Conversation with Jacqueline St. Hill

  • October 04, 2021
  • Catherine Ewasiuk

What made you choose to practice law?

My route to law school was not a set objective, but an idea as a result of being aware of what I liked to do — read, write, ask questions, analyze information, offer opinions and argue. (My parents repeatedly pointed out that last trait!) By the time I was in high school, I was thinking of law or journalism. I only knew of one lawyer in the Caribbean community when I was growing up here (in Winnipeg). I went into Arts, then wrote the LSAT to see what I thought and even when entering law school, I was open to “just seeing how it went”. I loved it.

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?

I started practicing at a time when women were joining the profession in ever-increasing numbers. I would describe it as a time of excitement and one of challenge. The former due to the sense of being part of something new. Women were seen as an anomaly and there were open questions about their suitability and ability to be a lawyer. The women ahead of me had started to clear the path and I was fortunate to work with some excellent role models early in my career. The latter description really was because of the day-to-day aggravation of being dismissed, ignored or underestimated. Being a Black woman meant that the impact of my presence was felt on two fronts. I knew that sexism and racism were part of my reality since being conscious as a child, but I did find it disappointing that the profession reflected the degree of ignorance that it did. In retrospect, it was not surprising; it is a microcosm of our society. I did benefit from being in a relatively small legal community where people could actually get to know one another. Making those personal and professional connections was important support and I learned a lot from other colleagues.

Women in law really did force some conversations about stereotypes, gender roles, value of certain work, family responsibilities and wellness. Early on, there was a pressing desire to see change and there have been advancements - in the law, in the profession and in attitudes. There has been change, but like so many efforts toward equality, the work has to continue to sustain it and move forward. It is a problem that women leave the profession or seem to have fewer choices within it in order to manage work, a personal life and their health. Our society has always put certain pressures on women and I have noticed that anxiety and confidence issues in younger lawyers seem more pronounced than in the past.

Further, the talk about inclusivity has to have meaning. The legal profession as a whole has to be open to practitioners who reflect the breadth of diversity in this country. My awareness of Canada’s history regarding Indigenous people came about through working in criminal law, not due to anything learned at school, including law school. I know that is starting to improve due to more informed educational efforts. So, the challenge remains. However, in that challenge there are opportunities for advancing change.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Look after yourself — your health and well-being.

Make time for your family and friends.

Don’t worry so much.

A legal career can be what you want it to be — pursue your own expectations not someone else’s.

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

I am an avid jelly- and jam-maker and my personal favourite is blackcurrant. We used to grow our own grapes and raspberries. This year’s grape harvest will be courtesy of a friend’s yard.

Catherine Ewasiuk is an associate with Fulton & Company LLP in Vancouver.