Exceptional Women of the Bench and Bar

  • September 15, 2021
  • Christine Vanderschoot, principal, Vanderschoot Family Law

While COVID-19 has been a scourge on our society, and continues to impact us personally and professionally, the OBA has continued to provide meaningful programs that help us keep in touch during this difficult time. This was true for the recent and timely event held on September 9, 2021, where a panel of senior counsel and Judges discussed their various routes to success, sharing tips and strategies with the attendees. This event was Co-Chaired by Megan Keenberg of Van Kralingen & Keenberg LLP and Rachel Migicovsky of Clyde & Co. LLP.  

Participants were treated to an hour and a half of interesting panel discussion and a more intimate networking event at the end where, in break-out rooms, smaller groups could gather and make real and lasting professional connections. The time flew by; personally, I think another hour or so would have been fun, but all good things must come to an end I suppose!

The speakers included the Honourable Jessica Kimmel, the Honourable Sandra Y. Nishikawa, Kimberly Alexander of KBA Partners LLP, Sumeet Dhanju-Dhillon of Torkin Manes LLP, Janice Payne from Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP, Linda Rothstein of Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP, Andrea Sanche of Ricketts Harris LLP, Tanya Walker of Walker Law PC, and Leena Yousefi of YLAW Group.

The discussion commenced with Megan asking for the panellists’ comment on whether where a young lawyer starts her career dictates where her career will go? Some excellent advice ensued: senior counsel responded that different pathways were always open, including young lawyers being encouraged to develop their own style instead of emulating older lawyers’ behaviours. As younger counsel learn from mentors and sponsorship arrangements and gain experience, they should allow their own professional style to develop; this will aid that young lawyer in building her confidence and making her more persuasive.

All counsel agreed that their careers had evolved and changed significantly over time; that said, it was a key factor to be your own best advocate in terms of figuring out what area of law was a good fit, and establishing and nurturing relationships with more senior counsel who could then act in a mentorship role to accelerate the young lawyer’s learning and to become a supporter, and potentially source of work, for that mentee.

Next came the “bare all” question to the panel: What would you do differently if you could turn back time? One panellist in particular was very forthcoming when she admitted that if she could do it all again she would force herself, a natural introvert, to cultivate relationships with peers instead of keeping her head down and focusing on the work only. She sees the value in having now developed networks with her peers, something she did not focus on at the beginning of her career.

The discussion moved on to how “planned” were the panellists’ careers, including if our Judges had set out to attain a seat on the Bench. Surprisingly perhaps, both of our Judges were foremost focused on balancing family and professional lives/practices as their first priorities; while each remained forward-looking and open to opportunities, those opportunities had to align with other facets of their lives. Once again, mentorship – having a “champion” to talk through personal and professional challenges – was a key factor.

One senior counsel explained further: “You want to find a champion who will have your back and talk you up when you are not even in the room.” Wise words. But that same counsel reiterated the need for a young lawyer to take it upon herself to find that sponsorship or good-fit mentoring relationship. She had had success in “intra-firm” marketing; she made it a habit to take senior counsel and peers for lunch so that she was on their radar. Mentors did not have to look like you or even be counsel; one senior lawyer bonded with Canada’s first female black parliamentarian Jean Augustine, and a real friendship as well as a mentorship relationship was the result. Another commonality amongst the panellists was that they agreed that mentors must know that their time is valuable to you; a sincere “thank you” is never out of place.

Senior counsel shared that building their practice was a result of many endeavours including network-building with other counsel to gain referral sources, and of course doing your best job for clients so that former clients would send you your future clients.

The program concluded with a 30-minute open discussion where attending participants had the opportunity to learn more from the panellists and each other about how they find support and build their practices. It was also an opportunity to chat one-on-one and get to meet and connect with other women in different areas of law across the country. These opportunities for networking are invaluable, especially at a time when so many of us are not physically seeing peers at the office. Thank you panellists, participants, and Megan and Rachel for a fantastic evening event.

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