Separated into five different time periods, Soloway and Costante profile 50 women lawyers starting with the “Trailblazers: Leading the Way” and Clara Brett Martin, Canada’s first female lawyer. The remaining chapters work through the following decades up to the “Millennium: Juggling It All” and a final note on “Looking Ahead: Lessons for Our Daughters”.
What I enjoyed most about the book were the personal stories, trials and tribulations, and triumphs of these remarkable Canadian women. One notable story was how Marguerite Ritchie’s mother was so committed to her daughter’s future that in the 1930s she hitchhiked with her from Edmonton to Halifax so Marguerite could use the scholarship she earned from Dalhousie University. Also of note was the story of Annie Langstaff, a single mother, who became the first female law student in Quebec but was stopped from becoming a member of the Barreau du Quebec because she was a woman. Her multiple appeals of this decision were unsuccessful and eventually she worked as a paralegal for nearly 60 years. Several years after her death she was posthumously admitted to the Barreau du Quebec and was awarded the Medaille du Barreau de Montreal. (Too little, too late - in my opinion).
Other lawyers profiled include: Kim Campbell, Louise Arbour, Mayo Moran, Constance Backhouse and Marie Henein, just to name a few. Interestingly, the authors noted that there are three common traits among these 50 women: 1) they are supported (encouraged by family, communities or mentors); 2) they are risk-takers; and 3) they are resilient.
My only criticism is that sometimes I felt like I was reading the curriculum vitae or resume of these women (listings of awards, distinctions, positions held). I think the real draw of the book is in their stories, including the glimpses into their personalities, flaws and all. Also valuable and enlightening were the accounts of how these women bounced back or forged ahead after a misstep or set-back.
A copy of the book can be purchased here. Please note that I am not affiliated with this book or the publisher. I am just one of many female lawyers interested in the women who paved the way for our current successes.
When I worked in a large firm in downtown Toronto, a colleague and I would say to each other: “Someone should write a book about our lives”. We didn’t say it out of arrogance; rather we said it because we felt like we were living in a work of fiction.
Well, we don’t have to write that book anymore because Lindsay Cameron, an ex-Big Law lawyer, has just written it. It is aptly called BIGLAW and the protagonist, Mackenzie Corbett is a corporate lawyer at a large firm in New York City who gets caught up/set up in a potentially career ending scandal. The book covers some nightmarish scenarios for Mackenzie, including working non-stop on two very important and headline making deals and suffering abuse at the hands of senior partners while answering to their impossible and contradictory demands. Mackenzie is eventually forced to choose between her high-paying prestigious job and her family, friends, sleep and her overall health and sanity.
The book is lighthearted (don’t expect a serious tome on gender equality in the legal profession), a quick read, and had some laugh-out-loud moments. I loved Ms. Cameron’s discreet nod to “Working Girl” (one of my favourite movies). The mystery part of the novel can be quickly solved by the reader, but I think Ms. Cameron did it that way to show how out of touch MacKenzie had become with life that she couldn’t see what was right in front of her face.
I have to admit, reading this novel did produce some nightmarish flashbacks for me: sleeping with my blackberry on vibrate under my pillow, being woken up in the middle of the night to review documents, having to tell my mother that I couldn’t attend the 30th birthday plans she made for me, dealing with wealthy eccentric clients, etc. But I am happy to say I never had any partner treat me the way the partners in the novel treat Mackenzie. For the most part, the partners I worked with recognized and appreciated my hard work and were great mentors to me.
Overall a fun and entertaining book for those who have worked, are working, or are interested in working in Big Law, or who just want a lighthearted read.
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.