This profile features Anu K. Sandhu, another lawyer introduced to me through my Twitter followers (I think I am seeing a pattern here...) Anu is a family law and professional regulatory lawyer, called to the bar in both Ontario and British Columbia. What stood out for me in reading Anu's answers was her observation of the importance of integrity and intuition in a successful legal career. Neither should be ignored. Read on for some more great insights and advice:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
My practice is a mixed litigation and solicitor's practice. I have a background in many areas of law and have worked at private firms (large and small), a regulator as in-house counsel, at a human rights centre, and now in my own practice. I practice administrative and family law. I have found that running my own business offers me the flexibility I love. I'm also volunteering in various ways at the Howe Sound Women's Centre in Squamish, when I am able to, on one of the committees at Yaletown House (elderly care facility), and on a research ethics board for Fraser Health. I am able to combine community involvement with my interest in such things as health law. I am interested in pursuing work in an adjudicative capacity at some point as well.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I was very idealistic when I was younger - I was pursuing both academics and law school but while in school, I volunteered and loved everything about advocacy. My ideal was to find a small firm where I could grow and work on the types of cases that interested me. But I was also curious about public advocacy litigation in a larger sense and have been fortunate to have worked at human rights centres and have volunteered in that capacity too. Philosophy was also a huge draw for me and it turns out that it has been helpful in thinking through and strategizing on cases.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Chance. If you asked me when I was younger, I would never have thought about law school. I did not go to an academic school and did not decide early on what I wanted to do. I, in fact, changed my mind many times which I now think is healthy. I sent out some applications for law school after writing my LSAT and then travelled for six months (the best thing!) after graduating with my first degree. When I look back, however, it was a choice that makes sense. From a very young age I was interested in words, poetry (another interest of mine).
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I am most proud of the small moments during points in my career where I had to make a significant decision either affecting my life, a client's life, or the direction on a file that felt true to me. It creates a sense of integrity overall which forms a foundation. We don't always pay attention to it but the decision to take a risk and work at a human rights clinic, to work in New York for a period, to stand up for yourself, even in how you draft a letter on a file creates ripples that continue to affect your life. You may meet someone who may change your outlook or affect the direction of a case in ways that you cannot understand in the moment until later.
5. What are some key challenges and opportunities for women in law?
The challenges for women in law are real. I think we have seen the level of awareness that has been created from the "Me too" movement in the entertainment industry but frankly, this movement is taking place and needs to take place in other realms. For years, women have quietly been complaining amongst themselves about the "culture" in law which let's face it, is not always "progressive". It is the reason that it has taken so long for the truth and reconciliation momentum to pick up also. But I also think there are opportunities that are exciting and ones that we haven't even thought of yet. For example, women are increasingly setting up law firms but to the extent that they copy older and traditional models, there is a missed opportunity.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
I love this question. When I was growing up it used to be that we had to model ourselves after men to be more "credible". All the films about women working in the 1980s for example show the struggle. In my year of law school, the student body was 50% women so things have changed. I think there is a period of time where a young lawyer has to learn the ropes so to speak and I am skeptical of a lawyer hanging up her shingle too soon without understanding how to run a business, work with clients, perform the work, etc. But I also think that there are many opportunities to learn, to do the kind of work you are interested in, to find mentors, and most importantly, to work in a way that makes sense to you. A woman that I looked up to simply was running a modest law practice. 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.
Thank you Anu for taking the time to answer these questions!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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!
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!
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.