This week in the Women Leading in Law blog series, we learn about the career and law practice of Hilary Book. Read on for some great tips for lawyers:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
I founded my own commercial litigation firm, Book Law, about 1.5 years ago after a dozen years practicing at other firms on Bay Street. We do everything from breach of contract cases to professional negligence to real estate disputes, with a lot of experience in oppression and fraud cases.
Our focus is on providing smart, practical advice and representation. This means helping clients make decisions that are in their best long-term strategic interests, and finding creative solutions rather than just marching rigidly through each step of the litigation process.
One of the things I love most about my practice is its diversity, both in terms of the cases we handle and the people we represent. We act for a wide range of clients, from publicly traded companies to family-owned businesses to individual entrepreneurs, in all sorts of different industries. We also act for clients from many different cultural communities, with many different life stories. The diversity of my practice requires constant learning on my part, which is a joy.
2. Why did you go to law school?
In some ways, it was a default. I always loved going to school, but I didn’t want to go into grad school or academia – I do much better with structure and frequent deadlines! I enjoyed some of the work I’d done in undergrad in legal philosophy and restorative justice, and thought law school would be a good way to continue to explore Big Questions. I went to law school planning on becoming a “constitutional lawyer”, without any real idea of what that meant. Then I got to law school and found that constitutional law was my least favourite course, and that I really enjoyed my private law courses.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
A bit of both. I knew I wanted to be a courtroom litigator, and I actively sought out the experiences and work that I thought would get me there. At the same time, no one succeeds without a little of bit of luck to be in the right time at the right place.
As for opening my own firm, that’s not something I ever planned to do or thought I could do, but as it turns out, I was wrong. It just goes to show that, even if you do have detailed career plans, you need to stay open to new ideas and adapt accordingly.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
Book Law. I started the firm with a lot of confidence in my legal abilities, but I was a bit more concerned about my ability to generate work. I’m really proud that I’ve created a financially successful firm while doing the work I like doing, and practicing in a way that accords with my values.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
In commercial litigation, it can still be really challenging for women to be taken seriously as advocates and, especially, as lead counsel. This is very problematic when it comes to landing new work. From time to time I’m told outright that a client doesn’t want to retain me because I’m a woman (which at least has the virtue of confirming that it isn’t all in my head), but more often I hear variations on “you seem really nice, but are you tough enough to handle my case?” (They always come around once they see me in court, but if I don’t get hired in the first place, they don’t get the chance.)
I believe that women have the opportunity to be leaders for change in law. The challenges that many of us still face give us perspective on the systems, attitudes and practices that serve to exclude so many. While we still have a long way to go, there is a lot of openness now to hearing our perspectives and voices.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Be a smart and strategic advocate for yourself, just as you are for your clients.
Be true to yourself – your values, your interests, your goals. Take care of yourself, physically and mentally – it is not in the best interests of you, your clients or your firm for you to burn out.
We all need support, so nurture your network. Stay in touch with classmates, join professional organizations and be an active volunteer. Seek out mentors and sponsors, and be a generous mentor yourself. These relationships are critical to sustaining you through a long and happy career that will inevitably have ups and downs.
Thanks Hilary 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: 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.