Jennifer Gold and Frances “Frankie” Wood are co-managing partners at Wood Gold LLP.
Jennifer Gold practices family law, including mediation, primarily in Peel Region. She was called to the Bar in 2002. She is Vice-President of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario. She formerly served on the Board for North York Women’s Shelter and volunteered on the school council of her children’s elementary school. Jennifer serves as a mentor to other lawyers. She has a keen interest in diversity and inclusion issues.
Jennifer is a 2017 recipient of the Lexpert Zenith Awards celebrating the advancement of women in the legal profession. When Jennifer is not practicing law and co-managing a law firm, she enjoys singing with a highly competitive women’s barbershop quartet.
Frances M. Wood practices Family Law, Civil Litigation and Appeals. Frances obtained her law degree at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and a further degree at the University of New Brunswick. She was called to the Bar in 1998. Frances sits as a Deputy Judge of the Small Claims Court and as a Dispute Resolution Officer in the Region of Peel. She is a former President of the Peel Law Association, former Executive of the County and District Law Presidents Association and past Chair of LibraryCo. She is currently an executive member of the Family Law Section of the Ontario Bar Association. Frances regularly speaks at education events for other lawyers.
Frances has a wealth of experience representing clients in the Ontario Court of Justice and Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and the Court of Appeal. Her strong reputation as a litigator has caused her to be sought after for trials and appeals. Frances also offers mediation and applies a settlement oriented, child-focused approach to Family Law cases.
When Frances is not pursuing her legal interests and managing a diverse law firm, she is a proud parent of two rambunctious children.
By entering into partnership, Jennifer Gold and her partner, Frances Wood, sought to create an alternative to the traditional law firm and thereby achieve work-life balance and a diverse workplace. Their efforts were noted by Carol Goar in her article for the Toronto Star entitled, “Women Create Family-Friendly Law Practice”.
1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?
Jennifer: I really enjoyed litigation during my articling experience. After being called, I was hired as an associate to practice civil litigation and family law. I really enjoyed working with people and helping them transition to a new stage in their lives. I found family law practice to be very meaningful in that I can help people through a very difficult time in their lives.
Frankie: I ended up in family law purely by accident when the insurance defence firm I was working for split up. A colleague needed help with a busy practice and suggested I come and help out until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I had never planned to practice family law, but within a short time I realized that I was really enjoying the practice. I wanted to become a lawyer so that I could help people: I agree with Jennifer that practicing family law allows us to put our knowledge and expertise to work helping people at a very difficult time in their lives.
2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?
Jennifer: Leaders need to see the big picture and inspire and include their people on the journey. They need empathy to do so and also the strength to make difficult decisions. I just wrote a paper on inclusive leadership for the LSO for their May 2019 program on Addressing Discrimination and Harassment in Lawyer and Paralegal Workplaces that can be found online. Leaders should not be afraid to seek out mentorship and learn from other effective leaders.
Frankie: Let me start by saying that I agree wholeheartedly with everything Jennifer has written in answer to all questions. I have tried to add some additional thoughts to each.
A good leader inspires and guides their team. I used to think that being the boss was about telling people what to do, but in fact it's about creating an environment in which each team member has the space and the ability to find their own success. It’s not something that is taught in law schools – Jennifer and I have been learning as we go along and we continue to learn and grow as leaders.
3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?
Jennifer: I look for associates with good people skills. In family law, you are often helping people during the hardest, most stressful time in their lives. I look for associates who are good at connecting with people. I like hearing about their part-time jobs in high school and university. It tells me that they’ve worked hard. I also enjoying hearing about their volunteer work and hobbies. I rarely look at transcripts.
Frankie: I also look for people who are smart and energetic. Experience is less important that a desire and ability to learn both the law and the lawyering skills you need to practice. Some straight A students make mediocre small firm lawyers, and some C students make excellent small firm lawyers. Attitude, especially a desire to excel, is much more important than grades.
4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?
Jennifer: Connect with people who are like you and different from you. Join associations and stand up for something you believe in. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s not easy. Do it when you can. Speaking up may have the consequence of closing doors in one area but it may open doors in another. If you experience any discrimination or harassment, report it to the Discrimination and Harassment Counsel. Confidentiality is guaranteed but statistics on the complaints are reported to the LSO and Convocation.
Frankie: Start by thinking about what you want. Not what everyone has said you are supposed to want, but what you really want. Define your own success. Then you will know who you want to achieve. Do excellent work. Be impeccably ethical. Participate in the legal community – join associations, legal organizations or and community groups that have meaning for you.
5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?
Jennifer: Same as the foregoing answer but I urge them to actively help other women in their careers. We need to support each other. I’ve heard complaints from young women that they receive more support and mentorship from more men in the profession than women. I can understand how that can happen because as women, many of us still bear a greater burden of work at home including emotional work/planning. That, along with a demanding career, can seriously limit the time we have to work with others.
Frankie: You really need to get yourself out there. Getting on the Board of your local law association, or another legal organization is a great way to network and learn about our profession from a wider perspective. Don’t be afraid to write (start with a blog) and ask to present at CPD events.
6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?
Jennifer: We need to change the culture of law firms. The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion wrote a report called “Diversity by Numbers: The Legal Profession”. It was a qualitative study of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and found:
(a) Women and Racialized lawyers are strongly represented as Articling Students and Associates, but their numbers greatly reduce in Partner and Senior Leader Roles.
(b) Private practice culture is aligned with hegemonic masculinity where groups with certain “masculine” characteristics benefit while others are disadvantaged. This culture helps maintain power for this beneficiary group.
We need to move away from this culture of hegemonic masculinity. We need include greater flexibility in work for the benefit of both women and men. We need to see diversity in leadership and a culture of inclusion in work places.
Frankie: We need to get rid of the billable hour as the primary measure of success. The billable hour rewards inefficiency without regard for quality of work. (As an aside, clients also don’t care how much time you spent, they care about the work product). A lawyer with a need to get home to be with family can often produce top quality work in significantly less time than one who has no pressing need to get out of the office – we need to stop rewarding those who take more time to do the same work. We also need to respect the needs and goals of every member of the team – you need to see the whole person in order to understand how to nurture the best of them.
7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?
Jennifer: Speak out. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Frankie: Don’t let other people tell you what you want. Be brave.
8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?
Jennifer: Some say that “work life balance” is a myth. Our practice is proof that it is not. We enjoy our careers, actively parent our children and spend time with our spouses. It’s certainly not easy but it’s doable. We support and help each other to make it work.
Frankie: Hopefully, you are going to be doing this for a really long time. Enjoy yourself. Find the joy.
One last comment: I believe it is so important for women to amplify one another’s voices, show public support for one another. In that spirit, I want to share perhaps one of the most important phone calls in my career. Many years ago, Jennifer and I had a few discussions about starting our own firm. One day, in the winter of 2008 she called me and said ‘We are starting our own firm.” I replied something noncommittal like “yes, we really should, that’s a great idea.” She said “No, we are doing this. I am giving my notice today.” And with that, our firm was born. Every day I am grateful to be Jennifer’s law partner.
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.