UPCOMING EVENTS: Join us for Wine Tasting with the Grape Witches on Thursday, November 28, 2019 - Register online now!
Log in


Join the Conversation!

  • The YWL Blog provides a forum for writing and discussion on various topics of interest to young women in law. Click on the dark grey icons below to read more or leave a comment. Use the hashtag #YWLBlog and share your thoughts on social media!

    • YWL is now accepting submissions for blog posts. Send your submissions to info@youngwomeninlaw. 

      Please note that the views expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of YWL.

        << First  < Prev   1   2   3   Next >  Last >> 
        • 15 Aug 2019 3:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          You haven’t billed your 7.5 hours today and you still have to go home to get ready for your friend's birthday (and you’re already late). But it can’t be a late night because you have so much work to do. You may work all weekend and miss your husband’s soccer game.

          Above = me last year. Then I started blogging and advocating for international students and then I had an epiphany….should I just start my own firm?

          Just the thought scared me half to death.

          The unknown was terrifying – would I fail miserably? Would I make money? Would I get clients?

          Here are my 7 top reasons why starting my own firm was the best decision I ever made.

          1. Flexibility

          Having my own schedule is the number one reason I love being the boss. My husband works shift work and now I have the ability to clear my schedule to take a day off (during the week) to hang out with him.

          I’ll admit - it is not common that I can do this. As I’ll get to later, being on your own means you work many (many) hours. But I try to take time off when I can and it is always an option. I’ve been sick and headed straight home from the office to lie down. No need to ask for permission.

          2. Hard Work Doesn’t Scare You

          Work. It’s a four letter word but when everything falls on your shoulders, it can be crippling. Suddenly you are the: Office Manager, Admin Assistant, IT Support, Bookkeeper, Accounts Payable/Receivable, Marketing Manager….oh and Lawyer.

          There is a paradox between saving costs and saving yourself from having a stress-related heart attack. Working 24/7 is exhausting and in my second month I was already overwhelmed. At the beginning, if you start with 0 clients (like me), the last thing you want to do is add to your overhead.

          There are really cool programs offered by the legal community to help. One is the Osgoode Internship Program, which offers a free law student for two months in the summer. Another is a career coach offered by the Law Society. Also, my group, NCA Network, is always open to volunteer opportunities available for students.

          The most important person you want to “add to your payroll” is a bookkeeper – as you must reconcile your books by the 25th of the prior month and the Law Society audits all new lawyers within the first year.

          Probably the first thing I realized was that I needed help. I have the most fantastic bookkeeper, receptionist, and law student. They are lifesavers.

          3. Willing to Learn

          I’m not just talking about the law. There is so much to learn about running your own practice. How to do your accounting, how to manage your time, how to keep track of potential clients.

          Then of course, there’s the law, which includes making sure you are taking the right steps in a file.

          All of it is hard, rewarding, and fun! You won’t know everything, and you aren’t expected to. I recommend picking a specialty and staying in it. I practice estate litigation and I truly enjoy it. Estate litigation is when someone passes away or loses capacity and issues arise. For example, I have worked on will challenges, claims of a common law spouse when their partner passes or executor/estate trustee removals. Plus, I want to delve deeper in this practice area to become an expert. Is there one area that speaks to you?

          4. Entrepreneurial

          Hands down you have to hustle. There is nothing handed to you on a silver platter. This brings me into my next point…

          5. Love for Networking

          Coffee meetings, lunch, events…even if you hate coffee (I only drink decaf coffee and herbal tea) – socializing is important. People want to know YOU. Business relationships are built on trust. Can I trust you? Do I like you? If you don’t put yourself out there, it is hard to develop strong relationships.

          Get out there and meet with lawyers in your practice area. Maybe they’ll have a conflict or a file that is too small for them. Meet lawyers in other practice areas. Maybe you can cross-refer work to each other.

          6.  Ride the Highs and Lows

          Oh there are days when you want to throw in the towel and move to Tahiti. Other days, like when I won a case in court a few weeks back, I was on Cloud 9.

          The roller coaster of emotions and the unstable income can get really old really quick. What keeps you up at night? Some of us sleep better with a steady income and work routine. Some of us sleep better building something to call our own.

          7. Being you

          My favourite part of having my own firm is running a file how I want to run it. I instill my own personality and honesty into my practice. I can be my true authentic self and I keep learning more about who I am.

          I like explaining the law to my clients in a way they can understand. I only do things on a file to save them costs. I tell my clients the truth - even if it’s not what they want to hear. What is your style? How would you run your file if you had true autonomy?

          I think the hard knocks truth is to look deep within yourself. We are all built differently and we all want different things. Not a fan of the billable hours? Maybe you would want to work in-house. Think you’re ready to take the plunge? It’s never too late to start your own firm!


          Author: Kim Gale  

          Kim Gale is an estate litigation lawyer and principal of Gale Law, an estate litigation firm in Toronto. She can be reached at 416-868-3263 or kgale@galelaw.ca. She is the author and creator of the blog Law for Millennials — The Complete Beginners Guide to Law and is co-founder of diversity and inclusion group NCA Network.
        • 08 Aug 2019 5:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Jennifer Mathers McHenry is the Managing Partner of Mathers McHenry & Co.

          Jennifer obtained her LL.B. from the University of Windsor in 2003 and her LL.M. from the University of Toronto in 2004.  She has since practiced in the areas of employment and commercial litigation at two premier litigation firms in Toronto. She founded Mathers McHenry & Co., a boutique firm focused on executive employment and workplace law, in 2019.

          Jennifer regularly advises both executive and other senior employees and employers about employment law and with respect to all aspects of the employee/employer relationship, including: offers of employment, human rights obligations, changes of control, mergers and acquisitions, executive compensation, resignations, termination of employment, constructive dismissals, and post-employment fiduciary and contractual obligations.  Jennifer also frequently helps senior executives navigate investigations and interpersonal and other complexities that regularly present themselves in the context of the employment relationship, all with an eye on their legal rights and options.  Her litigation practice encompasses a wide range of complex employment and workplace-related commercial and appellate litigation, including actions involving wrongful and constructive dismissal, breaches of human rights legislation, breach of contract, professional negligence, breach of confidence, unfair competition, negligent misrepresentation, partnership disputes, and shareholder disputes.

          Jennifer was a founding member of the Advocate’s Society’s Employment and Labour Law Practice Group, and is a regular speaker in schools, for continuing education programs, and in the media on matters pertaining to employment and executive employment law. This winter term Jennifer will be teaching as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law in its “Law of Leadership” LLM program. 

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice? 

          I didn’t quite fall into employment/workplace law, but I didn’t set out to do it either. I started out as a commercial litigator and I loved it, but didn’t love the fact it is very hard to build a self-sustaining practice in that area of law.  So when I started looking for a new role I wanted something that would be just as engaging but would let me be a bit more entrepreneurial and take the lead both on practice building and on files a lot earlier in my career.  Employment law with an executive focus ticked all those boxes. 

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?  

          First, real leaders are not abusive. As a profession I think we let powerful rainmakers get away with a lot and that needs to stop. Once we get past that very low threshold, I think a good leader provides not only support but sponsorship designed to make those she works with not just profit centers but future leaders themselves; she will let those around her shine and help them do it; and she will give credit to those under her who earn their success (we all had help getting started, whether it was a referral of clients or hours of factum editing, and it is important to remember that).

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior? 

          Smart is the entry level criteria so that almost goes without saying, but it is too important not to say. I also look for people who I want to spend time around. That doesn’t mean they need to be someone I’d be friends with outside the office (though obviously that’s nice), but does mean they have to be someone I like, trust, and know has values about the profession and practice that are not in conflict with mine. I want to work with people who are successful because they care deeply about the work they do and the clients we serve such that they will insist on excellence from themselves, who practice with integrity, and who are frank and direct, both with me and in their communication with clients and other counsel. I also want someone who more often than not makes my life easier instead of harder.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice? 

          1) Learn as much as you can and remember that no one knows what they are doing when they first start out. 2) Don’t be afraid to ask questions but only ask questions you can’t answer yourself. 3) Network and more importantly remember the world is small but our profession is a whole lot smaller. The person on the other side of a file may be someone you encounter repeatedly, or he or she may be someone from whom you someday get a reference or a referral. Advocate for your clients and beat the other side, yes, but don’t do it by being sharp or even needlessly difficult. I truly don’t believe that serves the clients well and it definitely doesn’t serve you well in the long term. 4) As a junior your role is to treat the partners or your bosses as your clients – the easier you make their lives the more indispensable you become as a colleague (as it happens, this also applies to judges – make their life easier by colour coding, being organized, thinking ahead about what they need to have in front of them, etc).

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career? 

          1) Be strategic and pro-active about where your career is going and what skills and other assets you need to get where you want to go and to have options available to you. Don’t be passive about getting what and where you need to be and carve out the time to figure out what those things are! 2) Find sponsors and mentors. This profession can be tough but it is filled with fantastic people who are willing to help each other out. Access that. 3) Remember that there are always options. You are never truly stuck.

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?  

          First, we can ensure people recognize that their options are not binary. I think many people look at it as stay in a firm I’m unhappy in or leave law (private practice, especially), stay in a model I’m unhappy in or leave law, stay in abusive environment or leave law, stay in the status quo or leave the area of practice, stay and work 90+ hour weeks or accept less interesting work, stay on Bay or leave the area you work in. I no longer think that is our reality. Lots of firms are out there doing things differently. Lawyers often negotiate for a living yet when it comes to negotiating a structure for themselves feel hemmed in by the “way it’s done”. Lawyers, toss that thinking (and firms, let them!). 

          Second, and I don’t mean to imply this is pervasive or the key reason we’re losing women, but we as a profession can stop tolerating terrible behaviour and that will help – personally I will not seek to work with or refer work to anyone I know to be abusive to those he or she works with. That should not be revolutionary, but if it were the norm I think law firms would become better places to work because the rainmakers who are abusive (and we all know they exist) only have power while they make rain.  

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be? 

          This may sound arrogant but honestly I’m happy with my trajectory so I would not suggest I do anything differently. I think I would tell my younger self to relax a bit when things were not going as planned – I really do believe there are many paths to a successful and satisfying career. In another life I’d have been a very happy M&A lawyer or gone into business.  Leaning into the idea there is no one way to be happy in law is freeing.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members? 

          Succeed with positivity. Lift people up. Do it every opportunity you have.  Help students behind you. Send referrals to colleagues you know are good.  Tell the reporter who calls you that you can’t answer their question but give them someone who can. Decline work you are not able to do well and give it to someone who can. Give your colleagues credit for their wins and their contributions to yours. Appreciate the people who work with and for you and make sure they know it.  As Lizzo says “If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine.” I love that and consider it my unofficial firm motto.

          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.  

        • 02 Aug 2019 9:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Deepa is the founder and Managing Director of Tailor Law Professional Corporation.  She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto and a law degree from the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.

          Deepa is passionate about helping people with their legal problems.  She founded Tailor Law with a view to providing accessible and high-quality legal services to her community.  The team at Tailor Law embraces a strong service philosophy and a commitment to clients. 

          In her spare time, Deepa served on the board of directors for Many Feathers, a non-profit which focuses on creating local community spaces focused on food security in urban and rural settings across Canada.  She also spends her time mentoring the next generation of law students through the Women’s Legal Mentorship Program and as a guest speaker at the University of Ottawa’s Business of Law class.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?

          My current area of practice is reflective of my prior work experience before I opened my practice. I articled at a full service law firm and had exposure to multiple areas of law. I knew that if I were to start my own business I would want to do the same.

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?

          Strong communication skills are important for leaders of organizations. Not only would you need to be able to clearly communicate instructions for work assignments to others you also need to communicate your vision and passion for your organization. As a leader, your words have the power to motivate people towards a common goal. Leaders need to be able to communicate their messages clearly to their teams.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?

          I’m a firm believer in hiring for attitude and training for aptitude. I hire individuals who have a positive attitude and demonstrate an eagerness and desire to learn. In addition, hiring managers value individuals who are resourceful. You shouldn’t be asking a question that you can easily look up the answer to or find a precedent for. Resourcefulness is key.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?

          Talk to others who have already been in practice for some time about the challenges they have faced and seek their advice. Work with bookkeepers who have significant experience doing bookkeeping for law firms so that your records are LSO Compliant. Consider what your elevator pitch is going to be and what you would say to a client who asks why they should hire you. Build relationships with more senior practitioners so that you can reach out to someone if you encounter issues with one of your files and have a question.

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?

          Consider what type of firm environment you want to be in long term. Do you see yourself as a future partner in the firm you are currently working at? If you are working in-house, what position do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?

          The legal profession needs a cultural shift. Decision makers in law firms need to recognize that there is value in providing flexible work arrangements to their staff. We have the technology to facilitate remote work arrangements where lawyers can complete their work from wherever they choose. In my view, the cultural shift will begin when our profession has more women in positions of power within their respective firms and organizations.

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?

          You should be certain that you understand what lawyers do for a living prior to going to law school. Law school is an expensive endeavour. You should be sure that the legal industry is a field in which you want to enter. You should also be aware of what the legal job market comprises of. Most lawyers in Ontario work as sole practitioners and lawyers in small law firms. If you are unsure, ask to shadow a lawyer in a local law firm so that you understand what the job entails.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?

          Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

          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.  

        • 25 Jul 2019 5:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Victoria Winter is the Managing Partner at Beard Winter LLP. Victoria is a partner in the firm’s Trusts and Estate Planning Group and a Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP) as designated by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

          Victoria practises in the areas of estate planning and succession including the preparation of Wills, Powers of Attorney and Trusts (domestic, international, Henson), corporate reorganizations, business succession planning, advising clients on methods in which to minimize income tax and estate administration tax (i.e. probate fees) on death, estate administration, and establishing private charitable foundations.

          Victoria’s clients include financial institutions, corporate trustees, financial planning firms, accounting firms, owner managers, family businesses, charitable organizations, family foundations, and Canadian and international private clients. She is a trusted advisor who provides practical advice in a timely and cost effective manner.

          Victoria joined the firm on March 1, 2005, after practising in the Trusts and Estates Group of a Toronto based national law firm since her call to the Bar in 1995. She is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Tax Foundation, and the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners.

          Victoria, a double Pan American medallist in the equestrian sport of dressage, is past Chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Council and was a member of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Organizing Committee Board of Directors. She is the current Chair of the Dressage Committee of Equestrian Canada and is also a board member of Beautiful World Canada Foundation, a charitable organization promoting access to secondary education in developing countries.

          1.  How did you get involved in your current area of practice? 

          I knew I was interested in trusts and estate planning right out of law school but I took a winding road to end up fully in the practice area. As an articling student with a large firm I had an opportunity to do a rotation with the estates group. I was fortunate to be hired back in that area but shortly after starting it became clear that there was not enough work at that time to fully utilize a junior. I then moved into the corporate group of the same firm.  This was during the era of securitizations and I became involved in that practice and eventually left the firm to go in house in the same practice area at a corporate trust group with a Canadian bank. After two years in that role my previous firm contacted me to say that they were looking for someone to take on a part time role in the estates group. I accepted the position and for five years I worked three days a week at the firm and the other four days a week I coached and trained riders and horses in the equestrian sport of dressage. I was a member of the Canadian Equestrian Team at the time, competing internationally for Canada, and had always wondered if I could find a way to make a career out of my passion for the sport. It was an interesting experience but I quickly learned that I preferred the practice of law. In 2005 I was contacted by Beard Winter LLP to see if I would be interested in joining the firm. My father was a partner of the firm and, although we practised in similar areas, we had always had the understanding that we would not work together. I am grateful that we did not hold firm to that position as Beard Winter has given me a great platform in which to grow my trusts and estates practice. 

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?

          I think the most important skills in a leader are empathy and the ability to listen. A leader also needs to be confident while also having humility.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?

          Reliability, common sense and time management skills are all incredibly important. A young lawyer will be successful both with lawyers and clients if they are responsive, commit to achievable timelines and keep parties informed if anticipated timelines change. It is really all about communication. And, of course, they should be personable and professional – someone who can comfortably interact with your clients.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice? 

          Try to get involved as soon as possible in practice network groups both within your firm and within the Bar as a whole. These groups can provide a lot of support, information and great networking to help develop your career.   

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career? 

          Try to find mentors both in your firm or outside who can give advice and suggestions based on their experiences. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You know more than you think you do. Don’t be afraid to be vocal about your successes. In general women tend to be less willing to share their victories but if you don’t no one will.

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?  

          Sadly, this continues to be a real issue. We need to build collegial environments where all lawyers feel supported and connected. At our firm we have created a Women’s Network for our female lawyers with regular events across practice areas ranging from social evenings to instructor led sessions on topics such as building healthy habits and skill building. We also need to develop work arrangements where it is acceptable to work remotely to permit lawyers to build their practice around their lives. Law involves long hours and high stress but the trade-off should be flexibility in how you manage your practice so that it fits within your life. 

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be? 

          You will make mistakes, but you will survive.  

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?

          Find something you enjoy outside of the law and make time to do it regularly. It is easy to get completely immersed in daily practice and that will quickly lead to burn out and stress. Block off time in your calendar for other interests. You will return to your practice refreshed and often with a better perspective.

          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.  

        • 11 Jul 2019 4:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Jennifer Gold and Frances “Frankie” Wood are the 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.  

        • 04 Jul 2019 3:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Erin C. Cowling is  a freelance litigator and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc(a network of experienced freelance lawyers that assists lawyers, law firms, and in-house counsel with their overflow legal work on a project basis). Previously, she was a corporate commercial litigator at a large firm.

          Erin also teaches legal research and writing as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law; is the Regional Alumni Advisor (Toronto) for the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law; has an award-winning law-blog; writes for several legal publications; has spoken at several legal events and conferences; and enjoys mentoring young women lawyers, both informally and formally through the Women’s Legal Mentorship Program.

          You can connect with her on LinkedIn and you can follow her on Twitter at @Cowlingerin or @FlexLegalNet.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice? 

          This is a long story. But I will make it brief. I never met a lawyer until I went to law school. I only knew what I saw on TV. I had no idea that there were lawyers who didn’t go to court. So, I became a litigator because that was all I knew. Luckily, I love case law and being an advocate, so it was a good fit.

          Now, how did I become a freelance litigator and the founder of a freelance lawyer company?

          That is an even longer story. But here is the condensed version:

          I was called to the Bar in 2005 and was hired back at the Bay Street firm where I had summered and articled. I worked as a corporate commercial litigator for several years. My fit with the firm changed due to its merger with another firm, an economic downturn, my taking of two maternity leaves, shifting of goalposts for partnership, etc. I accepted a job at an estate litigation boutique in 2012. I quickly realized I had no patience for bitter people fighting over their dead parents’ money and, to be perfectly honest, the stress of that job and practicing in that area of law affected my mental health. I was pregnant with my third child and my health was a priority for me, so, after working there less than a year, I quit without another job lined up. Figuring no one would hire a pregnant lady, I started taking on small research and drafting projects from lawyers that I knew to fill the gap until I could find a job at a firm again. The only problem was, after my daughter was born, every time I went to apply to a law firm my stomach would churn at the thought of returning to having no control over my time, the demanding clients, facing an uphill battle for partnership, etc. and I couldn’t bring myself to submit the applications.

          Meanwhile, the work from other lawyers kept coming in and I was really enjoying drafting factums, doing the odd court appearance, drafting blog posts, doing legal research etc. on a freelance basis for multiple firms. So, I thought, maybe I could freelance full time. I gave myself one year to see whether it was a viable career choice. I put up a website, called myself a “freelance lawyer”, printed off some business cards, and started hustling for work. The hard work paid off. After little over a year, I became so busy I was turning down projects. Clearly there was a demand for freelance lawyers. I founded Flex Legal Network in 2015. We now have over 20 freelance lawyers and 5 law clerks. We assist lawyers, law firms and in-house legal departments across Canada with their overflow legal work, mostly (90%) litigation based.

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?  

          Good question. I’m not sure if I know the answer or even if all great leaders possess the same qualities or skills.

          If I think of some leaders that I know and have worked with, I believe a leader should be able to see other peoples’ perspectives and put themselves into the shoes of the people they are managing or leading. Patience, empathy and humility are important. Those that are constantly blaming others are never a joy to work with and don’t lead effectively.

          I belong to a business book club with other women entrepreneurs and we meet once a month. One of our books this year was called Permission to Screw Up – How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong by Kristen Hadeed. It was a great read, and probably sums up leadership skills better than I can.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior? 

          There are the standard qualities I look for, i.e. someone who does great work and shows initiative, but really, trust and reliability are huge for me. I take people at their word, which means I need to trust their word. If a junior tells me they are going to do something and they don’t follow through, I am hesitant to give them more work or rely on them for anything else. How will I know if they will respond to the client’s email? How will I know they will meet the client’s deadline? Can I trust that they will note up all the case law? Obviously, emergencies or unforeseen events come up, but if it becomes a pattern of not doing what you say you are going to do, then we have a big big problem.

          I also really appreciate juniors who acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them. It is easy to get defensive when someone points out you’ve done something wrong and often our instinct is to push back (I’m guilty of this). But we all make mistakes (me included). Juniors who accept their mistakes and see them as learning opportunities are way ahead of their peers who do not.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice? 

          Don’t make the same mistakes I did! Law firms are not schools. You cannot just put your head down and do great work and think you will be rewarded. Unapologetically advocate for yourself. Don’t keep that court win quiet. Do the victory lap around the office. Your career is in your hands. While it might seem comfortable in the passenger seat, scoot on over to the driver seat and take control before you end up somewhere you don’t want to be.

          Also, it is never too early to start networking! And by this I simply mean go out and meet other lawyers and make connections. Join lawyer associations outside of your firm, get on at least one committee or executive, write for a legal magazine, connect with others on LinkedIn or Twitter, blog to build your profile, attend networking events for young lawyers, etc. You don’t have to do all the above but pick at least two or three. The time will come when you will have to bring in work, or want to find a new job, or you want to be elected as Bencher, or teach a course at a law school, etc. and it is your network that will be a big help to you achieving your career goals.

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career? 

          First, are you happy? Now that you know a little bit about how to be a lawyer, are you happy where you are? If not, start looking for something new now. Life is too short to be stuck in a job that you hate.

          Have you been networking? Good, keep it up and draw on your network to help you advance to your next career goal, whatever that might be.

          If you haven’t been networking, start now (see above).

          Say your goals out loud. Make them real. Tell people what you are aiming for, because they may be able to help you. Is it to become partner at your firm? Let your firm know.

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law? 

          Burn down the patriarchy.

          Ha! All kidding aside: challenge the status quo. We don’t need any more conferences on how women need to change to fit into the legal profession. If the legal profession keeps pushing women out, then the legal profession needs to change.

          To this day I feel like I let women lawyers down because I left Bay Street to start my own thing. Should I have stayed and fought for women and other equality seeking groups and made changes from the inside? Maybe.

          Instead I chose to take power into my own hands, and I found a way to continue practicing law that makes me extremely happy and fulfilled.

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be? 

          It’s okay that you ruffle some feathers sometimes. Keep speaking up. Keep speaking the truth.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members? 

          Support each other and keep being agents of change. Canadian lawyer and feminist icon Linda Silver Dranoff says it best in her book Fairly Equal: Lawyering the Feminist Revolution:

          I hope that every woman reading this book understands the importance of working together with other women in sisterhood . . . Remain vigilant to ensure that the advances my generation made are not taken away from you. Be aware of the areas that still require attention, and do what you can to be agents of further change. Speak, as I tried to do, for women who otherwise have no voice . . . I encourage those who follow us to do the same, to never ask “What can one person do?” but rather to say, “This is what needs doing, and this is what I will do about it.

          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.  

        • 27 Jun 2019 4:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          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.
        • 20 Jun 2019 5:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Maria Scarfo is the Managing Partner at Blaney McMurtry LLP. Maria’s career has been devoted to finding effective solutions for her clients while contributing to the management and growth of Blaney McMurtry. As the firm’s Managing Partner, Maria combines her expert litigation and negotiation skills with a proven ability to solve problems and build strong teams in order to ensure that both her clients and colleagues receive strong leadership and results.

          Maria is an experienced litigator who defends claims for insurance companies, public authorities and corporations. Her areas of specialty include claims involving institutional sexual abuse and the defence of public authorities; Maria has defended hundreds of public authority defence files and institutional sexual abuse files.

          With a well-developed ability to defuse conflict in any situation, Maria is often entrusted to handle sensitive, high profile cases which require a balancing of clients’ reputational, public policy, business and other interests beyond litigation. By actively listening to her clients’ unique concerns, Maria is able to recommend the most reasonable course of action to achieve her clients’ goals and objectives. Maria has resolved hundreds of cases at mediations and she has an excellent record of finding early resolutions in cases resulting in significant savings in legal fees for her clients.

          Maria represents clients in highly contentious litigated matters as well as those more suited to mediation. As a result of her adaptability, agility, and sound judgment, she can effectively and efficiently respond to any client matter.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?

          I was very lucky to article at my firm and complete rotations in litigation, real estate and corporate so that I had a decent understanding of the different areas of practice. I was interested in litigation and the firm hired me in their general litigation group working half time for the commercial litigators and half time for the insurance litigators. As the early years passed, I found that I really enjoyed the insurance side of our advocacy group. I steadily focused on defending public authorities and then in the early 90s we saw the surge of the defence of historical sexual abuse claims and I became involved in defending  those claims as well.  I say that I have been lucky because I have had the benefit of being able to pursue the areas of the law that I found interesting and rewarding so that the work has been enjoyable.

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?   

          In my view, the best leaders have a good understanding of the best paths forward and can visualize what their organization needs to achieve in order to have continued success.  Usually, this means that there are several goals to achieve. A good leader understands that in order to achieve these goals, you need to create opportunities for the members of the team which allows employees to both achieve their own personal goals and the organization’s goals. Practically speaking, this means that a leader has to have good self- awareness (it is not about her), and has to understand how to create the best environment that is motivating and inspiring.  A good leader does not order people to do things but instead creates enough understanding and positive examples so that people are quite willing to walk along the same path to move forward. An old friend of mine said that some of the best leaders are not walking in front of you but are either at your side of even just following along in case you need them.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?  

          I think the most honest way to answer this question is that a really good junior has a high sense of responsibility, and is organized, reliable, positive, loyal and calm. These are the qualities that take the edge off of the stress that senior practitioner experience.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?  

          I recognize that the cost of a legal education coupled with the cost of living means that compensation will play a major role in making a decision about first jobs. Otherwise, it is important to appreciate that she is embarking on what will hopefully be a multi-decade career. As a result, the first years and then the years approaching retirement are the best times to take chances and try different paths. We have to choose the type of law and type of place to practice based on what is actually appealing to us. It is not correct to just assume that in order to be successful that you have to be in private practice in a certain size of firm. In order to make decisions, we have to access as many people as possible to ask questions and become informed about different workplaces.

          Lawyers are much more approachable than you might think and will make time to have coffee to answer mentoring questions. If you do have to start in a position that is not ideal, always try to use the experience to enhance your skills while you wait for a more suitable position. Most importantly, remember that you are starting to build your reputation and become the type of professional who will succeed. The advice not to burn bridges is still great advice as is the advice to present as the type of employee who will be given the best work and the best chance to succeed in an organization. I suggest this approach even if you are not at your ideal workplace. Of course, a woman should never accept any conditions which are inappropriate or threatening in any manner.

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?  

          This is usually the first time that she will have to decide whether to stay where she is or move on. If it is time to move on, then the main factors to consider relate to whether or not a lawyer wants to pursue  private practice. At most law firms, as a lawyer becomes more senior, the lawyer does need to have the ability to generate work for the firm. As a result, a lawyer commencing her career in private practice has a difficult decision to make if she wants to make a move after the first few years. If the move is outside of private practice, it is very difficult to then return to private practice unless she has the ability to generate work as she becomes more senior. It certainly is not impossible as it is possible to return to private practice if she can bring work with her from an in house position.

          While it might be in vogue to change jobs to advance a career, a better decision is to really look for opportunities where she currently works. I am biased as I have been at my firm for 32 years. I would suggest that finding a way to move past any impediment at a current workplace is an extremely wise thing to do. If you are able to distinguish yourself as a valuable employee, then success tends to follow. With success, a lawyer becomes much more valuable to an organization and this will mean that she can start to make changes within the organization.

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?   

          The question is even harder to answer now that lawyers tend to have to work longer hours to make less money with the shrinking of available work and the downward pressure on legal fees. This is an important development as it means that demands on lawyers’ time have been increasing. There are fewer options to make workplaces attractive by allowing more flexibility in terms of working fewer hours. However, women are excellent lawyers and effective communicators and greatly enhance the bench strength in any workplace. There are many things that can lead to much better retention of talent. A workplace that is collegial, team oriented and supportive can make a huge difference. The ability to work remotely when you have the best available time will also help because women are usually excellent at balancing many things efficiently.  Most importantly, workplaces must sincerely promote an environment where women are able to balance maternity leaves with their return to work allowing them to continue their careers.  Again, we have to remember that in a multi decade career, there is ample time to work at different paces/ in different ways to make sure that other critically important personal goals are achieved.  Compromise is essential both on the part of the workplace and on the part of the individual.

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?  

          I wish that I could have appreciated that all problems have solutions and that there was no need to inflict so much stress on myself every time something went wrong.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?  

          Law is a very empowering career for women. It makes us confident and knowledgeable and these benefits are priceless.

          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.  

        • 13 Jun 2019 6:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          When I finished law school, I, like many of my classmates, had already secured an articling job. I didn’t get an OCI but I found my job during the second large wave of hiring in the summer before third year. The process was by no means easy but it was very structured. My law school gave us links to firms who had postings for articling jobs and I applied to the ones that interested me. At the end of the process, I was very fortunate to get an offer from my first choice firm – a commercial litigation boutique in downtown Toronto.

          My articling year went quite smoothly. I worked hard but the hours were never crazy. I got along very well with the other articling student, all the lawyers at the firm seemed to like me and I got positive feedback on the work that I did. When May rolled around, I was feeling quite confident about getting hired back. My firm had a good history of hiring back students and no one had told me that it wasn’t going to happen.

          When I eventually realised in early June that I had not secured a permanent position, I was devastated. The firm gave me a summer contract and told me they would make a final decision in September. While this was better than nothing, it still felt like a rejection. If I’m being honest, it felt like I had been dumped.  When I wasn’t bawling my eyes out, I was panicking because I had no idea what to do next. No one had prepared me for how to get a job after articling. My law school was silent on the issue and while many of the partners at my firm offered to help me, I wasn’t even sure what sort help I would need if it didn’t involve getting me a job somewhere.

          The first thing I thought to do was to talk to other firms to see if there were jobs available. I looked in the ORs but there weren’t many postings, especially for new calls. I then turned my focus to commercial litigation boutiques who hadn’t hired articling students. I started with associates I had met during my articles. When I didn’t know anyone at a firm I wanted to reach out to (which was most of them), I tried to find juniors I had a connection with. I would look at their firm profiles to see what law school they went to or what their interests were outside of law.

          Then I would cold e-mail them. The e-mail was a 2-3 liner introducing myself and telling them that I was a new call. I told them I had an interest in their practice and asked if they would be open to having coffee with me to discuss it further. At no point did I ever say that I was looking for a job. Even though it was fairly obvious from the e-mail that I was on the hunt for an associate position, I still wanted to speak to people even if no position was currently available.

          My first coffee meeting was exactly the scenario I described above. I reached out to a junior at a commercial litigation boutique who had gone to the same law school as I had. We had both worked at the same legal aid clinic (in different years) so I knew we had some common ground there. He was upfront that his firm was not hiring but was happy to speak to me anyways if I was still interested in hearing about his practice. I quickly responded that I still wanted to chat and I’m so happy I did. Not only did his firm hire me for a document review contract position 5 weeks later, but he also became a good friend.

          This contract was not the end of my journey. After 10 weeks, the contract ended and I was back to looking for a job. I wasn’t back to square 1 though. I had now gained the confidence to approach people and successfully give them my elevator pitch. I met with about 70 lawyers in 4 months. At every meeting, after asking them about their firm and their practice, I asked if they had any tips for me going forward and if they knew of any firms I could reach out to. Some people were very generous with their personal network and told me to reach out to other firms using their name. Others told me about new firms I hadn’t even heard of. Throughout this process I vastly expanded my network in the legal community.

          In addition to networking through coffee meetings, I also joined several organizations to make myself more marketable and to meet people more organically. I started going to events through various organizations like Young Women in Law, The Advocates’ Society and the Ontario Bar Association. The events were a great way to meet lawyers who could help me in my job search as well as other juniors who were in similar situations. After attending several Young Women in Law events, I was asked to submit an application to the board. I eventually joined the board as the Director of Events which has not only been so rewarding but has also greatly assisted in progressing my career.  

          I also started volunteering at Pro Bono Ontario. It was a way that I was able to stay involved in litigation when I wasn’t working. Now, even though I have been gainfully and happily employed for over 4 years, I continue to volunteer there several times a year because I find the experience to be so rewarding and enjoyable.

          After several months of unemployment, I eventually found my current job through the assistance of one of the partners at my articling firm. He introduced me to the person who would go on to be my boss and mentor. After he made the initial introduction, 6 weeks later I started as in-house counsel at a large Canadian Insurance Company. The role I ultimately took was by no means the role I thought I wanted at the beginning of my job search. However, after 4 years of being there I can honestly say that not only do I love my role but that it is also a far better fit for me (both personally and professionally) than my articling firm was for a variety of reasons.

          Now that I’m working, I have continued to use the lessons I learned from those very painful months of unemployment. I continue to keep up with my networking – not because I’m looking for a job but because I love connecting with other people in the legal industry and have made many great friends and professional contacts in the process. I have continued to volunteer for both Pro Bono Ontario and Young Women in Law, both organizations that have taught me many invaluable skills and are a great source of joy. I have also continued to use my network to help me progress my career.

          Not being hired back forced me to really think about what type of law I wanted to practice and what sort of career I wanted to have. You can certainly do all of the things that I did if you have been hired back. But if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine that I would have had the motivation to take all those steps and put in all that time at the infancy of my career had I not had to. At the time, not getting hired back seemed like the end of the world (or at least my professional one). Now, I realise that it was an incredible opportunity that opened so many doors and led me down a path that is far better for me.


          Author: Sarah Naiman 

          Sarah Naiman obtained her JD from the University of Windsor in 2013 and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 2014. Sarah is currently in-house counsel with Intact Insurance and prior to that, worked at a commercial litigation boutique. While attending law school in Windsor, Sarah volunteered at the Community Legal Aid of Windsor where she represented individuals who could not afford to pay for legal services. Sarah currently volunteers with Law Help Ontario PBO and is the Director of Events at YWL.

        • 06 Jun 2019 5:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

          Brenda Christen is the Managing Partner at Christen Seaton Burrison Hudani LLP. A founding partner of Wilson Christen LLP, and now Christen Seaton Burrison Hudani LLP, Brenda approaches family law with an emphasis on smart, practical solutions. Clients appreciate Brenda’s direct, and approachable manner while opponents respect her skill, experience and track record. 

          Brenda has acted successfully on leading cases at both the trial and appellate levels, and secured the highest child support award in Canada. Brenda prefers a constructive resolution to litigation and now focuses her efforts exclusively on her mediation practice.

          Selected by the National Post as one of Canada's best family law lawyers and ranked in the Canadian Legal Expert Directory, Brenda served as a Dispute Resolution Officer for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Brenda has been consistently listed in the Best Lawyersguide for family law since its inception in 2006. This publication, based on peer review, is considered 'the most credible and definitive guide to legal excellence in Canada'.

          Brenda's experience as a mediator is founded upon over 30 years of experience as an advocate for her clients. She has comprehensive knowledge of the court process, having appeared before all levels of court in Ontario. She understands the limitations of the court process and the inherent pressures that such a process places on families. Brenda brings the skills and insights learned in over three decades of experience to the table in her mediation practice. She focuses on pragmatic solutions and is able to simplify complex issues, creating clarity and offering practical solutions.

          1. How did you get involved in your current area of practice?  

          I got involved somewhat by happenstance. I was working at a general practice firm and was not very happy. One of my closest friends had taken the bar admissions course at the same time as me. She reached out to say her family law instructor had an ad in the Ontario Reports looking for an associate. So I reached out, met with him and was hired immediately. A year and a half later he left the respected boutique firm we were with and asked me to join him. We became Wilson Christen Family Lawyers when I was a first year associate. 30 years later we have experienced tremendous success in two areas that we never would have predicted, real estate investment and a class action law suit against the Federal Government. Definitely didn’t see that coming when we started our little firm. 

          2. What qualities and/or skills are important for leaders?   

          Patience, a sense of humour and most importantly a lack of self involvement. In order to lead you need to believe that others should have the same opportunities to succeed that you would like to have.  Finding the people and giving them that opportunity can be the trickier part.

          3. What qualities and/or skills do you look for in a junior?  

          Judgment and common sense. You can’t really teach those things.

          4. What advice would you give a young woman starting her practice?  

          Play the long game. Don’t believe that everything needs to be accomplished immediately or that your life should proceed on a fixed timeline, i.e. graduate at age 24, marry at age 27, partner at age 35. Things don’t always happen on your schedule and that is often a good thing. 

          5. What advice would you give a mid-level junior looking to advance her career?  

          Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something different. Law gives you a lot of opportunity to do different things. Develop other interests and be open to different paths. After litigating for so many years I decided to become a mediator. Similar components but a much different perspective and I find the work more satisfying. Building resolutions instead of working to impose them is a nice change and, in my view, more suited to family issues. 

          6. What can we do to address the continued attrition of women in law?   

          All of the above. Readjust expectations that the only way to be successful in law is to be a partner in a Bay Street firm or the seven siblings or whatever the people that think those things are important call them. There is lots of opportunity out there if you are willing to let go of those expectations. For example you can be part of something smaller and grow.

          7. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting out in law, what would it be?  

          Go to med school.

          8. Is there anything else (advice, an interesting experience, tips, etc.) that you would like to share with our members?  

          Don’t let men push you around. Call ******** when you see it and stick up for other women in your profession and everywhere else.

          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.  

        << First  < Prev   1   2   3   Next >  Last >> 

        Young Women in Law (YWL) is a not for profit organization for women lawyers in their early stages of practice.

        © 2019 Young Women in Law

        Get In Touch


        PO Box 1098, Toronto Dominion, 

        Toronto, Ontario M5K 1P2

        Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software