I met our next leading lawyer through my volunteer work with the Ontario Bar Association. Lynne Vicars is the immediate Past President of the OBA and during her time as President Lynne started the Momentum campaign focussed on advancing gender equality in the legal profession. Read on for Lynne's story:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
As a long-time senior corporate counsel for Canada’s most international bank, my legal practice focussed on efficient civil litigation resolution, oversight of forensic investigations and ensuring timely, thorough regulatory responses. All of this required developing innovative practices in information governance, eDiscovery and electronic evidence management. Now, retired from the bank, I share this knowledge with clients at Heuristica Discovery Counsel LLP in our unique eDiscovery practice.
At Heuristica I oversee a talented team of lawyers dedicated to helping clients make critical, strategic decisions relating to digital evidence. I was especially attracted to Heuristica because of its track record in delivering high-quality and cost-effective solutions in an emerging practice area. Decisions made regarding evidence can have significant legal implications, including admissibility, proportionality, and defensibility. These impacts can include prejudicial evidentiary rulings, cost sanctions and the inability to recover costs. Heuristica lawyers strategize with clients to make proactive decisions about document discovery then help them find, organize and classify relevant evidence from a sea of unstructured email and other data using state-of the-art technology. In short, my practice is a unique blend of leadership, law and technology.
2. Why did you go to law school?
My dear mum, born in 1924, understandably had an old-world view. When I started high-school she suggested I take typing so that I could, “be a legal secretary and marry a lawyer”. She held lawyers in high regard. Although I found law intriguing, I viewed lawyers as scary and intimidating. When I nearly failed the typing class but showed promise in math, Mum suggested I could be a bank teller instead. She died the next year and I became a bank teller four years later. After climbing to management level at the bank, but still feeling professionally unfulfilled, I went back to school. A career counsellor at the University of Western Ontario remarked that my GPA was high enough to be admitted to law school or an MBA program. An MBA had crossed my mind but never before had I imagined that I could be a lawyer. Lawyers were smart and ambitious – I didn’t see myself as either of those things. The fact that someone else believed that I might have what it takes to be a lawyer was the spark I needed to start me on the path to my career in law.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Though outwardly it might appear my career path was carefully designed and followed, in reality there have been many meanderings along the way. I had hoped to clerk at the Alberta Court of Appeal. When I disclosed in my interview that my dream was to be in-house counsel for a bank within 5-years, the awkward silence followed by one of the Justices commenting, “then you’ll be moving back east”, was a clear indication that I had blown that opportunity. When my then husband’s career caused me to give up my practice with a firm I loved in Edmonton, I joined a small firm in Red Deer. There I developed a broader array of practice areas, which ultimately assisted me in landing a position as corporate counsel with the bank.
There was never any plan to become President of the Ontario Bar Association. That was pure chance, arising from my deeper engagement in a truly wonderful organization with kind, supportive members and staff who mentored, coached and encouraged me to be my best self.
My journey is far from over. Although I’ve retired from the bank I feel the most significant, fulfilling phase of my career is only just beginning, still without a detailed plan.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I have raised four brilliantly creative children, a daughter and three sons, and am a proud step-mom to three equally amazing step-daughters, all of whom have grown to be kind, compassionate adults who care about other people and our planet; who embrace diversity and inclusion and do not tolerate discrimination in any form. The extent to which I may have even slightly influenced any of those qualities in these remarkable young people, is my most significant achievement. I am profoundly proud of each of them!
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
The Momentum Campaign we mounted during my year as president of the OBA shone new light on the frustratingly perpetual problem of gender inequality in the legal profession and the even deeper discrimination arising from intersectionality. Although progress has been made, this is still the most incessant challenge women in law continue to face.
However, I am optimistic, because I believe that technology offers great opportunity for all lawyers both in terms of how they work and where they work. COVID-19 social distancing is quickly demonstrating how lawyers can serve clients from anywhere. It’s easy to imagine that remote work will remain acceptable, even commonplace for lawyers in the future. The myth that working remotely is less productive has been forever smashed. Virtual offices allow lawyers to provide legal services with much lower overhead and thereby offer legal services more cost effectively to clients. Innovative legal technology: predicting likely legal outcomes and damages; automating legal research functions; supporting auto-citations, electronic signing, document review and exchange; and enabling electronic hearing rooms is here now. Women lawyers who embrace these new technologies will be on equal footing with the men who do so and will excel as compared to the lawyers who remain stuck in the past. Technology has the potential to be a great equalizer for women in law but we will need all genders working together as allies, to achieve true gender equality.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Define what success means to you. Don’t try to measure up to someone else’s definition. Set stretch goals for yourself but ensure you celebrate the milestones along the journey of your career. Don’t wait until the finish line to take your first measurement, instead take pride in each accomplishment, starting with the day you are/were accepted to law school.
Don’t be afraid to take risks - a chance not taken is always an opportunity missed. Reach back and offer your hand to a woman following behind you on her own journey in law. A career in law is a great privilege. Be kind, share what you learn and enjoy every minute of it!
Thank you Lynne for agreeing to participate in this series and for sharing some of your experiences and advice.
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: 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, a network of freelance lawyers.