Wow, what a year!
I started 2018 wanting to focus on the “good” in life and law and this Women Leading in Law series has highlighted not only the “good” but also the “ah-maz-ing”.
I started the series because I was tired of reading about women leaving law and wanted to hear about women leading in law. This year I have met (both virtually and in real life) some super talented, smart, ambitious women succeeding, leading, and kicking butt in this profession. This blog series has given me hope that things are (slowly) changing for the better.
For my final blog post of 2018, I’ve highlighted each of the women featured in this series with a short excerpt from their answers. If you missed the posts the first time around click on the name for the whole profile and be prepared to be inspired!
A side note: The Women Leading in Law series will be pausing for a bit. For 2019 I am starting a new series that will build on the WLL series. I will be profiling law firms that are taking concrete steps to improve equality, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession. I hope that the new series will highlight what is working (and not working) in increasing the retention and promotion of women and members of other equality seeking groups in law. I have four law firms signed on, but I am looking for more firms of all sizes from across Canada that would be willing to be profiled. Know any firm trying to make a difference (beyond posting EDI policies)? Large, mid-sized, boutique? Perhaps firms started by lawyers who were interested in building a new type of law firm with EDI as a priority? Please let me know!
Also, I am still accepting names of amazing women lawyers for when the WLL series resumes. Please keep sending in the suggestions.
Finally, a huge thanks to the lawyers who participated and to everyone who supported this series with kind words and encouragement.
See you in 2019!
Women Leading in Law 2018 Review:
1. EVA CHAN, lawyer turned Social Media Consultant to lawyers:
“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. . . 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.”
2. KYLA LEE, Criminal Defence Lawyer:
“People are willing to help you succeed. And they’ll come to you for help too. Help them. Remember, we are all in this together. Each file is not just about our clients but about our contribution to the justice system. When you help other lawyers, and when you seek out their help, you are helping the justice system. It’s a really beautiful thing, and an important part of what we do.”
3. KIM HAWKINS, Executive Director RISE Women’s Legal Centre:
“There are enough challenges out there in the world as well as people who will try to define us if we let them – so it’s important that we don’t create limitations for ourselves. If you hold on to your idealism, you will eventually find work that feels right for you, and law can be a great place to find it.”
4. KATHRYN MANNING, Founding Partner of DMG Advocates LLP:
“Be brave. Be patient. Learn all that you can from different lawyers, clients and opposing counsel. Don’t give up even when it seems really difficult. Know that there are supportive people out there in our profession that would be happy to have a coffee or lunch and chat with you to help you on the path to building your career. I recall very well feeling overwhelmed in the early years of practice – with the lack of control over my time, the feeling that I didn’t know enough to be a lawyer, that the hours would kill me or mean that I could never be a good parent, spouse or friend. But it does get easier and there are a lot of resources out there to help you along the way.”
5. VANDANA SOOD, Supervising Lawyer, RISE Women’s Legal Centre:
“The hardest thing when starting out is knowing what you want to do with your law degree. Once you know, pursue it, no matter the supposed odds, and the path will open before you.”
6. ATRISHA LEWIS, Associate & Trial Lawyer, McCarthy Tetrault LLP:
“I have two pieces of advice for women starting their legal careers. First, always say yes. In the first few years, building experience and skills is so fundamental. Often times saying yes is personally uncomfortable (e.g. how can I possibly find the time?), but I have never regretted saying yes. My second piece of advice for women is to unapologetically insert yourself into the situations you want to be in.”
7. REBECCA DURCAN, Professional Regulation Lawyer and Partner at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc and Bencher at the Law Society of Ontario:
“Women still get judged for having a uterus. I remember being asked outright during articling interviews if I was married and if I was intending to have kids. This was forbidden even back then. But they asked.There is a belief that if you have kids, and take time off, you are not committed to your job. This is inane. That type of mindset needs to change. I became a better and more efficient lawyer after I had kids. I know that is anecdotal but it is also the experience of several of my colleagues.”
8. JENNIFER TAYLOR, Research Lawyer at Stewart McKelvey:
“. . . set boundaries and prioritize self-care, because you can’t be good at your job if you don’t do those two things. Speaking of your job, make sure you know yourself, and what you’re truly passionate about and good at, and find a position that fits YOU rather than trying to fit yourself into some kind of “as-seen-on-Suits” lawyer mould that doesn’t align with who you are. Finally, consider it a duty to give back to the legal community and the community at large – you will find fulfillment, and your communities will benefit.”
9. KATE DEWHIRST, a Health Lawyer at Kate Dewhirst Health Law:
“Find a mentor. Get a coach. Expand your definition of success. So many lawyers focus on time and money as the only indicators of their success. But I would wholeheartedly encourage young lawyers to also consider measuring their success by the impact they want to have in the world, their growth, the alignment of their personal and professional values and whether they are having fun.”
10. ESI CODJOE, Labour and Employment Lawyer and Vice Chair at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario:
“Understand yourself, it enables you to make hard choices that can inevitably lead to your success. When we know ourselves we can be braver, and pursue our goals with a gusto. I would also note that it is important to be tenacious. It helps you to push forward when there are obstacles placed in your path.”
11. CLAIRE HATCHER, Criminal Defence Lawyer at Pender Litigation:
“Be flexible as to the path you take, but know that it is really a rewarding career (even if it sometimes feels like the worst decision you ever made). Give yourself perhaps a 5-year period where you know you’re going to have to work almost every day, at least to some extent, and perhaps for people who really aren’t that kind or considerate of your time or wellness. Go the extra mile with your research and written work product – and as a junior, make yourself indispensable both inside and outside of court.”
12. ANU K. SANDHU, Family and Professional Regulation Lawyer:
“I suggest focusing less on where the crowd is going and turning inward to understand why you pursued law and how you want to work. There is so much room to do various and interesting pieces of work that reflects you. Supporting each other on social media or through notes or even by meeting for coffee/drinks and actively putting yourself out there is something I would encourage (even if you have children!). I also think that young women need to be careful not to undersell themselves and to be clear about things that they do not want to do or behaviour you will not tolerate (follow your intuition!). It isn't always easy but it will leave you with a sense of integrity.”
13. JESSICA PRINCE, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould:
“I have an incredible network of women lawyers across the profession. When I was still in practice, we would refer work to each other, and if we had a file in an area that none of us could cover, for example a real estate matter, we would fish around for names of female real estate lawyers and make sure that the work went to a woman. Show your sisters some love and send them your conflict work.”
14. ELLIOT SPEARS, General Counsel, Law Society of Ontario:
“Do it because you want to do it. Do everything to the best of your ability. Know yourself. Be true to who you are. Do it your way. And make sure to have something in place that will restore you after your battles, be it a family and/or friend support system or some activity outside of the legal world.”
15. BINDU CUDJOE, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary at Canadian Western Bank (previously Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at BMO Financial Group):
“Developing resilience is our greatest opportunity – it is what keeps us trying even when the systemic barriers remain, when we stumble over difficult clients, when we struggle to juggle all of the responsibilities we have at work and home. The drive to keep trying is powerful, and it means that one day we will see meaningful inclusion throughout society so we can reap the benefits of diverse perspectives and experiences.”
16. SHANNON SALTER, Chair of the Civil Resolution Tribunal:
“Sometimes the inequalities women face seem so big and insurmountable that people don’t know where to start, or even that they might, unwittingly, be part of the problem. So use your spot at the table to make inequality visible, and make it impossible to ignore.”
17. DYANOOSH YOUSEFFI, Legal Studies Professor, Writer and Social Advocate:
“Look deep within your heart. What is the thing that you wanted to do as a child? What is the thing that still makes you cry? What is the thing that tugs at your heart? Pursue THAT.”
18. CHARLENE THEODORE, Legal Counsel for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association:
“You need to put in the time and gain experience to have full agency over your career - you can’t circumvent that. That being said, earning a law degree in this country bestows privilege. You didn’t put in all of that work to be stuck in a job you hate. Always know that you have options - at every single stage of your career.”
19. NICOLE CHROLAVICIUS, Counsel at PooranLaw Professional Corporation:
“Follow your true passions! While it may be easier to follow the safe path, true happiness sometimes lies in that curved, uncertain road less travelled. It may take some time to find it, but you’ll be glad you stayed the course.”
20. MAY CHENG, Certified Specialist in Intellectual Property (Trademark & Copyright) Law and Partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP:
“Success is not just the partner role in the corner office, it can be leaving big law to start your own firm working from home, or going in house with a start-up. Law degrees are becoming more of a calling card for a broader range of professional careers than ever before. Find what you love and go after it. And don’t let anyone tell you what you’re worth!”
21. JANIS CRIGER, Bencher at the Law Society of Ontario:
“Network, particularly with other women. Amplify other women every chance you get and ask that they do the same for you. Be a card-carrying member of the sisterhood and speak honestly to other women about why they need to be members too.”
22. RENATTA AUSTIN, Family and Criminal Law Lawyer at Eglinton West Law Office:
“My advice to women starting their career in law is to claim your space. We are often told to put our head down, work hard, play by the rules and wait for our turn. That approach has not worked for a lot of women who feel like they lack control over their lives and careers or find that they’re still bumping up against all kinds of glass ceilings. I say kick down the ceiling and claim your space.”
23. LAURIE LIVINGSTONE, Litigator at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP:
“I believe that as each glass ceiling is smashed, it creates a longer runway for the next generation of women to gain momentum before they start hitting barriers. I believe that increased momentum is, and will continue to, speed up the rate at which we smash through each successive barrier and even more rapid change will follow.”
24. NATHALIE GODBOUT, QC, Partner and Co-Founder, Godbout Fawcett:
“. . . don’t let the world tell you how you are supposed to do this. You can and should design your practice and your life to be a reflection of your goals and your core values. . . Don’t give in to the archaic constructs of this amazing profession of ours. We can and will change it; in fact, it’s already happening.”
25. LISA JEAN HELPS, Criminal Defence Lawyer and Founder, Helps Law Corporation:
“Women are starting to push past the natural barriers of the practice thanks to women-led firms and family-centric practices. I think we’re going to see huge strides in the next generation as the practice starts being flexible to accommodate women and men who want to be parents and skilled trial lawyers at the same time.”
26. MEG CHINELO EGBUNONU, internationally trained corporate-commercial and business lawyer, newly called in Ontario:
“While fear will see you making initial mistakes, and feeling lost 95% of the time, courage will push you to rise above the mistakes, apply yourself to the job at hand, and eventually shine through the assignment. And when it is time to make the fearful career risks, it is courage that will help recognize opportunities, while listening to your gut instinct.”
27. MELANIE SHARMAN ROWAND, Patent Agent and Lawyer, Torys LLP:
“Work hard to distinguish yourself early in your career. If you establish a solid reputation now it will open doors for you later. Get as much experience as you can and be proactive in shaping your career by seeking out work that interests you.”
28. GILLIAN HNATIW, Partner, Adair Goldblatt Bieber LLP:
“. . . I have fought to be valued for who I am, rather than what someone else wants me to be. One of my key mentors, Jasmine Akbarali (now Madame Justice Akbarali!), taught me that if you can’t get where you want to go without being true to who you are, you either have to pave a new road or pick a new destination.”
29. ERIN BEST, Partner, Stewart McKelvey:
“I see adversity as an opportunity. If something looks difficult, fewer people will do it, even if the reward is great. That is a scenario that attracts me. Sometimes it is just a matter of having the confidence to put your hand up to volunteer for a task. Sometimes you have to be vocal about asserting your willingness and your ability. . .Go all in.”
30. MELISSA MCBAIN, Partner, Daoust Vukovich LLP:
“Remember that you are the captain of your own ship; don't let anyone else take the wheel. You get to decide how you want to live. Don’t worry so much about pleasing other people or living by someone else’s standards or rules.”
31. ALEXI WOOD, Partner and Founder, St. Lawrence Barristers LLP: “Experience is important and deserves to be considered, but not blindly followed. We have the opportunity to evaluate the status quo, and consider if there are ways to improve. It is essential that we ask questions, critically evaluate the answers, and forge our own paths where existing structures aren’t adequate.”
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.