Reflections; A student no more, but not yet a lawyer

  • June 11, 2019
  • Charlene Scheffelmair

As I write this, I’m a month away from beginning my articles and it’s a bit strange to be at this stage. A student no more, but not yet a lawyer. I’m no longer tied to a university, studying, books, tuition, or the never-ending struggles of university parking but at the same time, articling and the practise of law share a lot with what it is like to be a student. Our articling year is filled with modules and homework, constant on-the-job learning, late nights, networking, and a general sense that we need to find our way in our new office ecosystems. Surprisingly, that’s not what makes me anxious about articling because I’ve learned how to be a student through my eight years of post-secondary. What I’ve not yet had the chance to master is being out in the work world managing expectations, meeting deadlines, and also figuring out who I am as a functioning member of society. Sure, many of us have had these experiences in brief stints as summer students, or some have taken a year or two off in between law school and undergrad. But entering the “real world” and, by extension, the legal profession, is something that is completely new to me.

A further source of anxiety? Being a woman in the legal profession. There are levels of complexity that my male counterparts won’t have to or aren’t having to deal with. One of those is the tension between having a thriving career and making the choice to start a family. Some would argue that there is no choice to be made – that you can “have it all” – but I would argue that there is still a high degree of pressure on this choice. There is fear that if we leave the profession to have a child, that our careers will suffer, or that a career trajectory that once seemed secure has – quietly and swiftly – changed direction without choice. That’s not to say that there are no female partners, or highly successful women who also have children. Success as a woman can be obtained in the legal profession, but where I take issue is that it is still such a fear amongst female lawyers, that becoming a mother will adversely affect their career.

A second complexity – which is putting it lightly – is the disrespect that women still face from male counterparts or clients. That even in 2019 women are still fighting for a place in this profession. It has been assumed (I’ve experienced this firsthand) that if we are in the room with a male colleague it is because we’re assisting the male lawyer – not because we too are lawyers and have value and expertise to add to the file.  That if we speak firmly while in leadership positions we are being bossy or rude but a male in the same position is a leader and stern. That we are expected to be sweet and kind, smiling always. That our presence in the courtroom is still somehow marvelled at. This isn’t to say that we haven’t made progress, or that there aren’t a lot of great men in the profession who support women, but the fact of the matter is that we still have a long way to go.  

What’s worse yet, is women are silenced and fearful of speaking up about these issues because they’re concerned about the negative effect that expressing these views may have on their career. That they’ll be seen as women who ruffle feathers or don’t stick to the status quo. That being seen as a feminist – because that’s somehow become a dirty word – is a problem, even though feminism at its core is only trying to achieve equity between the genders. I’m proud to say I’m a feminist. I’m proud to take part in movements such as the #lawneedsfeminismbecause, and I’m proud to use the legal profession and my voice to create space for other women to do the same. The more women that come together, the more quickly we’ll break through the glass ceilings.

Charlene Scheffelmair, B.Ed., J.D. is a student-at-law with Davidson & Williams LLP, and Co-Vice Chair of the CBA Law Students Section.