As I conclude my term as Past Chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division-East (“OBA YLD-East”), I want to reflect on how my experience on the OBA YLD-East Executive has helped me develop as a young lawyer. While the paths of all lawyers are unique, I wanted to share some of the lessons that I have learned in case it’s helpful for others thinking of joining the OBA executive or serving in similar roles.
In the fall of 2016, I joined the OBA YLD-East Executive as a member-at-large. I was a newly called lawyer practicing in international trade law at a private boutique firm in Ottawa. Over the course of the last six years, I have also taken on various leadership positions on the OBA YLD-East Executive, including the positions of Newsletter Editor, Vice-Chair, Chair, and now Past-Chair. During this time, I have continued to build my knowledge in international trade law, moving from a junior associate to a senior associate role at my firm. During this time, I’ve also started a family.
Here are five ways in which taking on a leadership position within the OBA YLD-East Executive has helped me along the way:
1. Developing Leadership Skills
As young lawyers gain seniority, they are expected to take on more leadership roles. Taking on a leadership role with the OBA YLD-East early on in my career allowed me to better understand the style of leadership I am most comfortable taking on. Specifically, being the Chair of the OBA YLD-East during the 2021-22 term, when all meetings had pivoted to an online platform, required flexible thinking on my part. It also required that I try out innovative strategies to keep members engaged and motivated.
2. Building Professional Networks
I believe that building professional legal networks is not only important for lawyers in private practice, but also for government lawyers and in-house counsel. Being on the executive of the OBA YLD-East allowed me to meet a variety of young lawyers practicing in a number of fields, including family law, litigation, estate law, commercial law, etc. While I specialize in international trade law, the professional network that I have built with other lawyers has not only been a great source of referrals, but they have also broadened my own horizons as to the range of legal practice in Eastern Ontario.
3. Voice for Young Lawyers
As a member of the OBA YLD-East Executive, I was able to be a voice for young lawyers by planning programs on topics that matter to them. In addition, as the Chair of the OBA YLD-East, I was invited to sit on the OBA Board of Directors, and to share our opinions on what matters to younger lawyers, whether it be our position on remote hearings or pro bono services.
4. Giving Back to the Community
The OBA YLD-East has undertaken several initiatives to give back to the community. These include a Lawyers Feed the Hungry event with the Ottawa Mission, as well as the Mock Trial events in Ottawa’s elementary and middle schools. In addition to giving back to the community, the events also allow the executive members of the OBA YLD-East to come together as a community themselves. As a young lawyer, it has been an enormous honour to participate in these initiatives and to help others.
5. Shared Life Experiences
When I joined the OBA YLD-East, I was recently married and soon expecting my first child. Being a young lawyer and a new mother was a challenging time in my life. Within the OBA YLD-East division, I found that other young lawyers were going through similar life experiences. I was able to connect with them while on maternity leave and share tips and tricks on balancing work and family. While this balancing task is difficult, learning from ambitious, like-minded lawyers certainly made it a lot easier.
About the author
Susana May Yon Lee is an international trade lawyer with Cassidy Levy Kent (Canada) LLP in Ottawa, the current Past Chair of the OBA Young Lawyers Division-East, a wife, and a mother of three young children.
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