I first met Rebecca Durcan at a Law Society event in 2015 when she was running for Bencher. Rebecca's wit, intelligence, and warmth stood out (and we quickly bonded over the fact that we each had three kids). I knew leaving that event that Rebecca definitely had my vote. While Rebecca was not elected (boo!),(*update below*), she continues to impress me whenever we run into each other at legal events (and on Twitter). Read on to learn about Rebecca's successes as a lawyer and for some encouraging words that I believe will resonate with women who are considering leaving law.
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I am a professional regulation lawyer at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc. No one really understands my job. Essentially, I assist regulators. I either act as their prosecution counsel (e.g. acting as a prosecutor in a discipline hearing), or their general counsel (assisting at Council meetings, drafting regulations, bylaws, policies, etc) or their discipline committee’s independent legal counsel (I act as the lawyer to the discipline committee during a discipline hearing). As you can surmise it is really interesting and varied. SML focuses solely on professional regulation so I get to work with lawyers and clerks who marinate in this type of work. I consider myself lucky as I genuinely love my job.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I always wanted to be a lawyer. I know now that I did not fully appreciate and understand what “being a lawyer” meant.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Definitely chance. I started my career at a big law firm. I defended hospitals and regulated health professionals in malpractice claims. The work was interesting and I was able to work with some amazing lawyers, but I was not fulfilled. I thought of quitting law and doing something else. After the birth of my second son I quit altogether. And magically received a call from a friend at SML who said they were looking for someone. Eight and half years (and one more boy later) I am a partner at SML. I love the public interest element of my job. I think that was the component I was missing before. I was exposed to that during my articling year when I helped out at the Walkerton Inquiry. My job now provides me with that fulfillment.
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
I am never going to win an award from the Law Society or OBA. I will never be in Lexpert. My successes are not as noticeable to others. My achievements are more low key.
I am proud that I am a partner in my law firm. I am proud that I am an involved parent and daughter and that my kids always feel loved and appreciated. I am proud that I ran for bencher (although I did not win) as that was a good lesson for my kids (and me) to put yourself out there. I am proud of my relationships with my clients and the way in which I treat opposing counsel and registrants (I have received thank you cards from registrants who I prosecuted at discipline – how cool is that?)
5. What are some key challenges and opportunities for women in law?
Women still get judged for having a uterus. I remember being asked outright during articling interviews if I was married and if I was intending to have kids. This was forbidden even back then. But they asked.There is a belief that if you have kids, and take time off, you are not committed to your job. This is inane. That type of mindset needs to change. I became a better and more efficient lawyer after I had kids. I know that is anecdotal but it is also the experience of several of my colleagues.
I think the opportunities for women in law are going to explode. We seem to be approaching the tipping point of realizing that having a small percentage of women in positions of leadership in law firms is wrong. And a bad business move.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Don’t give up. There are going to be times when you need to gear down. And that is okay. Whether it is due to responsibilities at home (be it your children or parents) or other passions (athletics, writing a book) there will be times in your life when you cannot give your all to law. But don’t leave. Keep a toe in the water so that you can always come back and resume. It will not be easy. But you have worked so hard to get here. When (and if) you are ready to gear back up, you will be ready to do so. But don’t leave. We need strong and interesting women in the profession!
**UPDATE: With the election of Malcom Mercer as Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario in June 2018, Rebecca has now become an elected Bencher! Congrats Rebecca!
Thanks Rebecca for participating in this series. Rebecca is exactly the type of lawyer I wanted to profile and one of the reasons why I started this series in the first place. There are talented women lawyers out there who may never be in the news like Marie Henein or Beverley McLachlin, or win prestigious awards (yet!) but we need to celebrate and promote their successes and contributions to law too!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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!
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!
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.