[Originally published in the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association's "The In-House Edition" on August 4, 2020]
On the cusp of becoming a lawyer several years ago, in the midst of my licensing process, I was preparing for one of my first client intake meetings one morning, in anticipation of a solid learning experience. With the tunnel vision of a dedicated lawyer-to-be, I printed my intake forms, carefully organized each document, rehearsed the details of each item and excitedly prepared for the scenario that I had long awaited: the chance to speak with a client face to face, put my training to work, and truly engage in client management and relationship building.
Taking a deep breath, I strode purposefully into our reception area, ready to extend a hand to a real client, not merely a case scenario from a textbook. My expectation harshly collided with reality when I was, instead, met with a dismissive, “When the lawyer arrives, can you let me know? And can you grab me a coffee?”
Startled, I blinked.
Unconscious bias had suddenly manifested itself in my professional life. Without even introducing myself, how had my appearance conveyed that my role was merely that of a messenger and coffee fetcher? How did I transition from the role of a lawyer-to-be to a state of defensiveness in a span of seconds? And more importantly for female, racialized lawyers like myself, would defensiveness and self-justification be an inherent part of my job?