This profile, featuring Melissa McBain a partner at Daoust Vukovich LLP, came about thanks to The Advocates' Society End of Term Dinner this year. A lawyer at my table, Daniel Waldman, told me he enjoyed reading my blog (*blush*) and that Melissa would be the perfect lawyer to profile in this series. I agree. Read on to learn more about Melissa, her career and her advice to new lawyers:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I am a partner at Daoust Vukovich LLP. Considered one of the best law firms in Canada for commercial property, leasing and development, Daoust Vukovich LLP has a team of highly qualified lawyers and law clerks serving the specialized needs of clients who acquire, develop and use commercial real estate, whether as landlords or tenants. Our firm is unique and exceptional in that it is the only boutique law firm of its type in Canada. Our approach to the law, in our areas of practice, is practical and "real world". Understanding our clients' businesses is our priority. We provide expert industry knowledge with a business-minded approach, to effectively and timely achieve our clients’ goals. We are also the lawyers who teach lawyers; we are well attuned to new legal developments in the areas of property leasing, real estate and related litigation.
Our firm is also unique in that we have as many women in the partnership as we do men!
My law practice is dedicated to representing commercial landlords and tenants in a variety of commercial leasing matters. Over the years I have developed expertise in managing commercial lease transactions for all types of properties, including office, retail, industrial and mixed-use. My practice includes the interpretation of commercial leases and the coordination of major projects, including multi-location deals and due diligence on acquisitions.
In connection with my law practice, I am also active in commercial leasing and real estate industry organizations. I frequently write and speak at legal and industry conferences and seminars including the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Canadian Law Conference, and the Law Society of Upper Canada. I am a member of Toronto CREW (the Toronto Commercial Real Estate Women’s Association), an active member of the Greater Toronto NAIOP Programs Committee, as well as the Program Planning Committee for the Canadian Law Conference of the ICSC. I was the Vice-Chair of the ICSC 2018 Canadian Shopping Centre Law Conference Program Planning Committee and am currently the Chair of the ICSC 2019 Canadian Shopping Centre Law Conference Program Planning Committee.
2. Why did you go to law school?
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what else to do with my honours degree at the time and had no idea whatsoever what I was signing up for! I thought about being a teacher or a psychologist (I majored in psychology), but neither of those options completely drew me in. By fluke, in 3rd year of undergrad, I went with a friend who was interested in law school to hear the Dean speak about applying. Law school was never on my radar before that, and afterwards I thought to myself “hey, I have high marks and that sounds like something that could open a lot of doors, maybe I should apply!”. While that story is not even a little bit inspiring, I believe it is a common one as I met several others in law school with similar experiences!
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Definitely both. Prior to graduating law school, chance probably played the biggest role and I would probably not describe my path as being ‘strategic’ at that stage in my life. The words “young and foolish” do come to mind! I was a summer student at our firm in 2nd year of law school and returned as an articling student, became an associate, and then was admitted into the partnership. It was at the articling stage that I really started to focus on my career path in terms of where I wanted to go with my legal practice and in the real estate industry. Since then, the trajectory of my career has been largely impacted by deliberate decisions.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
Professionally, I am most proud of being a member of our firm’s partnership. This is not because of typical assumptions about status or achievement that arise from the concept of being a “partner of a law firm” (though that definitely does help a little when you walk into a boardroom full of 50 year old men), but because I truly have a seat at the table with this wise and wonderful group of individuals. I have a voice and opportunity and I do not take that for granted. With the support and influence of each of my partners, over the last 11+ years at this firm, I have built a thriving legal practice and a strong profile as an expert in my practice area. As a result of this support and influence (and, of course, my own hard work and dedication to my career), I was named in the 2019 Best Lawyers™ in Canada list.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
In terms of challenges, in my view, there is no denying that the “boys’ club” mentality is still alive in the legal profession. I don’t think I need to belabor this point. Suffice it to say that it is, in fact, real and it still exists. I think it is one of the key challenges for women in law (as it is in many professions), especially when combined with ageism (i.e. those negative assumptions that are made about the capabilities of young women). We still often have to prove ourselves twice and that is a challenge. And, more than that, it’s infuriating.
Now that I have vented, there are many great opportunities for women in law, there is also no denying that. This blog series provides evidence of that. One of the great opportunities I have experienced in the legal profession is having strong mentors and champions (both men and women). Finding the right mentors and champions opens up a lot of opportunity in the legal profession – these are the people who actively support you, and ensure your experience and career is propelled and that you receive recognition.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Remember that you are the captain of your own ship; don't let anyone else take the wheel. You get to decide how you want to live. Don’t worry so much about pleasing other people or living by someone else’s standards or rules. Singer, songwriter and record producer, Santigold, said it best:
“I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up
If I could stand up mean for the things that I believe”
Thank you Melissa for taking the time to answer these questions and for your great advice!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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. 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 be "pausing" in December 2018 for something new and will return at a later date.
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.