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  • 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.

        • 11 Jul 2019 4:53 PM | Anonymous member

          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

          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

          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

          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

          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

          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.  

        • 30 May 2019 5:25 PM | Anonymous member

          Luisa Ritacca is the Managing Partner at Stockwoods. Luisa’s practice encompasses a wide variety of areas, including professional regulation; administrative law; general civil and commercial litigation.  She is preferred counsel for LawPro, having acted on its behalf on a number of court motions.

          Luisa frequently appears as counsel for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports on a number of anti-doping cases.  In addition, Luisa acts for students facing academic and non-academic related charges at secondary and post-secondary intuitions throughout the Province.

          Further, Luisa acts as independent legal counsel for the College of Opticians of Ontario, the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, and the College of Veterinarians of Ontario.

          Luisa was appointed by former Chief Justice Warren Winkler to act as court monitor in the administration of two pan-Canadian settlements involving the tainted blood scandal, as well as the settlement involving water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario.

          Luisa has been involved in three judicial inquiries, including serving as co-counsel to the Office of the Chief Coroner in the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology (the “Goudge Inquiry”), counsel for the North York General Hospital nurses during the SARS review, counsel for Peter McCallion in the Mississauga Judicial Inquiry, and counsel to the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario in the Elliot Lake Inquiry.

          In February 2016, Luisa was appointed a part-time member of the Licence Appeal Tribunal, Fire Safety Commission and the Animal Care Review Board.

          She is an adjunct professor for the Trial Practice Course at Osgoode Hall Law School and is a team leader for the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program.

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

          I currently practice both commercial litigation and public law, with a focus on professional regulation. I came into my practice areas much by chance. I always had an interest in administrative law and I clerked for the Divisional Clerk prior to joining Stockwoods, so public law was a natural fit for me. In addition, there were great senior lawyers at the firm doing interesting work in these areas and so I started working for and with them. That gave me good exposure to our existing clients and the opportunity to go out and market myself to potential new clients. 

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

          I think a good leader needs to know how to draw the best out of her team.  It isn’t about getting your team to do what you want them to do; rather, as a leader you need to create an environment that allows each person to thrive and succeed. It is also important to be able to make tough decisions.  As a leader your goal is to obtain input and build consensus, but there are occasions where you have to make a call, regardless of how difficult or unpopular. Finally, I would say that a leader should be a good listener; your team members no doubt have valuable input. Listen and learn from them. You get more buy-in as a leader if you show that you are willing to take feedback and consider everyone’s ideas.  

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

          I look for lawyers who are committed to doing the work of the firm and who are willing to take on projects/assignments that may be outside of their comfort zone. I am happy to help a young lawyer who might be working through an area of practice that is new for them. I also look for lawyers who understand that our primary job as lawyers is to serve our clients and to help our clients avoid or minimize problems. It is not enough to be able to identify issues for our clients; as lawyers we need to be able to come to them with solutions. I expect the lawyers who work with me to understand that problem-solving is our main focus. This is true whether you are meeting with a client to explain the legal ramifications of a particular business decision or presenting a case in court. You are there to offer solutions.

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

          You should find other lawyers with practices you admire and offer to buy them coffee. Lawyers are usually more than happy to give advice to other lawyers just starting out. You should also look for a network of lawyers who may or may not be doing the same kind of law, but who you believe will be supportive and encouraging. Law can sometimes be a stressful business. It is important that we surround ourselves with people who understand that.

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

          If you love what you are doing and where you are working, let your employer know and talk to them about where you see yourself in the next 5 years. Make it clear to them that you see yourself as someone who has been and will continue to be of value to the firm/company. Keep doing great work for your clients and look for opportunities where you can start using the knowledge you have developed to date to give back to the legal community. Teaching and writing are great ways to give back and to showcase the breadth and depth of your knowledge. 

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

          This is a difficult question as I believe that there are a myriad of different reasons why women choose to leave the practice of law. Sadly, I am sure that there are women who have felt undervalued and unappreciated by their employers and/or partners, such that they no longer believe that the effort is worth it. I also know that there are others who feel the stress of balancing their home and professional obligations is too much to bear. Finally, I know women who have left the practice of law to take on other passions – which I think is great and should certainly be celebrated. That said, as someone in management, I try to make sure that the women on my team are heard and know that they are appreciated. I look for opportunities to showcase their skills and make sure to tout their successes. For women returning to practice after a parental leave, it is important for management to make sure that the work they are returning to is challenging and rewarding.    

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

          Never say no to a work assignment that gets you into court.

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

          Remember that even the most difficult and acrimonious files will come to an end. Be sure to remain professional and civil with opposing counsel throughout. If you lose, call and congratulate the other side. If you win, call and let them know that it was a pleasure working with them.    

          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.  

        • 23 May 2019 4:59 PM | Anonymous member

          Julie Maciura is the Managing Partner at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc. Julie has practised administrative law, with an emphasis on professional regulation, for over 20 years. She acts as general counsel, prosecutor, and independent legal counsel for numerous Ontario regulators. Julie’s general counsel work includes training specific to the needs of statutory committees, guidance to regulators on Registration and Quality Assurance matters, as well as drafting regulations, by-laws, standards and policies. Julie has also performed comprehensive legal audits of various statutory programs and processes for regulators and has experience with strategic planning. Julie has appeared in all levels of court in Ontario representing the interests of regulators on appeals and judicial review applications.

          Julie regularly gives presentations to regulators, law school classes and at professional conferences on health law, administrative law, and professional regulation. She has written numerous articles for the firm’s newsletter, Grey Areas, as well as its blog, Regulation Pro. She is co-author of the first and second editions of The Annotated Statutory Powers Procedure Act.

          Julie has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Lethbridge, a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. She also obtained a Master of Laws degree (Administrative Law) from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2007. In 2012, Julie received her specialist certification in health law from the Law Society of Ontario.

          Julie is a past member of both the Financial Services Tribunal and the Council of Health Quality Ontario.

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

          It was pure luck that I was hired back after articling into this particular area of law (professional regulation). I was working for a mid-sized firm at the time and this is where there was an opening. For that I am forever grateful because I have really grown to love this area of law.

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

          I think a good leader needs to have a multitude of qualities and skills. While I’m not sure that I possess all of these, I think a leader needs to be decisive, fair, patient, hard-working, be able to delegate, be a good communicator and have a sense of humour. I really think that it’s important to be able to make decisions quickly. While considering the factors relevant to the decision is of course important, once you have all of the information you need, it’s important to act quickly and decisively so that things can move forward.

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

          I look for a detail-oriented person who can meet deadlines. It’s important that they be approachable and personable and a certain amount of maturity, or even gravitas, is also good so that clients are comfortable putting their trust in them. I also value someone who will go the extra mile and will give me the very best product they possibly can. When a junior treats their work product as though it is going directly to the client, and doesn’t assume that I will catch mistakes/polish it up, etc., that’s something that impresses me a great deal. I also look for someone who can prioritize and juggle many things at one time without getting frazzled. Our work entails many very long, detailed research projects as well as routine questions from clients who expect answers quickly – it’s key that a junior be able to maintain focus on the longer projects knowing that they will frequently be interrupted by other matters that need to be given priority in the meantime.

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

          Find mentors and lawyers in your field who will look out for you. It might take a while but you will be able to make connections and those connections will pay dividends when you least expect it. I would also tell young women to speak up in meetings and make sure their voice is heard. Contribute your thoughts and ideas because they are just as important as those of the men in the room. If anyone views that as being pushy then those are not the kind of people/clients/lawyers you want to work with anyway, so keep talking and keep looking until you find “your people”.

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

          Network, network, network; write articles and papers in your field, volunteer to speak at conferences, and get on the board of a charity or organization that means something to you so that you can give back and at the same time you will gain that governance and leadership experience that you can benefit you in your law practice.

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

          I think this will require an overhaul of the way that most law firms function and that means changing the way legal work is billed. The emphasis on billable hours makes it very difficult to be a parent, at least when children are young. And most marriages (I can only speak to heterosexual marriages) still put the burden of child-rearing on women, so their careers stall when the children are young, which of course is when a lawyer’s career is just taking off. This is no doubt why many female lawyers leave private practice to go in-house or work in government.

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

          Speak up more and don’t be intimidated because you know more than you think you do. Your ideas are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

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

          For your members who are single, I would tell them to choose their life partner very wisely. Who you choose as a partner will have a huge impact on your ability to manage both career and home life. If you want to have children, there is a lot to be said for marrying someone whose job has more manageable, consistent hours. Also, make sure that person likes to cook.

          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. 

        • 26 Apr 2019 1:28 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          I am the first person in my family to complete an undergraduate or a law degree.

          I knew I wanted to go to law school and become a criminal lawyer after a personal experience in the criminal justice system. I was the victim of a sexual assault. The law suddenly became the vehicle through which I saw social problems. I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this small group of people who advocated for change.

          But first, there was the cost of the LSAT books. Then, the one thousand dollars that it cost to apply to only four law schools. I was ultimately accepted early to Osgoode Hall Law School and cried on the phone to my parents in celebration. But before I could even hang up the phone, the reality of tuition sunk in. How could I possibly afford more than $26,000 per year for tuition? And what about books? And living expenses? Or even a suit for networking events? And the cost to write the licensing exams? Before I could get excited about what was the biggest accomplishment of my life so far, I counted myself out. There was no way I could accept my admission offer.

          As it turns out, I am one of the few lucky ones. I was later accepted to Osgoode’s Income Contingent Loan Program, which meant that instead of paying my tuition upfront, I could pay it back after graduation, contingent on my income over ten years. I was one of only five students, in the entire province, who had access to this program (today, it supports seven students per year, but it is still the only program of its kind in the province). I will still graduate with upwards of $190,000 in educational debt and related expenses, owed to the school, the government, and to my bank.

          Being the first in my family to go to law school has been a challenge, but I have truly given it my all, often working upwards of 18 hours per day between classes, several part-time jobs, research assistantships, mooting, and extensive extracurriculars. I knew that if I wanted any chance of being successful in a career where I had no connections, and if I wanted to be able to pay my debts back, I would have to work three times as hard. So that is what I have tried to do.

          In my second year, I joined a student-run organization that was only a few years old at the time: The Law Students’ Society of Ontario, better known as the LSSO. At the end of that year, I was elected President, the role I still hold today. It is both a privilege and responsibility to be in this position.

          . . .

          Several years ago, the LSSO published a report on law students’ tuition, debt, and financial aid experiences. It had become slightly outdated, so I decided I would revamp it. Over the course of a few weeks last November, we collected 697 responses to our survey from all seven Ontario law schools, although some had higher response rates than others. I spent the next few months parsing through the data and creating what is now known as the Just or Bust report.

          61.4% of survey respondents identified as women, 27.5% of respondents identified as a visible minority, 14.2% identified as LGBTQ, and 10.4% of participants identified as having a disability. The Canadian population has almost twice the proportion of Indigenous people as our sample, and students from rural Canada were also under-represented. Students whose parents’ highest level of education was less than a university degree are under-represented by 3 to 1.

          We wanted to learn more about what motivated students to attend certain schools and how finances factored into those decisions, if at all. What we learned was that, for at least 40% of students at each school, tuition had an impact on their choice. Mature students, students from rural communities, Indigenous students, and first-generation university students were among the most likely groups to say that tuition impacted their choice of law school.

          16.9% of those who said that tuition costs did not initially influence their choice of law school indicated that, when reflecting on their current finances, they would choose a different law school today. Students at Osgoode and the University of Toronto, where tuition is approximately $28,000 and $38,000 respectively, were most likely to indicate that they would choose a different law school given present finances.

          Our results also told us that a student’s financial position may be determinative of whether they pursue a legal education to begin with. 52.9% of the students surveyed entered law school with no debt.

          Of those who had debt prior to starting law school, most students owed between $10,000 and $40,000, which was owed primarily to government student loans. However, at higher pre-law debt levels, the balances of private sources of debt creeped upwards. This suggests to us that government student loan limits are insufficient, even for lower-cost academic programs.

          And now for the most important numbers: total current debt load. When the survey was completed, winter tuition had not yet been paid at most law schools, so an average of $7,000-15,000 could be added to the numbers that I’m about to tell you.

          For first year law students, the average debt load was $27,447. For 2L students, it was $57,409. And for students in their final year of law school, the average amount of debt was $83,746. These numbers are significantly higher than those found in the 2014 report. 5.5% of respondents expected to graduate with $140,000 or more in educational debt.

          We tracked the data from various minority groups to see how their average debt levels varied compared to the general average per year of study. For the most part, the variance was little, with the exception of one group: first generation university students. For students whose parents did not complete post-secondary education, their average debt levels were more than $30,000 higher than their peers whose parents did have a post-secondary degree.

          Finally, at law school graduation, over two-thirds of law students expected to have more than $50,000 in debt owing to financial institutions alone, compared to just over one-third in 2014. Almost two-thirds of the respondents expected to have over $20,000 in outstanding government loans, compared to only half of students in 2014. And 19.3% of students expected that it will take them more than 10 years to pay back their law school debts at current interest rates.

          . . .

          We also collected a number of student responses that outline the sheer impact that tuition and debt has had on their lives.

          An overwhelming majority of students indicated that financing law school has been a significant source of stress for them during their degree.

          A strong majority of students indicated that the cost of legal education impaired the representativeness of their classrooms. One student referenced the maximum allowable 5% tuition raise each year, saying: “If you want to make law entirely white and elitist, raising tuition by 5% every year is the way to go.”

          Almost no students at any of the seven law schools agreed with the statement that their law school tuition is fairly priced. In fact, almost all students strongly disagreed with the statement.

          . . .

          I would bet that every Ontario lawyer, or at least most of them, want our legal profession to reflect the diversity of the communities that we serve. But that horizon is becoming increasingly elusive. While tuition is not the only determinant of whether students of diverse backgrounds fill law school seats, tuition of upwards of $30,000 per year is certainly among the barriers to ensuring that our profession is representative.

          So too is tuition a barrier on access to justice. A large majority of survey respondents indicated that the cost of attending law school had impacted their career outcome objectives and caused them to deviate from their rationale for pursuing a law degree. Survey respondents spoke passionately about how they couldn’t possibly pursue a career in criminal law, family law, or with Legal Aid Ontario, because of their debt levels from law school. These are the areas of law in which we desperately need passionate law students who are willing to put in the hard work. And yet these students are being precluded from pursuing those careers simply because of the debt they carry. These students may also be less likely to offer pro bono services throughout their career or even a lower billable hour rate, due to the debts they have to pay off.

          . . .

          The reality of the situation is this: I wouldn’t be a law student had it not been for a funding program at Osgoode that allows me to pay my tuition back after I graduate. And I consider that a lucky break. So, for all of those students – all of those dedicated, creative, and diverse students – who don’t have $100,000 or more lying around… those students may never get an opportunity like the one I have now, because law school is financially out of reach for them. We lose important voices when we set tuition at unconscionable rates. Application costs, ancillary fees, and LSO licensing fees after graduation also contribute majorly to this problem.

          I will leave you with a quote provided anonymously by one of our survey respondents, who said: “The LSO washes their hands of this as Not Their Problem, the university claims it’s Not Their Fault, and the Province refuses to return to adequate regulation of the cost of tuition. Student societies do not seem to hold much sway in the face of that level of indifference.”

          But that is why I do this work. I am simply unwilling to accept the indifference. Even though my own debt situation won’t change, I will continue to advocate for tuition that rises only with the cost of inflation, better bursary and scholarship programs, and more transparency with respect to fees. I will continue showing up until something changes.


          Author: Heather Donkers

          Heather Donkers is a 2019 J.D. graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. During law school, she was the President of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario and Student Section Chair of the Ontario Bar Association. Heather will be articling with the Crown Law Office Criminal in 2019-2020, and is an aspiring criminal lawyer. You can follow her on Twitter at @HeatherDonkers.

        • 12 Apr 2019 8:35 PM | Margie Mathews (Administrator)

          Representation matters. So, too, does space – space in our society, space in the community, space for our voices, and space in the profession. Alice In Wonderland had it right – sometimes “fit” is more than just a buzz word.

          What is it that makes an issue deserving of space in our discourse? This is something that I asked myself, and later found myself being asked by others, with respect to the robing room initiative in February of 2019.

          Too Small

          In the legal profession, many who are comfortable with a sustained status quo may believe that we have made all the progress we really need to, and the rest is de minimus at best.

          Alternatively, some issues are seen as mild irritants – something to debate for a time, but easy to drop when there are other, more pressing things to be done.

          Too Big

          The other side of this is that seemingly small issues are representative of systemic problems that are inherently difficult to address. Focusing on the system as a whole can make the task of effecting change seem overwhelming. The barriers that women in law and other equity-seeking groups face in both society and the legal profession frequently can and do fall into this category.

          We often treat manifestations of a systemic problem as isolated issues. Individually, these issues can appear so small that they may seem worth overlooking. As a result, these issues have been permitted to exist for so long that they have become omnipresent, blending into the background of our daily lives where they are consistently ignored. These problems become our blind spots: everyday occurrences that we have been looking at for so long that we can no longer see the forest for the trees.

          What Now?

          What do these “little things” really mean? Are they truly so small that they should just be ignored? Is the task of effecting change so enormous that these “little things” will simply not even make a difference?

          Part of the problem in answering these questions is that the “little things”, and their connection to larger systemic injustices, are misunderstood. The issues are nuanced, and often hard to describe to those who haven’t encountered them as part of their lived experience. Expressing the feeling of not belonging can come across as whining, the act of describing microaggressions can itself be perceived as aggressive, and discussing unconscious bias seems to be one of the easiest ways to make an audience comprised of a traditionally advantaged majority become defensive.

          Just Right

          With all of that in mind, when a clear, unequivocal example of inequality appears, it can often be the opportunity to start long overdue discussions and catalyze change.

          When the size of the “Lady Barristers” robing room at Osgoode Hall and the disparity as compared to the men’s robing room came to the forefront of online discussions again this year, it was clearly time to address it.

          While the robing rooms at Osgoode Hall are one example in one courthouse, they are representative examples of the systemic and pervasive inequalities that women in law face on a daily basis in the legal profession. The connection between the unequal physical space in the robing rooms and the unequal allocation of space in the profession is more than just a metaphor. It is indicative of the fact that, notwithstanding the ever-increasing representation of women in law, the issues we face are often still invisible to many members of the profession. In the context of the long oral history of the mentoring, collegiality, and productive, substantive discussions on cases that occurs in the men’s robing rooms, the disparity was not only in space, but also in access.

          Why Bother?

          One of my favourite quotes from the movie based on the young Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, is when her daughter, Jane, states emphatically: “It’s not a movement if everyone is sitting down – it’s a support group.”

          As advocates, we must speak out and step up for ourselves and others when clear examples of inequality present themselves. Sometimes, it can be hard, and often, there is inherent personal and professional risk in doing so. While equality, diversity, and inclusion have become the latest hot issues in law firms and the profession, many engaged in the discourse are only comfortable with talk, and not action. However, only talking about a problem without taking any concrete steps to solve it imbues a false sense of progress, without actually advancing the issues.

          So, what can you do about it?

          Be a Catalyst for the Change You Want to See in the World

          Get involved, be engaged, and support others who are doing the same. Find something you’re passionate about, and stick with it. Come up with a motto that works for you, and apply it. For example, mine is: “See something, say something” and “Don’t like something, do something about it.”

          As recent calls, getting involved can often feel daunting, but advocating for change doesn’t necessarily have to be done with big initiatives or time consuming commitments. Consistently speaking up, supporting others, proposing solutions, engaging with people in positions of power, encouraging participation by allies who already have seats at the table, supporting those who are taking action, and showing solidarity all goes a long way to creating the change that’s needed when it comes to equality, diversity, and inclusion.


          Author: Breanna Needham

          Breanna Needham is as an Associate in the Toronto office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) and a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation practice group, where she maintains a diverse civil litigation practice with a focus on complex commercial litigation and class proceedings. Prior to joining BLG, Breanna practiced in the Toronto litigation department of a leading national firm, where she acted in a wide variety of matters, including defence side class actions, corporate and commercial litigation, product liability claims, and professional liability matters, as well as advised on legal obligations in the political sector, including in the areas of ethical compliance and conflict of interests. Breanna then practiced at a leading commercial litigation boutique in Toronto, where she represented clients in a broad range of complex commercial litigation, as well as in both plaintiff and defence side class actions. Prior to attending law school, Breanna worked as an agronomist and territory sales manager in the agricultural chemical industry.

          Breanna is committed to advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, with a focus on women in law. She recently successfully advocated for the Law Society of Ontario to address the disparity between the robing rooms at Osgoode Hall.

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