Welcome back to the Women Leading in Law blog series. I have been posting on a daily basis, but, as we are all getting used to new routines, the profiles will be posted with less frequency. They will still be coming, though, so stay tuned!
Today we have the pleasure of learning from Carissa Tanzola and employment and labour lawyer:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
As a partner at Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP, I represent both unionized and non-unionized employers in all aspects of employment and labour law. However, over the years I have developed a specialty in workplace accidents, occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation, human rights, disability management and accommodation. I am particularly interested in how these issues intersect in multiple and/or concurrent jurisdictions.
Alongside my practice, I have been an active volunteer with the Ontario Bar Association’s Labour and Employment Section Executive for 10 years (having Chaired twice). In 2019, I began volunteering with Pro Bono Ontario’s free legal advice hotline and have agreed to assist with legal content for the ROSA initiative (digital access to justice and training with respect to workplace sexual harassment and funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Fund). I believe that as lawyers, we have a unique opportunity to help others, and I try to do that.
2. Why did you go to law school?
Growing up, I always wanted to be a lawyer. I even completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science in hopes that it would look better on a law school application (it was fortuitous that I enjoyed the courses!) However, as I was applying to law school, I began to worry that I was proceeding because it was my “plan” rather than what I really wanted. I ultimately chose to continue with the application and attend law school because I felt reassured that a legal degree would be generally useful. It was absolutely the right choice and I love being a lawyer. For me, meeting new people, learning about different industries and businesses and assisting clients navigate important legal issues is very fulfilling.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Like most, I got to where I am today by both design and chance.
During my second year of law school, I met a leading labour and employment lawyer at an event about practicing labour and employment law. After the panel discussion, I gathered my courage to approach him and asked if I could speak to him again about his practice. Perhaps not expecting me to accept, he invited me to observe a hearing that summer. I believe my early bold networking efforts set me apart from other summer student applications, helped secure my summer student position, and paved the way for me to continue in the area of labour and employment law.
Developing my practice in workplace accidents, workers’ compensation, human rights and disability management happened gradually, but with purpose. I was enthusiastic about these areas and, as such, actively sought to work with lawyers who had specialized expertise and could support my practical education and professional development. By just popping into colleagues’ offices to inquire about what they had on their plate connected me to some really important files that were key to my growth.
About two years after the birth of our first child, I was appointed to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) as a Vice Chair. I believe my skill-set was uniquely suited to the role and the opportunity came at a time where I needed to slow down and assess what I wanted, professionally. It was an invaluable experience. I really enjoyed my time at the WSIAT and believe adjudicating cases and writing decisions has given me a unique perspective on the practice of law. However, I also became keenly aware of how important managing issues of overlapping jurisdiction is for employers and I found myself wishing I was able to assist more in that regard rather than merely adjudicate the very specific issues I was seized with.
In late 2018, just after the change in the provincial government and while I was waiting for confirmation of my reappointment to the WSIAT, I was invited into the partnership at Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP where I could continue my general practice of labour and employment, as well as continue to build my more specific practice of workplace accidents and injuries, workers’ compensation, human rights, accommodation and disability management. I seized the opportunity.
In short, where I am today is equal parts creating my own path, building and solidifying a foundation upon which to draw, and unapologetically looking for and taking opportunities that work for me and for my family. In my case, I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed private practice until I was missing it.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
Of course, I am proud of my two amazing children (ages 5 and 3). They keep me grounded and remind me of what is truly important.
I don’t think there is one situation or case I am most proud of. Some have been a lot of fun and true successes. Others have taught me a lot. For me, my achievements are a collection of cumulative experiences:
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
Since my call in 2008 to now, I believe things have changed for women in the practice of law and that they will continue to change – for the better. However, being an ambitious female lawyer with a young family means I am continually trying to “balance” multiple responsibilities and interests, and sometimes I feel that I have to justify my choices. Thankfully, I have had some impressive women role models and mentors who have helped me to navigate these challenges.
Women are strong and capable, and there is increasing support for women to speak up and be relentless and unforgiving in doing so. I believe women have a unique perspective and that they need to be heard. This change is starting to occur and perhaps in the future it won’t even take a second thought.
I am also encouraged to see so many women support each other and build each other up. With initiatives like Women Leading in Law, it can only improve further.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Some of the advice I have been given by amazing females (both lawyers and otherwise), as well as some of my own advice is as follows:
Thank you Carissa for your wise words and for taking the time to participate in this series.
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: 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.