I am pleased to introduce you to our next leading lawyer: Alysia Christiaen. Read on to learn about Alysia's legal career, practice areas, and she has some great advice for working on your business development skills:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business
I am a partner and the Chief Privacy Officer at Lerners LLP, with more than 10 years of experience in advising clients on the issues most critical to them. I practice in the areas of personal injury, privacy and class actions. I have extensive advocacy and appellate experience, including before tribunals, the Superior Court of Justice, and the Divisional Court. I am certified by the International Association of Privacy Professionals as a Certified Information Privacy Professional/Canada.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I followed a childhood dream and it fortunately, really worked out for the best! For whatever reason, I fell in love with the show, Matlock, and decided that I wanted to be like Ben Matlock (minus the ukulele – I have no musical talent).
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Grit, determination, confidence, sacrifices and hard work. I am a goal setter; I set one and then I work to achieve it. One of the more difficult things to do is figuring out the next goal now that I’m a partner!
I do want to recognize the people I have had in my corner who made it possible for me to get to where I am today. My family and friends provide unwavering support. I have been blessed with amazing mentors – both inside and outside of the practice of law. I do not believe people who say they “made it on their own”. They either have had the most lonely journey, or they have forgotten the help they have received along the way.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I’m proud of becoming a lawyer. The times we are currently living in are a reminder of the importance of the legal profession. It is our job to ensure that laws are being upheld, freedoms are not being infringed upon, and people’s rights are being protected. On a more personal note, my grandfather was very excited about my becoming a lawyer – it was great to be able to show him my diploma.
An equally important achievement was being named a 2019 Lexpert Rising Star. The recognition of my contributions to my firm and to the community, while not necessary, was very rewarding.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
Challenges: Time management – I’ll leave the demands on a woman’s time in the family vs work balance to those who have children. As a woman who has chosen not to have any, it is often assumed that I am easily able to devote extra time to non-billable activities outside of “working” hours (the typical 9-5, which really does not apply to private practice). Learning how to say “no” comes with the challenge of getting over not being seen as a team player. I may not have children to raise in my non-work time, but I do have things to devote my time to that are equally important to me.
Opportunities: The ones you make – if there is a project you want to work on, make the right people aware of that. If there is a niche area of law that you want to focus on, communicate that to your practice group leader. Most opportunities are not handed to you, they develop because of the ground work you have laid. You will find that you have more opportunities available if you get over your fear of rejection, and failing. Studies show that men will often apply for jobs or assignments even when they do not have all of the qualifications of an ideal candidate. Women on the other hand, do not. We really need to work on being more confident in our skills and abilities. When we do, more opportunities will present themselves.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
If you are headed for private practice, as you progress in your career, your business development skills become just as important as your legal skills. Do not ignore acquiring the skills you need to have a successful independent practice.
Take advantage of the business development seminars that are offered, both within and outside of the legal profession. You also need to devote time to creating a business development plan. Building a practice is not something that you can do in your “spare” moments. You should be reviewing and revising your business development plan throughout the year. Evaluate what initiatives are working for you (i.e. gaining referrals) and which are not. Do not waste your resources on initiatives that do not have a return on your time investment.
Importantly, be resilient and be patient. You will reach out to people and not get a response – do not take it personally. As anxiety-ridden as it can be, attend networking events and avoid spending all of your time with people you already know. Try to meet one new person – an easily achievable goal. It can be as simple as striking up a conversation with the person in the drink ticket line behind you.
Building a law practice is grounded on building relationships; you cannot do that overnight. It involves getting to know a person, and gaining their confidence in you and your ability to effectively represent them, their business or their clients.
Thank you Alysia for taking the time to participate in this series and for your great advice!
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!
ICYMI - previous posts profiled the following amazing lawyers: Patricia Gamliel, Megan Cornell, Yola Ventrescu, Hilary Book, Margaret Waddell, Nandi Deterville, Jennifer Quaid, Maryann Besharat, Cynthia Mason, Roots Gadhia, Evelyn Ackah, Carrisa Tanzola, Sarah Leamon, Robin Parker, Lorin MacDonald, Karen Yamamoto, Victoria Crewe-Nelson, Lynne Vicars, Kemi Oduwole, Anne-Marie McElroy, Jennifer Gold, Jordana Goldlist, Megan Keenberg, Yadesha Satheaswaran, France Mahon, Sarah Molyneaux, Richa Sandill, Vivene Salmon, Kim Whaley, Alisia Grenville, Frances Wood, Maggie Wente, Anita Szigeti, Neha Chugh, Christy Allen & Nancy Houle, Suzie Seo, Kim Gale, Alexi Wood, 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.
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.