This week we are fortunate to hear from Lisa Jean Helps the Founding Partner of Helps Law Corporation and one of the leading criminal defence lawyers in British Columbia.
When I first reached out to the Twitterverse back in December 2017 for "leading lawyers" to profile in this series, Lisa was quick to respond with several wonderful candidates. This showed me she is clearly the type of lawyer who never hesitates to lift up and celebrate those around her. And of course, her candidates all suggested that I profile Lisa as well. So here it is!
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I started Helps Law Corporation in 2004, at the conclusion of articling, mostly from my apartment. We’ve definitely grown! We now have a large office space across from the Court of Appeal in downtown Vancouver. I have two staff members, a student and an associate now. We are mostly criminal defence trial counsel, although we also take on appeals (which accounts for about half of my actual work) and regulatory hearings at regulatory bodies for professionals, like the Teacher Regulation Branch and College of Dental Surgeons. We also do immediate roadside prohibition work, the administrative sanction that has replaced criminal impaired driving charges.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I was working in the book industry for the Great Canadian Book Company as an assistant buyer and I loved it! I was the restock manager for the entire country. GCBC was owned by Hachette, which was headquartered in Paris and I was told the easiest way to move up the corporate ladder was to get a law degree. So I went! I’d always been interested in the law, but a lawyer who came to my high school’s career night was so discouraging, I went into books instead. I often feel so lucky that I ended up where I’d always wanted to be.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
You can never underestimate the power of mentorship. I knew from my first semester at UBC Law that I wanted to be a criminal lawyer (I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to my amazing boss, Anna, at Hachette for never going back…) but it seemed like such tough going. I was encouraged by then-Dean Joost Bloom, and Richard C.C. Peck, the latter of whom helped me find my amazing principal, Paul Danyliu, to article with. From Paul, I knew what kind of cases I wanted to do and it was just a matter of working toward getting them.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I am proudest of the mentorship I have been able to return. I’ve been the principal to seven articling students, and literally hundreds of criminology and law students. I am so proud of how many of my “kids” go on to fulfilling careers that are right for them.
Otherwise, I’m proud of building a good business and of always being prepared for court! I loved being at the Supreme Court of Canada for R v Sinclair, the leading case on right to counsel, and I’m proud of being asked to ad hoc as a prosecutor. I also love lecturing to the police and feel very honoured to do so to the municipal undercover unit and at the RCMP training centre. It’s unusual for criminal defence counsel to be asked!
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
Key challenges are always going to be that you are held to a different standard than your male peers. There is always going to be a judge or other counsel who treats you as though you have less authority or less right to be there. However, I believe that, because women are socialized to be considerate of other’s feelings and to value empathy, there is a huge opportunity for women to excel as trial lawyers. A good trial lawyer can always figure out where the witness is coming from and what they’re motivated by; this kind of imagination is crucial, and I think women have it in droves. We haven’t been taught that women have an advantage as trial lawyers, but we do.
I do see the practice widening in scope. Women are starting to push past the natural barriers of the practice thanks to women-led firms and family-centric practices. I think we’re going to see huge strides in the next generation as the practice starts being flexible to accommodate women and men who want to be parents and skilled trial lawyers at the same time.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
I just wrote a whole article about this, which can be found on my linkedin page here.
However, for women specific advice, I’d say this: find amazing mentorship. It’s out there. Go out to events and meet people, especially something like the Trial Lawyer’s Association of BC’s Women Lawyer’s Retreat,and talk to women who are doing the work you want to be doing over the course of your career. I have never had anyone turn me down for a coffee and a talk, and even just hearing a reassuring word is sometimes all you need to keep going.
Thanks Lisa. It is so true that a kind or reassuring word can be so powerful for someone who needs to hear it!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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 continue until December 2018.
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.