This week we are heading to the East Coast to learn about Erin Best a partner at Stewart McKelvey in St. John's Newfoundland. I was introduced to Erin when I reached out to my network so I could profile more women lawyers outside of Ontario. Read on to learn more about Erin's life before law and her interesting litigation practice. She also has the "Best" first name too! (Okay, that was a painfully bad attempt at a pun but I felt I had to having the same name and all - Don't worry I'll stick to lawyering/blog-writing. . .)
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I am primarily a litigator. I started out doing insurance defence and found this to be an excellent way to hone my skills since I got to run a high volume of files through the litigation process. Now, as chair of our NL litigation group I have the privilege of being exposed to many diverse areas of litigation. I’m happiest when I am learning something new, so litigation suits me in that regard. I’m currently acting as counsel for our former premier at a public inquiry so I am in hearings full time for about 10 months. I learn something new every day. It’s wonderful.
Another area I practice in is IP. I was a singer before I went into law so I have always had a keen interest in copyright which grew into an interest in intellectual property generally. My intellectual property practice and the pro bono work I do in that area has become an exciting and meaningful part of my life.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I recommend law school to anyone with a thirst for learning, whether you plan to be a lawyer or not. I went to law school because I wanted to be a lawyer. I admire the ethics and the integrity of the profession.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
I came to law a little later than my classmates and I have always felt like my maturity gave me a little extra perspective. I have worked hard but I think working smart is more important. I always take the time to take stock, think and plan. That time spent planning has been crucial. That being said, law is demanding and I have been lucky to be healthy enough to keep up.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I have had some great experiences in the NL courts, but I am the type of person who will always look back and remember what I could have done better. I am very proud of my pro bono work for musicians and artists in NL. I have put in a lot of hours in that area and made friends for life. I felt pretty good when I walked up to the stage to accept my Leading Lawyer Under 40 award, not because I won the award, but because so many people from my firm flew to Toronto to cheer me on. That was really something. As for my most significant achievement, my network and my practice are continuing to expand at a rapid rate, so I think my most significant achievement is yet to come.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
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. I constantly seek out role models who can inspire me to build that confidence and I have found many. My firm has a female CEO and CFO, both incredible people. I am a big fan of Eleanor Beaton, Amy Cuddy... I could go on.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Go all in.
You read so much about work-life balance these days, but the truth is that balance is different for everyone. Trying to mimic someone else’s idea of balance is futile. For example, we are often told that we need to unplug and take time away from work to manage stress. Leave work at the office they say. Well, I find that funny because it was not until I gave myself over to the practice of law as a lifestyle that I realized what work-life balance meant for me. Law is not a 9-5 job. I prefer to allow my life experience to inform my practice and vice versa. I need to love what I do, otherwise what is the point of doing it? I don’t shut off my lawyer brain when I go home for the evening. Quite the opposite actually. Most of my best thoughts on a file happen while I am walking my dog or watching a great concert or spending time with family. Once I immersed myself in my practice in this way I started to find it more satisfying and ultimately, less stressful.
Thank you Erin for taking the time to tell us about your practice and your legal career to date. And thank you to my Twitter network for introducing me to Erin!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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" in 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, a network of freelance lawyers.