RARE Finds Profiles

  • June 17, 2013

Exceptional and Extraordinary. Meet CBA's RARE Finds.

A collection of inspirational profiles featuring CBA members who describe – in their own words – the challenges they have met in advancing within the legal profession despite barriers to equality. Also featured, are profiles of CBA members who have found innovative approaches to attrition and advancement for members of equality-seeking groups.

To meet our RARE Finds simply scroll down.


Lorin J. MacDonald

Lorin J MacDonaldI felt like I wasn't going to make it when

While seeking employment, many saw only my disability and its perceived limitations, not the positive attributes I had to offer. The focus was on how courageous and persistent I was to have finished law school; those same attributes were not seen as assets in my new career.

My biggest challenge

The biggest challenge a person with a hearing loss has is the dying art of effective communication. Good communication benefits everyone! By getting the message across effectively the first time, much time is saved down the road and everybody wins.

One word/phrase/sentence to encourage others who are uncertain about their future in the legal profession

It is never wrong to do the right thing - stick to your convictions!


Rovena Hajderi

Rovena HajderiMy biggest challenge

My biggest challenge was to break through the legal system as an immigrant woman. The people in the legal profession who do the hiring of new lawyers do not necessarily appreciate enough lawyers who do not fit the box description of the usual law school graduates. However, on the bright side, there are wise lawyers with hiring capacity out there who appreciate that life experience and determination to succeed are equally as important as education in order to make it through as a successful lawyer.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn't hire me

Thank you for not hiring me as obviously we would have not been a good fit for each other. You honed my perseverance and self-confidence as I was convinced that sooner or later things would just work out for the best.

One comment to encourage others

Do not think that the only reason why you were not hired is that there is something wrong with you. Chances are that there were business decisions involved in the hiring process and that the corporate mentality was not a good fit for you to begin with. You were meant to embark on another interesting opportunity, which now provides you abundance of self-fulfillment.


Chantal Chatelain

Chantal ChatelainMy greatest challenge

My greatest challenge as a woman in a private litigation practice has been to develop my self-confidence and inspire others to have confidence in me. It often happens that we women find it harder to assert ourselves than men do, and a fairly frequent trait in women in our profession is the unfortunate propensity to doubt our capabilities and our means. Meanwhile, those we deal with, be they clients, colleagues or judges, sometimes find – mistakenly of course – that the strength, vigour and conviction required to practise litigation is more compatible with certain masculine traits. However, over the years, I have not only been able to develop my self-confidence, which gives me the means to surpass myself on a daily basis, but also to assert myself as a lawyer of integrity, convinced and convincing, while remaining true to my feminine values.

I would like to see changes to the following aspect of our practice of law in Canada

When oaths of office and allegiance are administered, new lawyers swear and affirm that they will, in their actions and speech, have a respectful attitude and demeanour to those responsible for administering justice, including, obviously, the members of the judiciary and other officers of the court, as well as their future colleagues. But all too often, lawyers find themselves caught up in the daily whirlwind of their practice and - oops! - without warning, civility and courtesy give way to rudeness. Thus, lawyers may be led to think that the practice of law calls for rudeness, which is inconsistent with professional courtesy. Accordingly, I would like all of us, officers of the court that we are, to remind ourselves daily of the oath we took on the first day we began to practice. Maintaining a courteous demeanour when practising law is essential to a satisfying and serene practice.

I would like to encourage everyone who has doubts about their future in the legal profession with the following statement or sentence

It is important to be aware of one’s own limits and to respect them. But sometimes, our judgment in that regard is clouded by extraneous considerations. Especially in the first years of their practice, young lawyers are faced – quite intensely – with stress, which can affect their judgment. Thus it is definitely not useless for you to take a look at the real reasons for your doubts and take a step back to gain the perspective you need to make good choices for your life. The legal profession, provided it is practiced in coherence with our personal values, offers innumerable personal opportunities and satisfactions.


Lucretia Martenet: Barrister & Solicitor, Calgary

Lucretia MartenetI graduated from law school at 55. As an older woman with a background in community development, it was hard for me to get an articling position, through traditional channels. It was very difficult to interest firms in hiring an older female with my kind of background. I was ultimately able to connect with an articling position by networking.

Fortunately, in law, a person can start his or her own practice. I have worked in family law and now mostly in child protection, representing kids. I love my work. Although they were barriers to my entering the profession initially, my age and gender are, in fact, advantages that bring value into my practice. Embarking on a second career as a lawyer, I have already learned to adapt to many changes and expect to do so for the rest of my life. My age and experience make me mentally, emotionally and physically settled into myself and able to relate to clients by building a solid rapport.

I think it is a shame that older workers (especially women) are not always given a chance to prove themselves. Firms who don't consider hiring older women lose more than the lawyers do in the end.


Analea Wayne

Analea WayneMy breakthrough moment

When I finally learned to move past the things I didn't think I was great at and actually started believing that I was very capable in other areas in my career. That's a lot more difficult than it sounds - I think many of us stay in denial for far too long about what really motivates us. We're very used to having to promote ourselves and only focus on the good. It was when I stepped back and was ready to accept that I was not meant to do certain things in my practice that I could finally funnel my energy into things that I did well. And the more I did that, the better I became at those things in my professional life.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn’t hire me

"Meh. It's your loss."...Just kidding! Fit is so important. Much as we sometimes want to get a certain job (or want to hire a certain person) the best hires are one where there is a real sympatico between the employer and the candidate. It's a real chemistry that is often the best indicator that it is the right environment for someone to thrive. There's a lot of great work to be done in many different firms and companies; what it really boils down to, in my opinion, is a person's fit within that culture. I wouldn't take rejection too personally.

One word/phrase/sentence to encourage others who are uncertain about their future in the legal profession

Perservere - opportunity is everywhere.


Myfanwy Bowman, Clinic lawyer, Winnipeg

Myfanwy BowmanMy biggest challenge

My biggest challenge as a woman with children is balancing my work and my family obligations.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

Make more room for the needs and aspirations of women and other equality seeking groups. The practise of law is, in itself, fairly flexible. It is our firms, offices, administrative tribunals, courts, etc. that need to become a little more flexible, to make law more accessible as a career.

One comment to encourage others

You are not alone. There are many others who are having similar experiences – find them, and support each other.


Yvonne Peters, Private practice, Winnipeg

Yvonne PetersMy biggest challenges

My biggest challenges as a person who is totally blind was the frustration accessing required print information during my education, and dealing with the assumptions and stereotypes by some private law firms about my capacity to succeed as a practicing lawyer when I was looking for an articling position.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn't hire me

I am disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to experience practicing in a private firm. This has not prevented me from enjoying a successful and fulfilling law career. However, perhaps if private law firms were more committed to the human rights principle of the "duty to accommodate," we would have a richer and more diverse legal profession.


Lisa Reynolds, Private practice, Ottawa

Lisa ReynoldsI felt like I wasn't going to make it when

To be honest, I still have some moments when I feel like I'm not going to make it! Fortunately, those moments tend to pass with time and so far, I've been able to re-focus after each maternity leave and get back on track. Private practice can be challenging at times and having three kids adds a whole new dimension to things. I think the key is perseverance. It also helps to work in an environment where the importance of family is recognized and valued and where there is a mutual trust and respect amongst colleagues.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

There is a lot of talk these days about "work-life balance", but it seems that very few of us in the profession are actually able to achieve it. I even went so far as to sign up for a seminar on the topic recently, but then failed to attend due to work-related pressures. I guess I'd like to see firms create and implement more supportive programs and policies to facilitate work-life balance for lawyers. Overall, I think this would result in a healthier and more productive profession.

One comment to encourage others

Take initiative!


Colleen Spier, Sole practitioner, Victoria

Spier & Company Law Website

Colleen SpierI felt like I wasn't going to make it when

After finishing my first set of exams in law school, I learned how difficult it is to achieve grades outside the median range on a grading curve system. The average grade when I attended law school was between 72% and 76% and although I achieved grades within this average I felt like a complete failure as they were so much lower than the grades I had achieved in my undergraduate studies. Fortunately, I met a judge at the UBC First Nations Law Students Christmas Party to whom I happened to express my extreme disappointment in my grades and my intention to leave law school. He told me not to let grades discourage me. It was indeed these enlightened words that inspired me to continue with my legal education and to become a practicing Aboriginal lawyer in British Columbia. I never was the top student in my class but I was the first Aboriginal Judge appointed to the British Columbia Provincial Bench.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

Legal clients are diverse and so should lawyers be. As an Aboriginal person I can share more with an Aboriginal client than just my legal experience and advice. I can provide culturally-sensitive experiences and legal advice with empathy. The legal profession needs to embrace diversity in its advocates if it intends to meet the needs of its culturally-diverse clients.

One comment to encourage others

The following are not my words, but good words to live by when questioning one's future in the legal profession: "You are never given a dream without the power to make the dream come true". So, in my words, find your power and live your dream.


Brian Yuen, Private practice, Vancouver

Brian YuenMy biggest challenge

Biggest challenge as a person from the LGBT community seeking articling/employment is assessing whether to come out in the interview process or after being hired. As a job-seeker, I think the primary concern usually is to find work, but work is where we spend at least a third of the day so ideally it is a welcoming environment where one can be oneself and not fear discrimination. It's a chicken and egg situation. Do you come out and see what the reaction is before taking the job, or do you take the job and then figure out whether and when to come out? Fortunately, I think many workplaces are becoming more welcoming and forward-thinking, so hopefully newer lawyers will not feel the stress of whether and when to come out.

My breakthrough moment

My breakthrough moment was not a single moment, but a gradual realization as I met more and more out LGBT lawyers who are also leaders in the legal community: I can be who I am and achieve my goals as a lawyer. I have always been fortunate to meet LGBT lawyers who have shown me how they can be successful out lawyers. I want to thank my mentors and friends during my articling and young associate years. Since joining the CBA, I have also met other lawyers who have inspired me and showed me that they are meeting their professional goals on their terms.

One comment to encourage others

Have no fear or doubt. Good things happen when you truly want them to and believe they will!


Kim Thomassin, Managing partner, Quebec region

Kim ThomassinMy biggest challenge

Biggest challenge as a woman is that I want to do it all. I want to be a good lawyer, a good mother, a good wife, a good friend, a good mentor, a good person, and so on. It can be tough to balance it all.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn't hire me

I'M BAAAAACK!!!! But seriously, we can't be hired everywhere we apply. The legal community is a small one and things can change quickly, meaning that you may end up working at that same place you weren't hired in the first place.

One comment to encourage others

Be tenacious, always follow your gut feeling, and never settle for less than what you wish for.


Patricia De Guire, Tribunal member, Toronto

Patricia De GuireMy breakthrough moment

One of my articling principals reassured me that I had every skill – technical and soft – to make an "excellent" lawyer. He invited me to co-author a paper with him on a topic he was to deliver for a Canadian institute. He invited me to the event and introduced me to many of his colleagues as the co-author of the paper.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn't hire me

Your loss. The silver lining behind the dark clouds you created animates my passion to be a career adjudicator and to engage in active mentoring of young and new lawyers to help them excel and to overcome barriers in their legal careers.

One comment to encourage others

The legal profession is still a noble, multi-faceted profession with unlimited opportunities. With a keen commitment and mentorship, you can achieve any goal you desire!


Kate Bilson, In-house counsel, Calgary

Kate BilsonMy breakthrough moment

My breakthrough moment came on my first day as an in-house lawyer when I was liberated from time sheets. That moment quelled years of anxieties. Not having to obsess over my time has actually allowed me to become a better and more productive lawyer, more approachable for clients and colleagues, and more engaged in the challenges and demands of work.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practice law in Canada

Move away from the billable hour. Too often, in my observation, it serves to render yet more vulnerable our already vulnerable clients, fracture personal and professional relationships, create inequalities in the office and the home, and compromise the physical and emotional well-being of lawyers.

One comment to encourage others

Bring your true self to your work and you will find the right place in a profession full of diverse opportunities.


Denise Leblanc, Partner, Moncton

(available only in French)

Denise LeblancMon moment décisif

J'ai plut√īt DES moments d√©cisifs √† diff√©rents intervalles de temps. La pratique du droit est souvent difficile et exigeante mais pr√©sente toujours des d√©fis int√©ressants dignes d'√™tre relev√©s! A chaque ann√©e, je r√©fl√©chis √† l'ann√©e qui se termine et aux ann√©es qui l'ont pr√©c√©d√©e. Je dresse la liste des moments difficiles et la liste des clients et coll√®gues avec qui j'ai eu l'occasion de travailler. Pendant les 25 derni√®res ann√©es, la liste des aspects positifs de la pratique du droit a toujours √©t√© plus longue! 

J'aimerais que soit modifié l'aspect suivant de notre pratique du droit au Canada

Je souhaite que la pratique du droit devienne souple et accommodante √† cette partie de la vie et personnalit√© de tous les avocat(e)s qui n'est pas « juridique » au point o√Ļ les talents, contributions, et aspirations de tous, au sein de la pratique, pourront y trouver leur juste valeur.

J'aimerais vous encourager

La satisfaction que l'on retire de sa  profession (et de sa carri√®re) est directement proportionnelle aux efforts et contributions personnelles y investis envers son am√©lioration dans son ensemble.

J'ai plut√īt DES moments d√©cisifs √† diff√©rents intervalles de temps. La pratique du droit est souvent difficile et exigeante mais pr√©sente toujours des d√©fis int√©ressants dignes d'√™tre relev√©s! A chaque ann√©e, je r√©fl√©chis √† l'ann√©e qui se termine et aux ann√©es qui l'ont pr√©c√©d√©e. Je dresse la liste des moments difficiles et la liste des clients et coll√®gues avec qui j'ai eu l'occasion de travailler. Pendant les 25 derni√®res ann√©es, la liste des aspects positifs de la pratique du droit a toujours √©t√© plus longue! 

J'aimerais que soit modifié l'aspect suivant de notre pratique du droit au Canada

Je souhaite que la pratique du droit devienne souple et accommodante √† cette partie de la vie et personnalit√© de tous les avocat(e)s qui n'est pas « juridique » au point o√Ļ les talents, contributions, et aspirations de tous, au sein de la pratique, pourront y trouver leur juste valeur.

J'aimerais vous encourager

La satisfaction que l'on retire de sa  profession (et de sa carri√®re) est directement proportionnelle aux efforts et contributions personnelles y investis envers son am√©lioration dans son ensemble.


R. Lee Akazaki, Partner, Toronto

Visit Gilbertson Davis Emerson LLP's Diversity Page

R. Lee AkazakiMy breakthrough moment

About 20 years ago, I attended a lecture delivered by a Texas trial lawyer in a ten-gallon hat. He said the word "why," was the single most important word in legal practice. I note that "why?" is also the one-word question children use to learn about the world around them. Adults stop asking, out of fear of appearing foolish. Ever since that lecture, I have never blindly followed what other lawyers do. I ask myself, and others, "why," and follow my instincts.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn't hire me

Very few can see how a new lawyer will turn out ten or twenty years later. If you are blessed with that skill, you will build a great law firm.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

We seek too much comfort in the law and are often afraid of the facts. Facts make us nervous because we are not used to the facts of those we represent. Facts change faster than laws, but the law must keep up. Canadian lawyers need to think more about real outcomes, not just legal ones. If we as a profession get this, we will lead Canada as we once did.

One comment to encourage others

If not for your sake, then for your children.


Matt Mezciems, Law Student

Matt MezciemsI felt like I wasn't going to make it when

I first got to law school and was completely overwhelmed. Getting around in my wheelchair was the easy part. I just didn’t think that I would ever be able to handle the work or the material. After a while I understood that everyone was in the same situation. I learned to ask classmates and professors for help, and I eventually got comfortable. I have enjoyed law school ever since.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

A continuing increase in the hiring of lawyers with differing backgrounds and viewpoints. Lawyers with different perspectives can provide a broader examination of issues and better problem-solving.

One comment to encourage others

Persistence.


Heidi G Schedler

Heidi G SchedlerBiggest challenge as a woman lawyer

Staying in the profession. The retention rate for women lawyers in Canada is problematically low. Having no solution or maintaining the status quo is not acceptable. The profession needs to shift its mentality, be more creative and open to alternative methods of "practice" that will foster higher retention rates for both women and individuals from racialized communities.

One thing I would like to say to the person/firm who didn't hire me

Thank you! Oddly enough, not getting hired back opened doors for me and presented me with opportunities that I never would have been given had I been working there. Although it was hard to hear at the time, I knew that it wasn't the right place for me, and I am very happy with how things turned out.

One word/phrase/sentence to encourage others who are uncertain about their future in the legal profession

It gets better, I promise! The longer you stay in the profession, the more influence you gain to help others coming up through the ranks - something which carries heavy intrinsic value.


Victoria Loh

Victoria LohI felt like I wasn’t going to make it when

I finally worked up the courage to talk to this female lawyer whose reputation I admired, telling her that I found her intimidating but I wanted to get over it to figure out the best way to learn from her, and she told me she had no idea what I was talking about and to leave her alone. It was embarrassing and I felt foolish for saying what I thought. Later, I realized three things: 1. I was looking for a mentor; 2. she wasn't going to be my mentor; and 3. mentors don’t have be gender or ethnically specific – it’s really about admiring a personality.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

Is that lawyers should be paid on the quality of their work as opposed to how much time a lawyer spends on the work.

One word/phrase/sentence to encourage others who are uncertain about their future in the legal profession

Call me and we'll talk about it because if we don’t help each other when we are in doubt, we’ll all quit.


Melissa Atkinson, Public prosecutor, Whitehorse

My breakthrough moment

It was near the end of my articling year. I had sent out invitations to all my family, friends, and colleagues for my Call Ceremony. On January 31, 2002 there was standing room only as over 75 people crowded in the Yukon Supreme Court. It was an honour and privilege to share this moment my family and my community. I had not realized I made local history as I was the first Yukon First Nation to become Crown counsel. I can say it was an uneasy feeling being the first one but I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practice law in Canada

I was disappointed in the articling structure and Bar exam regime. I think it is in desperate need of an update and maybe a complete overhaul. I found Bar exams to be a foreign and an extremely stressful experience. It was just another way of institutional learning which was of little relevance compared to articling. I highly valued my courtroom experiences which included preparing, researching, and actually conducting cases. That practical experience far outweighed any standardized assignments, assessments, and exams in the Bar course.

One comment to encourage others

It is important for people to know who they are and remember where they come from. This foundation gives certainty in the future. I am very proud to be a Yukon First Nations woman. I am grounded in my culture, traditions, and customs. I know I have the guidance of my ancestors who have come before me. I have the advantage of having some excellent role models who have inspired me with their dedication, kindness, integrity, and compassion.


Barbara Burton, Private practice, Sudbury

My breakthrough moment

I was in Grade 4, in Mrs. King's class. She asked everyone in class what they'd like to be when they grow up. The most I had seen anyone from our reserve accomplish was a hairdressing job, so I thought big and told her I was going to be a hairdresser. She told me that I was capable of so much more.

I felt like I wasn't going to make it when

I started law school originally at Queen's in 1975 at the ripe old age of 19. There was exactly one Aboriginal fellow in 3rd year, and one in 2nd year. I was never so lonely.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

The drive to win at any cost prolongs litigation and ruins families. Lawyers should learn about finding consensus and making solutions work.


Chilwin Cheng, Legal Process Solutions

Company Website

Chilwin ChengPractice Innovations: Business Model/Practice Profile

We use innovative best practices to engage lawyers in high level work that connects them with our clients. We see ourselves as legal designers, finding innovative and workable solutions for clients. We outsource work regularly and focus on results-achieved billing. We use technology effectively and creatively. We practice law differently.

My innovative law business model gives lawyers and clients the opportunity to focus on what clients want most from their lawyers and what lawyers enjoy most about practicing law - creative problem solving, strategic level thinking, direct and deep engagement with clients and their needs and dreams. In doing so, we also enable lawyers to practice anywhere, anytime, with anyone in a truly collaborative way using both "high-tech" and "high-touch" approaches.

One comment to encourage others

As lawyers, if we allow ourselves to see possibility rather than risk, we have the opportunity and means to make a significant difference to our community and broader society... why wouldn't we do it?


McCarthy Tétrault, Maternity and Parental Leave Top Up Program

Maternity LeavePractice Innovations: Business Model/Practice Profile

McCarthy T√©trault's Parental Leave Program supports lawyers before and after the arrival of their child by providing them with access to an external consultant to help with the transition to parenthood, pairing them with a firm “buddy” who maintains contact during leave and helps with re-entry, and offering flexible hours on their return to work. A Parental Leave Toolkit includes a list of colleague who are parents and advice from them.

This innovative law business model gives lawyers

A flexible work schedule gives lawyers the opportunity to reduce work hours or shift the start and end of their day. The flexible schedule is also available for elder care. As a result of the program nearly 100 percent of mothers have returned to the firm after taking maternity leave between 2005 and 2009. The retention of senior women associates increased from 42 percent in 2003 to 57 percent in 2008.


Nicole Garton Jones, Heritage Law

Nicole Garton JonesPractice Innovations

My innovative law business model gives lawyers and clients the opportunity to

Combining a firm culture based on balance and flexibility with the effective use of technology has enabled Heritage Law to attract top talent and retain it. Technology facilitates a flexible work environment and allows us to handle a large volume of client files, provide excellent client service, and deliver a high quality work product. The lawyers and staff of Heritage Law are happy to be part of the firm.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada

Law is an honoured, ancient profession, but it is also a business facing increasingly competitive pressures. The democratization of information and forms on the internet, client demands for more cost effective solutions, and the increasing encroachment on the profession by non-lawyers using new technologies will result in significant changes to the legal profession. I would like to see Canadian lawyers take more of an innovative and proactive approach in meeting these upcoming challenges.

One comment to encourage others

Where there is change, there is opportunity.


Stephen Taran, Taran Virtual Associates, The Legal Outsourcing Network

Stephen TaranPractice Innovations

Business Model/ Practice profile

Our clients are lawyers who outsource their court appearances, discoveries, drafting, document review, and research on a task-by-task basis to our network of over 75 contract lawyers throughout Canada. Over 950 lawyers have used our services in the past 14 years.

My innovative law business model gives lawyers, who would otherwise have left the profession, the opportunity to continue practicing law with more work-life balance. Our contract lawyers often work from home and range from lawyers with young children to lawyers who have retired from their active practices.

One thing I would like to see changed in the way we practise law in Canada is to use technology to empower, rather than erode, work-life balance.

One comment to encourage others…

The practice of law can be flexible enough to fit your life.