially for introverts, offering a 24/7 introduction without having to go to a networking cocktail event. So take the time to understand your personal brand, plan what you want to achieve, and execute.
6.What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Believe in yourself, don’t lose yourself, and be true to yourself.
Just because you’re starting off your career, it doesn’t mean others who have practised longer than you are always right or know everything. Stand your ground. Also, make sure you write or speak before your first year is over. This will help you start building a profile in the community, and give you a chance to overcome any fear with such activities. Moreover, if you have ideas to improve a client matter, practice management, legal marketing, or business development activity, don’t be afraid to share them. We all can contribute something valuable with our different backgrounds and experiences.
Make a real effort to spend time with family and friends, and do things you love. Don’t focus on that time as being non-billable. It’s important to step away and recharge. This will become more challenging if you find yourself having to take care of others like children or parents. So start that habit early. Otherwise you’ll lose yourself, and likely won’t be able to last the marathon of practising law.
Remind yourself of why you wanted to become a lawyer, and regularly review your professional goals against what you’re doing. You need to stay true to yourself. For example, if you’ve been asked to practice in an area of law you are certain you will absolutely dislike after exploring it, don’t agree to add it onto what you’re doing.
To accomplish any of these, work with your mentor, other lawyers, and friends. Enjoy the relationships you’ll build, and the journey of your legal career and life outside of law.
Thanks Eva for sharing your thoughts and words of encouragement. You can find out more about Eva and her services on her website.
Stay tuned for the next post in the series! (Or sign-up at the top of the page to receive my blog posts by email).
Last week the Sunday Edition of CBC Radio One aired a documentary that put a spotlight on an important topic in the legal profession: mental health awareness and the need to end the stigma against mental illness. The documentary was about the real reason former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gerald Le Dain left the bench. He was asked to resign after suffering from depression and denied a chance to take a leave. My blog post about the documentary and a link to it can be found here.
According to the producer, Bonnie Brown, after the documentary aired the CBC received a great deal of feedback in letters and comments on social media, including inquiries on the prospects of a formal apology, what happened to Justice Le Dain after he resigned, and why he was not given credit for significant judgments to which he had contributed.
As a result, the CBC will be doing follow-up coverage this weekend, where host Gillian Findlay and Bonnie Brown will read some of the mail and along with David Butt (who clerked with Justice Le Dain) discuss the epilogue to the documentary. The answer to "What happened next?" is not a happy one.
The follow-up coverage will air in hour two of the show on Sunday between 10:10 am and 11:00 am and will be posted online tonight around 6pm Eastern.
[UPDATE: Documentary now available online here.]
Lawyers should tune into The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio this weekend to listen to a documentary that Talin Vartanian , a produce of the Sunday Edition, stated will “reveal what happened to one of the greatest legal minds of the country.”
The documentary is called “One Judge Down” and is about former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gerald Le Dain. Justice Le Dain is best known in the public for the 1973 Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, which was far ahead of its time in recommending the decriminalization of marijuana. But, it is what the public doesn’t know about Justice Le Dain's legal career that is far more interesting and unfortunately distressing.
CBC’s synopsis of the documentary:
After serving for 9 years on the Federal Court of Appeal, Le Dain was nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada by Trudeau (Sr.) in 1984, where he served for just four years. Then, at age 63, he decided to resign...abruptly. At least, that's what people thought.
In fact, the Chief Justice at the time, Brian Dickson, demanded Le Dain's resignation.
It happened after Le Dain's wife, Cynthia, asked Dickson for some time off for her husband. He'd been struggling with his caseload, and had fallen into a depression. But instead of granting a leave, Dickson decided that Le Dain's days on the bench were over.
Many of those who knew about it at the time -- judges, lawyers, law professors and family members -- have kept quiet for almost thirty years. And many are highly critical of the way the Chief Justice treated Gerald Le Dain.
In our documentary, those closest to Le Dain are now speaking out on his behalf. They include Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, the last surviving Supreme Court justice from Le Dain's era; Harry Arthurs, former President of York University; Justice Melvyn Green of the Ontario Court of Justice; David Butt, now a top criminal lawyer in Toronto who served as a Supreme Court clerk; McGill law prof Richard Janda, also a court clerk under Le Dain; and Caroline Burgess, one of Gerald Le Dain's daughters.
The producer of this story is Bonnie Brown, who has been an award-winning documentary and news producer for the CBC for about twenty years. She also has a law degree from McGill.
This should make for an interesting listen and will hopefully address an important subject: mental health and wellness in the legal profession. While some strides have been made in recent years, there is still a need to confront the mental health stigma that exists.
"One Judge Down" will be published on CBC’s web site on the evening of January 12th and will air on The Sunday Edition January 14th.
On February 27, 2018 I attended a presentation by Justice Robert Sharpe discussing the life of Chief Justice Brian Dickson (Justice Sharpe, along with Kent Roach wrote a book about Dickson called "Brian Dickson: A Judge's Journey") at a program hosted by the Osgoode Society of Canadian Legal History.
During question period, after a 40 minute talk by Justice Sharpe, a member of the audience asked Justice Sharpe about the documentary "One Judge Down" noting that he thought perhaps the documentary was a bit one-sided and if Justice Sharpe had any comments to make regarding Dickson's actions.
Justice Sharpe stated that he had been contacted by the producer, Bonnie Brown, but that instead of participating in the documentary he referred her to his account of the resignation of Justice Le Dain in his book. He stood by what was in his book. Justice Sharpe was clear that it was just a sad, horrible situation, and that Dickson followed the law and did what he had to do. He explained that after Le Dain was "severely disabled" for three months, Le Dain would have been asked to resign as the Supreme Court just could not function with less than nine judges for a long period of time, according to the law (Justice Sharpe did not refer to which law). Dickson, however, went to the Minister of Justice and asked for an extension for Le Dain for another month. Then when Le Dain still could not sit as a judge, Dickson went back to the Minister of Justice for another extension. It was at this point that Le Dain resign.
Following this explanation, the next question came from Bonnie Brown herself who was in the audience (unbeknownst to I assume everyone, but clearly to Justice Sharpe). Bonnie questioned Justice Sharpe's account saying that his reference to the months and the extension request etc. were not in his book and that she would have liked to have heard about this for the documentary. She also questioned Justice Sharpe's dates and timing as the three months, plus one month, plus one month, did not match with the recollections of the Le Dain family. Justice Sharpe replied that this information was in his book and that not everyone is remembering it the same way and may not be recalling the time correctly.
Question period was then over.
As both of the key players are no longer alive and able to give their versions of the events, perhaps we will never truly know what occurred. All I know is that this story has brought a lot of attention to the struggles of mental illness and how it affects the legal profession. The take away from all of this is that we can all do a little bit better, and if we do not have the tools in place, or are unaware of how to help others with their illness, we can and must educate ourselves.
I am so happy and honoured to receive the 2017 Canadian Law Blog Awards (the "CLawbies") Fodden Award for Best Canadian Law Blog. Checking the results yesterday, I was hoping to receive at least a mention in one of the categories and was blown away to win the "Grand Prize". The award committee kindly wrote that my blog "combines sharp insights into the Canadian litigation landscape and timely commentary on vital social issues with terrific writing and a unique personal style" and that my blog is "an important new voice in Canadian law blogging." Wow.
I must admit I often hesitate right before I hit the "publish" button on some of the posts I've written for this blog as I am expressing my own truly personal views on life and law. However, I know there is a need to tackle these sometimes difficult subject matters and voice my opinion. This award encourages me to continue speaking up. Thank you!
For any new readers joining me, below are my top 10 most visited blog posts for 2017 (starting with the most popular):
1. What Are a Lawyer's Professional Obligations When Leaving a Law Firm? (Although this post was written in 2015 (with an update this year based on changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct) it continues to be my most popular post, with several hits a day.)
2. The "Weinsteins" of Canadian Law
3. A (Feminist) Review of "Breakdown: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Heenan Blaikie"
4. Stop Asking "Why Are Women Leaving Law?"
5. As a Lawyer, When Would You (or Should You) Report Another Lawyer for Professional Misconduct? (Also an older post, written in 2014, but still a very popular subject for many lawyers...hmmm)
6. "Fairly Equal: Lawyering the Feminist Revolution": A Must Read for the Next Generation of Feminist Lawyers
7. The One Thing I Never Again Want to Hear at an Event for Women Lawyers
8. Barristers' Robes: The Courtroom Equalizer
9. 5 Differences Between A Freelance Lawyer and a Sole Practitioner
10. Where oh Where do my LSUC Fees Go?
Thanks to the CLawbies award committee, the people who nominated my blog, and to my readers. Wishing you a wonderful 2018!
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of FLEX LEGAL, a network of freelance lawyers.