In a candid Q&A, Incoming President Kelly McDermott shares her thoughts on the pride she takes in public service, the surprise early-start to her presidency, why success should not mean sacrifice, and the motivation behind a presidential mandate that will focus on supporting members through difficult times.
What inspired you to become a lawyer and, later, prompted you to pursue a career in labour and employment law as a senior in-house counsel at the Regional Municipality?
I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and specifically a labour and employment lawyer, very early on. My Dad was a labour lawyer and his stories from the trenches drew me in. As a result, I found myself heavily involved in labour-management politics during my graduate studies and from there it was cemented. I was going to law school and I was going to become a labour and employment lawyer. My call to public service came later. Like many new parents, I was hoping to find a better work-life balance in the public sector, but what I didn’t anticipate was the satisfaction I would feel serving the community where I live and work. I take immense pride in seeing my work translate into tangible community projects and greatly appreciate the platform I have to advocate for and effect public policy in my community.
When are you most fulfilled in your work?
As an in-house labour lawyer working for a heavily unionized regional municipality, my practice is often conflict and crisis driven. I am most fulfilled when I can strategize and lead all parties to a resolve that supports the ongoing working relationship between the unions and management, shapes future policy and guides strategic direction. As in-house counsel, I also have the unique opportunity to branch into multiple areas of law, often outside of my wheelhouse, and participate in or lead projects that have a direct impact on the community where I live and work.
What do you see as the most prevalent or problematic misconception the public holds about lawyers?
The greatest public misconception/stereotype about lawyers is that all lawyers are inherently conflict driven and focused on billing. In my experience in both the public sector and private sector (at national and boutique firms), the Ontario bar is full of collegial, reasonable and customer-service-oriented lawyers who genuinely care for their clients and want to find resolves that are cost effective and timely.
Tell us about the first OBA event you attended.
After I was called to the bar in 2007, I immediately became involved in the OBA’s Young Lawyers Division and attended many events as a newly minted lawyer. Aside from the stellar professional development I received, I made some incredible connections with several lawyers at all different stages of their careers and in various practice areas. These were lawyers I had no reason to meet but for the OBA. Those connections turned into key mentorships and supports that have endured throughout my career.
What’s some professional advice you wish you had received early in your career?
I wish I knew early in my career that there is not just one path to success in the legal profession and success doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself and your family. In my practice, I have shifted to a more collaborative and team-focused approach to serving our clients. This gives everyone space to have lives outside of work and know that when life happens/things get hard, you will have each other’s backs and the work will get done. My hope is that lawyers new to our profession won’t feel the incredible strain I felt as a young woman lawyer to choose between work and life.
When our then incoming president was appointed to the bench in 2022, you learned your presidency would begin six months earlier than planned. How did you feel hearing that news?
Aside from sheer panic, I was absolutely thrilled about Justice Agarwal’s appointment. He brings great knowledge, wisdom and empathy to the bench. I was also extremely grateful that Karen Perron agreed to continue on as president for an additional six months. It provided me with a meaningful runway to develop my mandate and soak up the key mentorship that she has patiently and graciously provided me.
Your presidential mandate will focus on supporting members through difficult times. Why is that important to you?
Like many of our members, I am a lawyer who struggles to find balance between an acutely busy legal practice and life. I am a single mom, a caretaker and I personally have contended with underlying disabilities. The pandemic and some major life crises only amplified that struggle and left me feeling burnt-out and deeply depressed. Yet, I have managed to endure. Not because I am uniquely strong or resilient, but because I had support. A key support was, and remains, the OBA. The magic of the OBA is that it threads the needle between the personal and professional and my platform will highlight and centralize that important work through initiatives such as peer support, education/resources, and one-on one member support.
In August 2024, what do you most hope to be able to say about your term as president?
Over the course of my term, the OBA will highlight, develop and centralize tools to support members through difficult times. My hope is that by August 2024, every member who needs support when life shows up, will turn to the OBA and find exactly what they need to endure, adapt and thrive.
Let’s finish with four rapid-fire questions…
- Person you turn to for advice? My parents. Always, my parents. My Dad, for advice on my legal practice, and my Mom, for advice on just about everything else.
- Go-to karaoke tune? Eye of the Tiger. Unfortunately, OBA Council members have been subjected to my rendition on more than one occasion and I have every intention of doing it again this year. My sincerest prospective apologies.
- Ideal Sunday activity? Running. I started running later in life in response to an underlying disability. It has physically empowered me in the face of an unpredictable disability and provides me the mental space I simply don’t get anywhere else.
- Superpower you’d most like to possess? Predicting the future. Like many lawyers, I like to be prepared.