I met Nandi Deterville when we both were volunteers on the executive for the Ontario Bar Association's Women Lawyers Forum. Pre-COVID we would also often run into each other at several networking events (need advice on networking? Go to Nandi, she is an expert). Nandi inspires me every time I see her with her wit, compassion, and tenacity.
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
I practice Canadian Immigration and Estate Planning lawyer with AP Lawyers in Pickering. The Firm specializes in Family Law, Immigration, Real Estate and Estate Planning Law. It has been rated number 1 family law firm in Durham Region. Angela Princewill, the founding partner, is a mediator and a member of the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario. At AP Lawyers, our mission is to help make peoples’ family lives better. This could involve (1) drafting cohabitation agreements, marriage contracts or negotiating favorable settlement in the case of separation or divorce, (2) assisting families with selling their homes and buying a new one so they can move into the next, and (3) uniting families and/or helping families through the Canadian immigration processes. We are very passionate about our mission of making peoples’ family lives better and are recipients of the Top Choice Awards for the Top Family Law Firm in the Durham Region for the previous five consecutive years.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I’ll confess that to this day, the process surround my decision to go to law school is not very clear. The year I started law school, I had been set to start my masters’ studies in International Development in the United States, by late spring, early summer I had applied and was accepted to Law School in England. At the time I began I didn’t think that I would actually practice law but use the qualification to guide my path as an international policy advisor. Once in Law School however I realised that it was exactly where I needed to be. I loved the whole process of qualifying in the practice of law.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Timing, Timing, Timing. In March of the year that I started law school I had been, as mentioned previously, actively planning on pursuing a masters program. But by September I was attending my first class of Law School in the UK. Things just seemed to fall into place once I made the decision to apply. After qualifying, I started practicing in my home country of Saint Lucia. I certainly did not envisage that I would have moved to Canada and qualify to practice here.
The processing of my own Immigration application was delayed for years, but then finalized just when I was looking for alternatives to my practice. As an NCA student, I had not appreciated the importance of the timelines in the Ontario licencing process. As a result I had not been searching for the type of articling position that I wanted. The Law Practice Program (“LPP”) turned out to be the perfect choice for me as my previous practice was in a General Practice small firm. The format of the LPP allowed me to get the experience I wanted in multiple practice areas and my placement allowed me to explore an area of practice that I had not considered before.
I applied for my current position after seeing the position posted in a Facebook post. As luck would have it, minutes after I initially read the advertisement, the post was inadvertently deleted and I could not find it. I decided to submit my application, in any event not knowing if the post was made in error, and the rest as they say is history.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
On Tuesday April 7, 2015 while attending my first OBA event by myself I could not have imagined that today I would be the incoming Vice-Chair of the OBA’s Women Lawyers Forum (“WLF”). As a foreign trained, new Canadian, I realized quite quickly that I needed a network of like-minded practitioners to help guide my career. The benefit of the free/reduced cost programing available to law students, including NCA candidates was very helpful. I was able to attend an event every month and soon found myself learning so much. The programs of the WLF were incredibly enlightening and inspiring. Getting onto the executive for the first time during the 2016-2017 term was such a proud moment. I am proud to have the opportunity to be involved with the conceptualization and planning of each program that our section executive successfully produced during my time on the executive..
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
From my perspective as a black, female, Foreign Trained Lawyer (“FTL”), there are certainly what appears to be a steeper curve in getting through the licencing process and securing a well-paying position in the profession. Typically FTLs face the difficulty of employers understanding how their skill set and experience translates to working within the Canadian legal system. As has been discussed openly in recent times, the challenges faced by black women in the profession mirror that of black women in other professions in our society.
However, our lived experience is also our greatest strength. Our mere existence is proof that we are adaptable, capable and can thrive. The opportunities are really everywhere we are willing to find them. A challenge should not mean a reason not to do. I am a firm believer that we need to perform the type of work that feeds our soul and leaves our community better than when we got there. Network, network, network. That right position that allows you to shine is there waiting for you to work towards it.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I truly believe that a bit of discomfort is my greatest motivator and teacher. If what you’re doing isn’t just a bit challenging then maybe you need to add a more challenging task, this can only improve you skills. We are in the fortunate position of being in a career that requires continuous learning, so take as many opportunities to learn not just how to do your job with the greatest efficiency but perhaps to broaden your knowledge base in unrelated fields. My other bit of advice is that you need to find your community. You don’t need to make all the mistakes yourself, learn from others. There are many like-minded people out there that are willing to offer you support. Reach out, make that uncomfortable call or send that awkward email. It might just be this thing you need to find your champion. I am fortunate to have such champions in my corner.
Thank you Nandi for participating in this series and congratulations on your new role as Vice-Chair for the OBA WLF!
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: 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.