I had the privilege of participating in a recent OBA program organized and co-chaired by our President Pascale Daigneault with Shelley Quinn, chair of the OBA Women Lawyers Forum. A diverse group of women lawyers, including The Hon. Anne Marie Bonkalo and CBA Second Vice President Janet Fuhrer shared their “Success Strategies”.
Interestingly, most of the women who spoke mentioned that volunteer work has been important in their legal careers. Volunteer work fuels my passion and gives me the energy to keep going. After over 30 years working in family law - with all its challenging legal, emotional and financial issues - I am amazingly not burnt out. I still care about my clients and feel passionate about what I do.
I consider the decision to take on volunteer work somewhat similar to the decision to have a child. Both need to be approached with a leap of faith.
Shortly after I was called to the bar my then employer and mentor, Linda Silver Dranoff, encouraged me to put my name in to serve on the OBA Family Law Section Executive. I was new to the OBA and had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. Looking back now, however, I believe this introduction to volunteering had the most significant impact on my legal career and probably on my life, in terms of “job satisfaction”. It was not because I was able to add this volunteer position to my CV – it was because I felt, and still feel, that it is important to make a difference in family law and for family law clients.
I consider the decision to take on volunteer work somewhat similar to the decision to have a child. Both need to be approached with a leap of faith. If you stop to consider all that you are taking on when you bring a child into the world, most people would not do it. If you stop to consider all you have going on already in your personal and professional lives, you might be reluctant to add volunteering.
Women lawyers in particular still take on more family responsibilities. And in our professional lives we may still be working harder than our male colleagues to get similar recognition. Yes, volunteering does take time – time away from our clients and time away from our families. But it is not a one-way street. The energy you expend in volunteering is returned to you, just in a different form.
As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to learn and demonstrate leadership potential, to make connections with members of the public and colleagues in different areas of practice who can provide referrals, and you have the opportunity to distinguish yourself from others in your area of practice.
Whether you choose to volunteer in the legal area or in another area that is meaningful to you, I encourage you to find and follow your passion. Not only will this help improve the quality of your personal life, it will sustain and energize you in your professional life. We all have the ability to make a difference, however we choose to define it.
About the Author
Judith Huddart is a family lawyer with Dranoff & Huddart in Toronto.