I am so excited to profile Suzie Seo in the Women Leading in Law series. I met Suzie on the first day of law school. We were sitting next to each other in the large lecture hall waiting for the Dean's Welcome Address, both a little nervous, neither of us knowing anyone. We were pretty much inseparable for the remainder of law school, even becoming roommates for two years. Although our legal careers are very different and we live in different parts of the country, I am truly honoured to call Suzie a dear friend, supporter, confidante, and an amazing woman who is leading in law. I hope you enjoy reading about Suzie's interesting career path and advice for new lawyers:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business.
I’m currently in a transition period.
The first transition is that in October 2018, after practicing in-house at the Senate of Canada for over 12 years -- Legal Counsel (2006-2012), Parliamentary Counsel (2012-2017) and Assistant Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel (2017-2018) -- I decided to start a new chapter in my legal career as Legislative Counsel with the Government of British Columbia in Victoria. Over a 7-week period, I wound down my practice -- advancing as many of my files as possible to see them to completion or to a state to transition over to colleagues -- while at home my spouse and I listed and sold our house privately; culled, packed and shipped our belongings across the country; and got ready for our cross-country road-trip with two kids in tow. I also began the process of being called to the BC Bar. I began my new post as Legislative Counsel in mid-October, exclusively drafting legislation (Bills, Regulations and Orders in Council) and enjoying the benefits that come with having ministry solicitors and policy advisors as drafting instructors!
The second reason for the transition period came two months into my new job when I decided to submit an application for a one-year Parliamentary Counsel position that unexpectedly came up at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. It is now June and I have been at the Legislative Assembly for a little over 4 months. In many ways I have returned to my former practice of law. As in-house counsel to the Legislative Assembly, I provide legal services and advice, upon request, to the House, presiding officers, parliamentary committees, Members and their legislative and constituency office staff, and to the officers of the Legislative Assembly and the administrative departments they oversee that consist of both parliamentary and corporate branches like HR, IT and Finance. As a Table Officer, I sit at the Table alongside the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly during House proceedings, providing procedural advice to presiding officers and Members. And lastly, as a member of the senior management team, I contribute to the governance, strategic and other corporate initiatives of the Legislative Assembly.
2. Why did you go to law school?
I went to law school because I wanted to become a lawyer in one or more of the following practices areas, which coincidentally all start with “i”: international law; immigration law; intellectual property law. I studied what interested me during four years of undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto: human biology, zoology, anthropology and Spanish. I am an immigrant (“1.5 generation” Korean-Canadian) with most of my extended family in South Korea. Since my elementary school days, I have always been intrigued, excited and agitated by human rights and public policy issues. I thought I could build on all of this by studying law and pursuing a legal career in any one of the three “i” practice areas. Plus, I liked school and wanted to continue studying.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Probably a bit of both. I strived for and worked hard to achieve each of the
stepping stones -- law school, summering jobs, articling, legal jobs -- that led me to
where I am today (design). But I didn’t know, as each stone was being laid, what
the final destination would be (chance). I would be self-centered and foolish to not
acknowledge the role of my supportive and loving family who has always been my
cheering squad at every milestone in my life (and in between), encouraging me and
keeping me both grounded and buoyant in love. My mom and dad pray for me
everyday, so I believe there is also divine design in how I got to be where I
am today. What does the future hold for me?! I don’t know...
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
Work-wise, I would say working with Senators to work on various pieces of legislation that have become law over the years has been my most significant achievement because I directly contributed to the work of federal lawmakers that resulted in a direct, tangible and sometimes life-changing impact on Canadians. Looking back not too far, I am also proud I let myself reflect on where I was in my legal career and what I wanted to do in the next decade and beyond that led to the major change in my career path and to my family’s and my life last year.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
Not enough women in senior leadership positions in both the private sector (including law firms) and public institutions continues to be both a challenge and area of opportunity for women in law.
There is also the societal perception problems that many women lawyers, including those in senior positions, face in their everyday interactions with clients, opposing counsel and others in the course of their practice and the additional work required of them to be constantly mindful of managing the fine line (examples below) that is nevertheless more often than not crossed for them:
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Be purposeful in building diverse networks early in your career within the legal community (and outside the law!) and with everyone, especially women. Don’t overthink before calling someone in those networks to think out loud.
Thank you Suzie for sharing your journey with us. I also want to mention that Suzie obtained her Civil Law degree (magna cum laude) while working full time at the Senate and won the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. I am sure the future is bright for you, no matter what it might be!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled 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. 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!
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.