Several people wrote to me to suggest that I profile Alexi Wood as part of this series. So here she is!
Alexi tells us about her unique path in law, why she chose the path she did, and provides advice for lawyers starting on their own paths:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I love my current practice! In September 2017, I founded St. Lawrence Barristers LLP with Phil Tunley. St. Lawrence Barristers is a cutting-edge litigation boutique, that assists clients in a range of commercial and regulatory matters. My practice areas include commercial litigation, health law, privacy, defamation, and harassment. I act for a wide range of clients, including individuals, small and medium size businesses, and not for profit companies. I have acted for clients before a variety of administrative tribunals, at all levels of court in Ontario, and at the Supreme Court of Canada. In addition, I am an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law where I teach Advanced Torts and Trial Advocacy.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I went to law school to work in international human rights and humanitarian law. I was fortunate to work for a couple of different international NGO’s right after law school (in South America and Africa) and with the UN in Geneva. I then moved back to Toronto, where I grew up, and went to work for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for 5 years.
I did the reverse of what a lot of people do – I started in not for profit, and then moved to private practice. It was only after that work, and 7 years after I graduated from law school, that I articled, and have been in private practice since.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
I have always been guided by a strong belief in social justice, which was instilled in me by my grandfather who taught me to “make a contribution.”
I have never been one to measure my life in certain expected milestones. At each stage in my practice, I have considered opportunities that arose and made choices, which led me to where I am now. I started my own firm for a variety of reasons. A main reason was to be able to have the freedom to control my practice – not just in the areas of law in which I practice but in the way in which I practice. My practice allows me to tackle interesting legal issues and challenges, while maintaining a strong social justice practice.
I also like to believe I have been able “to make a contribution” to the practice of law in a variety of ways, whether it be contributing to the law by helping to push the boundaries of legal precedent or contributing to the profession by mentoring and teaching.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
Opening my own firm is high on the list of my most significant achievements! I have had many incredible opportunities that all built towards opening St. Lawrence Barristers last year. I am very proud to have contributed to the advancement of the law for a range of amazing client and organizations, including appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on a variety of issues such as privacy and police powers.
Since founding St. Lawrence Barristers, I am proud of the work I have done assisting my clients. In particular, I am very proud to have represented, along with two exceptional lawyers, my colleague Jennifer Saville and co-counsel Tatha Swann, a group of actresses who alleged they experienced harassment while working at Soulpepper Theatre Company. In reaching an early resolution to this matter, I am proud of the way we advocated for our clients and contributed to the discussion about harassment and gender discrimination.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
This is an interesting time to practice law in Canada. While there is still a lot of work to do, women are succeeding in breaking through barriers, including the standard responses of “this is how we’ve always done it” and “this is how things work in the practice of law.”
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.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
There are many different measures for success, and the traditional firm model is not the only model. There are benefits to starting (or staying) in a traditional firm, but it’s not the only option. Your career is long and there are many different paths you can choose at different stages.
Don’t be afraid to ask why. Ask the tough questions, evaluate the answers, and choose the path that is right for you.
Thank you Alexi for taking the time to answer these questions and participating in this series!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled Melissa McBain, Erin Best, Gillian Hnatiw, Melanie Sharman Rowand, Meg Chinelo Egbunonu, Lisa Jean Helps, Nathalie Godbout Q.C., Laurie Livingstone, Renatta Austin, Janis Criger, May Cheng, Nicole Chrolavicius, Charlene Theodore, Dyanoosh Youssefi, Shannon Salter, Bindu Cudjoe, Elliot Spears, Jessica Prince, Anu K. Sandhu, Claire Hatcher, Esi Codjoe, Kate Dewhirst, Jennifer Taylor, Rebecca Durcan, Atrisha Lewis, Vandana Sood, Kathryn Manning, Kim Hawkins, Kyla Lee, and Eva Chan. Sign up to have these profiles sent directly to your email address and stay tuned for the next post soon!
I started this blog series because I was tired of hearing about women leaving law and wanted to hear about women leading in law. The "Women Leading in Law" series focuses on good news stories and highlights amazing women succeeding in the legal profession. Each post includes the profiled lawyer's answers to six questions. Prepare to be inspired! The series will be "pausing" at the end of December 2018 for something new and will return at a later date.
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.