Interview with Daphne Dumont

  • August 30, 2019
  • Veronica Singer

Daphne E. Dumont,  C.M., Q.C, is this year’s recipient of the Cecilia I. Johnstone Award. The 2019 Award will be presented during the Cecilia Johnstone Award Luncheon on October 19, the second day of the Leadership Conference for Professional Women. Dumont was one of the first women lawyers in PEI. She was the first female president of the PEI CBA and President of the national CBA in 2000-01.

What made you choose to practice law?

It was more an intellectual interest than a practical one. I was a philosophy and history student at Queen’s University with no concrete plans for the future, other than a vague idea of perhaps being a history teacher. As part of the philosophy program I took some jurisprudence courses at the law school. I found legal theory, and looking a questions of justice, most interesting. I also have lawyers in my family. So, in third year, I took the LSAT for fun, did very well and applied to law school...and I haven’t looked back.

What has been your experience as a woman in law? How has it changed since your career started, and where do we still need to go?

Overall, despite some minor, yet intense annoyances, my experience as a woman in law has been very positive. I started practicing and advocating for women at a time of very significant inequities, so I experienced much more frustration in advocating for my clients than I experienced myself as a practitioner. I was only the fourth woman called to the bar in PEI, and we were a very collegial little group. In law school, maybe because we were so few women, I found the environment very open. It changed in the eighties as the number of women in law schools grew, and we were perceived by some as a potential threat.

In addition to my practice, I got involved with LEAF, NAWL, and the CBA, so I had real, hands-on, “let’s make life better” experiences. Once the Charter came in and we had more tools to work with, it got even more exciting. And the women I had the opportunity to meet and work with in all these organizations, were astonishing!

Finally, in retrospect, my own experience has had its difficult and lonesome times. Being a feminist divorce lawyer could be a reason I never married—but I am definitely a very happy single person.

The biggest change I have seen is the phenomenal number of female colleagues I now have. There are more women in the bar, on the bench, and in organizations such as law societies and the CBA. There are women jurors, and prosecutors, where there weren’t any when I started. It is now absolutely normal for women to be lawyers. And I have to say that all these shoes now filled by women are filled by absolutely phenomenal women. There are no failures.

We do still have a way to go. Young lawyers tell me there are still some archaic assumptions in the day-to-day management of a firm. The “housekeeping” type activities such as planning events, still fall primarily to women. Now that women have access to committees, they are often the ones doing the bulk of the work.

One of the biggest challenges to women in law remains balancing family and professional obligations. Oftentimes pregnancy comes at that same time as potential partnership, so many women leave private practice for government, where leave opportunities are greater. While things are beginning to change, men are still reluctant to take parenting leave, so the burden remains more heavily on women.

While it is changing, family law (which I practice) is still a bit of a “ghetto”. There persists the view that family concerns don’t rank as highly as others. This is despite the fact that family law requires great skills to negotiate solutions within ongoing relationships. This is very difficult work which does not get the credit it deserves.

What advice would you give your younger self?

  1. Don’t take on so much. Focus on the many, many things you got done, rather than the few you didn’t.
  2.  Be tougher financially. Value your own work. I often overburdened and undervalued myself.
  3. Travel, take time off and enjoy – don’t just work. Find committee work that comes with travel.
  4. Don’t turn down opportunities. Don’t be afraid. Say yes to a challenge.

Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I can tell you three.

  1. I actually, really do NOT want to be a judge. 
  2. Sometimes I feel very nervous about things which in our profession require confidence.
  3. I have a Presbyterian conscience my good friends have named “Zelda”.  She drives me hard, telling me I am never quite good enough.  And, still having a critical voice in my head, receiving such special recognition allows me to send Zelda away on a long trip, and truly enjoy what I have achieved.