A few months ago, a reader of this blog series asked if I could profile women lawyers who successfully re-entered the practice of law after taking some time away. The leading lawyer profiled in this post, Melanie Sharman Rowand, did just that: successfully returned to practice after a nine year break. Read on to learn more about Melanie's practice, her experiences and her tips for lawyers starting their legal careers:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I am a patent agent and lawyer in the IP and Regulatory Group at Torys LLP in Toronto. I have an advanced degree in botany/biology and specialize in the life sciences sector – including food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology. My clients range from start-ups and universities to leading national and international corporations. I use my science background every day and am always learning something new.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I was in graduate school and felt that law school would open up a variety of career options. My game plan was to become a patent lawyer, which was what I ended up doing.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Both – plus a lot of hard work and the good fortune to work with progressive colleagues. My career path was unusual in that I took off 9 years after my second daughter was born. I stayed in touch and was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to return to my old firm. I worked very hard to establish myself in the early years of my practice and I worked very hard to relaunch my career when I returned to work. There are a lot of talented and experienced women who took time off when their children were young and are looking to re-enter the workforce – there is a lot of untapped potential out there.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
Relaunching my practice was my biggest challenge and proudest accomplishment. I have been back at work for four years now and it almost feels like I never left. However, I have come back with a little more life experience and maturity, which can be helpful when interfacing with clients.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
There are tremendous opportunities for women in law. But for those women who wish to have children, there can be a tension between the timing of their biological clock and the partnership track. On the positive side, women (and men) have more options than ever before. Law firms are becoming more open to alternative working arrangements, and there are an increasing array of in-house options to choose from.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
(i) Work hard to distinguish yourself early in your career. If you establish a solid reputation now it will open doors for you later. Get as much experience as you can and be proactive in shaping your career by seeking out work that interests you.
(ii) Foster connections with colleagues and classmates and treat everyone with respect– remember that it is a really small bar with lots of mobility so your fellow classmates and colleagues may be future clients, employees or employers.
(iii) Tap into the women’s networking groups – they are fantastic.
(iv) When an opportunity falls in your lap, don’t be afraid to run with it.
(v) Work hard and do your best, but don’t be overly hard on yourself – if you have a setback, dust yourself off and keep going.
Thank you Melanie for taking the time to answer these questions (these questions can be hard to answer!) and for sharing your experiences with us.
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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 continue until December 2018.
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.