The Art of the Game and the Rules We Try to Learn

The following article was submitted by a WLMP Alumna, who requested to remain anonymous.

Learn to play the game“Learn to play the game or someone else will play it for you.” That simple sentence fundamentally changed my perception of the practice of law at a large firm.  This advice suggested calculation, persuasion, and execution. It was a male mentor who had given me this advice, and at that time — I rejected it.

Now, as I mentor junior lawyers and work towards partnership at that same firm, I realize that learning the rules of “The Game” is the essence of survival in the practice of law: big firm or not.

When I use the term “The Game,” what I actually mean is a law firm’s individual culture. Each law firm has its own way of determining what behavior is rewarded and what is punished. Unfortunately for junior lawyers, there is no handbook. No guide is handed out to us during the law firm’s orientation. Nope. That advice, for better or worse, is held by the Partners.

What does it mean to play “The Game”?

I think to play “The Game”, a female lawyer must:

  • Persuade someone in power to give you the rule book. This requires authenticity, grit, good work, and yes – some business acumen. It means having a legal mentor that gives you something more than advice over coffee. They give you time. They shortcut the time required to learn law firm culture on your own and they also give you time by telegraphing warning signs for you to leave.
  • Get the rule book early. Although there is nothing wrong in taking the time to find the right legal mentor (I cannot stress this enough), it is still important to know and to learn the rules early. As they all say, “first and early impressions matter.” This is of course true in the practice of law – both for the law firm and also your assessment of your future within that firm.
  • Ask that strong legal mentor to back you up when you play the game. When I decided to actively participate in the politics, culture and leadership of my firm, I needed that mentor right next to me. They had to do more than backseat drive. They had to visibly be in the front of our journey with me – in all its shame, joy, failure and thrill.

My reluctance to label law firm culture as “The Game” flows from the fear of labeling strategic thinking, especially in women, as “not nice”; this comes from the perception that there is something wrong with persuasion, planning, and execution.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things. In fact, as I become a more seasoned lawyer, I encourage junior lawyers and students-at-law to cultivate opportunities and have discussions with senior lawyers about “The Game”.  After all, if you don’t master it, someone else may master it for you.


Creating a Team of Mentors that Fits Your Career Goals

Supreme Court of CanadaOne of the best things a law student can do is to create a team of mentors. A diverse cross-section of mentors offer a law student, new graduate or junior lawyer with valuable guidance, wisdom, support and connections. Having one mentor is invaluable, but having a team of mentors can ensure that support is available at different times and in different ways. Especially, when those barriers that women in the law face present themselves.

How do you create a team of mentors?
First start with existing mentorship programs. If you are a law student at a university with a WLMP Chapter, all you have to do is sign up to have access to a legal mentor and a peer mentor.

Existing mentorship programs, like the WMLP, provides a ready-made connection with both a lawyer in the community and an experienced law student. Both forms of mentorship are excellent support mechanisms for navigating the challenges presented by law school and a looming career. A female legal mentor can help extend your network. Having strong female peer and legal mentors will also help you feel less isolated in the law.

There are also existing mentors built right into the law school itself – professors! If you have a professor that is inspiring, or who does work that really interests you, or who approaches the law from a framework that resonates with you, then that professor may make an excellent mentor.

Reach out to a professor who you connect with. Take advantage of their office hours, ask them questions after class, apply for a research position they are offering, or ask if they have research or other projects that you can get involved with. Developing a mentorship relationship outside of the classroom is helpful when you have a question or a problem that isn’t related to the coursework. That professor will also get to know you better, which means they will better be able to write reference letters for you when you need them or assist you as you start out on your career path.

Don’t overlook your classmates. Each law student comes to law school with their own backgrounds and experience, which means your peers are a valuable resource. Having a trusted mentor among your peers also means you have a safe space to work through ideas together and collaboratively. Peer mentors don’t always need to have the answers – sometimes you can work with a mentor to arrive at the answer together.

Finally, be sure to recognize when you have an informal mentor in your life. There will be times when you have a formal mentor, such as when a mentor is assigned to you at your workplace, whether you are in a firm, government department, inhouse counsel office, public interest or not-for-profit organization. However, there may also be someone in your life who takes the time to check in with you and offer support when you need it.

That person could be an Associate at the firm you are summering at, an experienced lawyer at the government agency or organization you are doing an internship at, or a friend who took a non-traditional path to their legal career. If that person is offering informal guidance, recognizing that person as a mentor will allow you to nurture and develop the relationship. 

If you take the time to develop a number of mentorship relationships, you will soon find yourself supported by a team of mentors. These mentors will guide you in different ways and through different approaches, helping to champion you in your career.

Where and how you practice law may change in the future

There is more than one way to practice law. This is a message many law students don’t hear often. Accessing justice and where lawyers are practicing their craft is changing.

Look at Toronto based Axess Law. Lawyers Lena Koke and Mark Morris, co-founded  Axess Law, a discount law firm with 10 locations within Walmarts throughout the GTA. Axess Law offers legal services such as wills, business incorporations or residential real estate transactions and are located where clients can access their services — the local WalMart. Apparently, business is good and Axess Law is looking to expand in Ontario and possibly across Canada. Before you think that this isn’t what the legal practice should look like. Consider for a moment that most law firms started in simple storefronts long before they became Bay Street blue chip firms.

Not to mention that in many common law jurisdictions, law firms are set up and function very differently compared to Canada. For example, Australia’s Slater & Gordon Ltd is listed on the stock exchange.

Britain’s QualitySolicitors is a franchise model. They are a chain of independent small and medium sized firms working under a brandname. By functioning under a brandname, smaller and medium sized firms can compete nationally with larger traditional law firms in their marketing.

The success of Axess Law is an example of how the delivery of legal services is starting to change in Canada. That’s why in November 2014, the Women’s Legal Mentorship Program through its uOttawa Chapter’s WLMP Fund co-sponsored with the Cavanagh LLP Professionalism Speaker Series a joint panel entitled “Innovations in the Delivery of Legal Services.”

You can learn more about alternative business structures (ABS) among other innovations by viewing the panel through the WLMP YouTube Channel.




Stressed? Send a Note to Future You.


No doubt about it. Law school, articling, legal practice and non-law related careers are stressful. At times the stress can seem overwhelming. It can stop you in your tracks, which then creates more stress.

That’s where resilience comes in. Resilience isn’t just the ability to tough something out. It’s the ability to spring back and recover from being knocked off your stride.

Lots of people feel that resilience is something a person is born with, but is it? It’s true that some people are better equipped to handle adversity, bounce back and take criticism constructively instead of defensively. This helps them move forward in all aspects of their lives. However, resilience isn’t something your born with, but it’s something you can develop.

Resiliency is a Skill

What resilient people have in common is their ability to equip themselves with skills and techniques to face challenges. Skills that can be learned and developed over time. Some of the resiliency skills practiced by resilient people include:

  • Managing their emotions so they don’t fall into the trap of catastrophizing a comment or situation.
  • Focusing on the positives and practicing positive self talk.
  • Viewing themselves as gladiators and not victims. They channel their internal Olivia Pope!
  • Stopping, taking a step back and assessing the situation as it really is and not what they perceive it to be.
  • Asking for help and not worrying about how asking for help will look to others.
  • Developing strong personal, professional and mentorship networks.

 Future Self Message Technique

One of the best ideas we’ve come across and wish we’d have known as law students and early in our careers is the stress relief and resiliency technique practiced by LaNia. When she’s stressed, LaNia sends a message to her future self. What makes it more powerful is her use of video messages.

We’ve include her video shared and published in  the Huffington Post entitled “Dear Future Me: Stress Reduction by LaNia“.

Next time you’re feeling stressed. Take a “Future Self Message” break. Stop and ask yourself, “Future me how did I get through this?” Then do what LaNia does and remind yourself that you got through it. Consider recording an uplifting message from your present self to your future self. Remind yourself of your goal and that you achieved it.

This simple technique helps you build resiliency. It forces you to stop and reassess the situation. It helps you get perspective. It facilitates positive self talk. Over time, future self messaging  will become second nature. Soon you’ll be bouncing back faster and stronger!

The WLMP’s Blog Posts to a Young Lawyer are an initiative focused on gleaning advice, including publishing advice from women in the legal community for both law school students and women lawyers in early years of their law careers or non-law careers. If you would like to contribute, then contact us at