Welcome back to the Women Leading in Law blog series. Today's post profiles Frances (Frankie) Wood. I have had the pleasure of meeting and volunteering with Frankie at the OBA. She brings joy to any room that she is in. Read on for some great advice:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
Wood Gold is one of Peel Region’s largest family law boutique firms, with offices in Mississauga and Brampton. We started our firm in 2008 with a goal of creating a firm that worked for our own needs – both Jennifer and I had small children at the time and we wanted to create a firm in which we could provide excellent legal services and also have the family lives that we wanted for ourselves.
Since our inception, while our primary focus has been on providing top notch services to our clients, we have equally diligently fostered an environment in which individual lawyers and staff can thrive in their own way, guided by their own respective goals and ambitions.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I first went to law school at the University of Edinburgh. I had every intention of staying in Scotland and making a life there, but ultimately I chose to return to Canada. I then studied for 2 years at the University of New Brunswick in beautiful Fredericton before returning to Toronto for articles.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
A little of both. I certainly never intended to practice family law. I had planned to practice civil litigation in downtown Toronto. When my firm collapsed a year and a half after I was called to the bar, I found myself for the first time in my life actually wondering what I wanted to be when I grew up. While I tried to figure that out, I joined a colleague who was practicing family law in Mississauga. 20 years later, I am still practicing family law in Mississauga, although I still live in Toronto.
That was the accidental part.
Between 2000 and 2008 I practiced with various colleagues, but without ever really finding my place. Jennifer Gold and I used to chat, in the way one does, and say “one day we should start our own firm, set it up the way we want.” One day in the winter of 2008 she called me and said “We’re starting our own firm.” I started to respond with the usual “that’s a great idea”, when she interrupted me. “No, we are doing it. I am giving notice today. We have 30 days to set it up.” The next 30 days were a whirlwind. We had no idea how to run our own business, we had to find a location, set up the bank accounts, the software, buy equipment, design a website… everything!
My daughter was 9 months old at the time and Jennifer’s was 2. We have each had a second child along the way. It was crazy, somewhat reckless, but also incredibly liberating. From the beginning, we deliberately crafted a firm which honoured every colleague’s unique needs, goals and ambitions. 12 years on, I still consider myself incredibly fortunate to be practicing law with Jennifer and our amazing team.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I have done a lot of things in my 20+ years of practice that I am proud of. I have been President of the Peel Law Association, an executive member of CDLPA (now FOLA), and Co-Chair of LibraryCo. In each of those roles one of my key platforms was the preservation of the county libraries across the province and I am extremely proud of the work that we did on that front.
I currently have the privilege of sitting as Vice-Chair of the Family Law Section of the OBA and one of the central west representatives to OBA Council. I am also a member of the OBA Women’s Law Forum. Each year brings its own opportunities and challenges; the OBA does an amazing amount of work on behalf of lawyers across the province and in the promotion of diversity, inclusion and access to justice and being a part of that is incredibly enriching.
But what I am most proud of us is the firm that Jennifer and I have put together. We currently have 9 associates and 1 LPP candidate. Jennifer and I have deliberately created a firm that honours and promotes diversity & inclusion both for team members but also in how we practice law. While creating a viable business, we have also been able to actively promote access to justice, provide services to some of the most vulnerable residents in our jurisdiction, all while fostering an environment in which every member of our team can achieve their own respective goals.
5. What are some key challenges as well as opportunities for women in law?
I think one of biggest challenges is that we are taught from an early stage to define success according to the same standards of success that have been established my previous generation of (mostly) white, male lawyers. While the world has changed in many ways, measures of success – billable hours, income, making partner, the corner office – for the most part, have not. Women lawyers are led to believe that if we just work hard enough, we can “have it all.” But of course, until there are 48 hours in a day, that is actually impossible. So, we are set up to fail.
Some years ago, I was asked at an event about how women could be successful in law. The audience were all students or young lawyers. I told them that the first step in achieving success is to define what success means to you. Not what it means to your family, your friends or your colleagues. Not what you have been trained to think it means. But really sit down with your thoughts, think about your life, what you really want, and create your own definition of success. And then go and get it.
And that is why I think that our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity. We have the chance to redefine what success means and to create work environments in which we can each pursue our own respective visions of success.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Also, don’t let anyone ever make you feel that you do not deserve to be exactly where you are. For too many years of my life, I was inexplicably drawn to men who mistreated me, both personally and professionally. I have worked in my share of abusive environments – the details are irrelevant now – believing that if I were strong enough I could handle it and that if I was upset it was because I wasn’t tough enough.
I now have wonderful personal and professional relationships. My advice to any woman starting her legal career is to define her own success and never accept poor treatment from anyone.
Such great advice. There are many lawyers out there working in an area of law or for a law firm that is not a good fit for them (or is an abusive place), thinking that if they just "toughen up" it will get easier or they are "weak" if they can't "make it" in that environment. This is such backwards thinking, but an easy emotional trap to fall into. Thank you Frankie for reminding us to define our OWN success and go after it.
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: 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.