Lisa C. Munro is the managing partner at Lerners LLP. Lisa practises commercial litigation and arbitration, including business and contractual disputes such as shareholder disputes and oppression remedy cases, class actions, and matters involving director and officer liability, transnational and cross-border law, and accountants’ and auditors’ liability.
Lisa has been a member of the Lerners LLP Executive Committee since 2007 and the Toronto Office Managing Partner since 2018. She was the founding Chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Lisa was recognized by the Women’s Executive Network as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 (2017). She received the Lexpert Zenith Award for diversity and inclusion in 2016, and was selected by “Diversity Journal” as a recipient of its 2015 Women Worth Watching Award. She is a Fellow of Litigation Counsel of America and has the Qualified Arbitrator designation from ADR Institute of Canada. She is a member of board of directors, Greater Toronto Scout Foundation, and is a recipient of Scouts Canada Medal for Good Service.
1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?
Like many students who enter and complete law school, I had a very clear idea of the kind of legal practice I wanted to pursue as a lawyer. However, as soon as I started my articles, my interests suddenly and surprisingly shifted to commercial litigation. I was lucky to become involved day to day in an out-of-town trial on a personal injury matter for three months during my articling year. Although I loved the excitement of the trial experience, I found that the legal issues that stimulated me were invariably those relating to corporate disputes. So although I think it is essential for a young lawyer or student to have a career plan to maintain focus and momentum, it must also be flexible because it can (and should) change over time.
2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?
In my view, the single most important quality in a leader is empathy. Every issue or challenge that arises when leading a group has a human element that has to be recognized and acknowledged in order to find a solution. Empathy also leads to good listening skills, which are essential to good decision making. The second most important quality is the ability to rise above personal self-interest and make decisions based upon the good of the group as a whole. I have often been surprised at how rare a skill this is! Thirdly, confidence is critical. Others will always second guess or criticize the decisions you make as a leader. Confidence comes from experience and preparedness, and from not being afraid to canvass the views of other trusted advisors when necessary to reach the decision that feels “right”.
3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?
I have learned that those who both survive and thrive in a litigation practice are not necessarily those with the highest law school marks or those who, as students, wrote the best legal memoranda. They are the young lawyers who are curious and enjoy the excitement and stimulation of figuring out problems themselves. They know how to manage the stress associated with trying and, sometimes, failing. And they understand that excelling in a litigation practice means that there are times when the intensity of a trial or lengthy motion or a difficult negotiation requires personal sacrifice – cancelling social engagements, and occasionally foregoing sleep - all of which is worthwhile because of the satisfaction of professional growth and achievement. A junior lawyer with these qualities is someone upon whom I feel I can rely and with whom I can share a laugh at the very moment when the stress almost seems too much!
4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?
As a young lawyer, I always took every opportunity that was offered to me, both with respect to the kinds of files to which I was introduced and the opportunities to be an engaged citizen in my law firm. Most of those opportunities opened doors and gave me skills that I did not even contemplate at the time. I have been often surprised at the encouragement and support I have received as I developed.
5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?
In my experience, the most difficult thing for a mid-level junior looking to advance her career is deciding what she wants her career to look like in the future. In private practice, where I have experience, there is a relentless drive to increase productivity and billable hours in the march towards equity partnership. This can be an exciting, intellectually stimulating, challenging and highly rewarding path to take. But it is slog if that is not what a mid-level lawyer really wants. She is in the enviable position of understanding the demands and expectations of the job, and also having the experience to know how to advance. So she is well positioned to make choices and take action. I see many mid-level associates flounder at this stage, despite having all this information with which to make important career decisions, because they are not prepared to or able to be honest with themselves about what they truly want and admit it if their ambitions have changed over time. Do not be passive in your career!
6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?
I have gradually come to the view that retaining women in law is all about developing personal and professional relationships. Attrition seems to happen at the greatest rate at the mid-level associate range when the lawyer has developed the basic skillset required to succeed in the profession and is looking for “something more”. That “something more” is the sense of personal fulfillment that arises as a result feeling supported by and connected to peers. Most of us know that there are a variety of places in which we can do the kind of work we want to do, but it is essential to find the workplace in which you feel that you are a valuable and contributing part of a community.
7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?
I am tempted to use the cliché, “don’t sweat the small stuff” and have tried to give myself that advice for many years. I have spent a lot of time worrying about things that never came to pass, and losing sleep over matters about which I had no control. But as I look back, I now think that that quality has driven me to try to do my best in everything I tackle. I now tell young lawyers that it is the stress and fear of failure that helps you grow and develop, so long as you can learn how to manage it!
8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?
Although lawyers are notorious for being opinionated, strong-willed, and determined to be autonomous, it has always surprised me at how few lawyers want to be leaders. This presents wonderful opportunities for those of us who want to step into leadership roles. I have always felt at my law firm that my opinion was welcomed and respected and that I could have influence in decisions affecting the future direction of the firm. So I would advise young lawyers to seek out workplaces in which they feel that sense of belonging and don’t settle for something less.This post is part of YWL's Managing Partner Series. This series features Q&A-style blog posts where women managing partners from small, mid-sized and large law firms answer questions about their path to success and share their advice for young women in law.