WLMP and #LawNeedsFeminismBecause Announce Official Collaboration

The Women’s Legal Mentorship Program is proud to announce that we will be collaborating with the #LawNeedsFeminismBecause 2017 campaign. Both organizations share the goals of improving gender equality and diversity in the law, as well as the retention of women in the profession. WLMP is excited about the partnership and the opportunity to continue the conversation about and spark change in feminism and the law.

The McGill-based campaign, led by Rachel Kohut, expands nationally this year. The #LNFB team will host a national conference at McGill in March 2017 during the week of International Women’s Day. imageLaw faculties across Canada will simultaneously run their own campus campaigns that will include the signature #LNFB photo project, along with other local events.

At the conference in March, WLMP will lead an interactive workshop on feminist mentorship. The WLMP University of Ottawa chapter is teaming up with the #LNFB uOttawa Organizing Committee to lead the campaign on campus. #LNFB will be represented at the WLMP Legal Leaders Breakfast on September 30, 2016 in Ottawa to kick off the joint campaign.

The #LNFB uOttawa Organizing Committee is led by uOttawa law students Pauline Vengeroff, Marie-Charlotte Beaudry, Zaynab Al-Waadh and Sarah Quayyum. For information about the uOttawa #LNFB campaign, contact Zaynab Al-Waadh zalwa081@uottawa.ca

For more information regarding WLMP’s collaboration with #LNFB, contact communications.wlmp@gmail.com

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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.

Still Confused About Mansplaining?

Mansplaining is more than a buzzword. The word is descriptive and explains itself. The primary purpose behind mansplaining is to silence a person.

Maybe you’re doubting the reality or frequency of mansplaining, or you’re wondering if there’s any science to back up this phenomena. If so, then check out this video produced by Upworthy showing not only some of the various mansplaining techniques, but also the frequency in which women are silenced from classroom spaces, to office spaces, to traditional media and social media and onwards.

Next time you receive some mansplaining, you may want to consider explaining to them how disrespectful it is to all people.

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.

Do you know who Corinne Sparks is?

Justice Corrine Sparks29 years ago when Corrine Sparks was appointed to the Nova Scotia Family Court in 1987, she became the first Black Nova Scotian appointed to the bench and the first Black Canadian to serve on the judiciary.

Justice Sparks grew up in Lake Loon, Nova Scotia in a family of nine children. In 1953, this rural region of Nova Scotia was segregated. In 2016, it’s hard to imagine that portions of Canada were formally or informally segregated, but it was.

Black Canadians were segregated and marginalized; they suffered legal discrimination while helping build Canada, protect Canada’s home front in World War I and fight for Canada in World War II.

In 1950s Nova Scotia, the schools were poor and segregated. This is the world Justice Sparks grew up in. However, Justice Sparks’ parents, Helen and Spencer Sparks, stressed the importance of hard work and an education. By the 1970s, Justice Sparks completed middle school and high school, where she found teachers who recognized her potential.

After graduating high school, Justice Sparks attended Mount Saint Vincent University from 1971 to 1974, where she studied economics. She then enrolled in Dalhousie University and graduated with her LLB in 1979.

Following graduation she developed her own law practice focusing on family and real estate law.  Aware of the needs of marginalized Nova Scotians, she served on a number of charitable organizations focused on helping black children and addressing mental health needs. Justice Sparks practiced private law until her appointment to the bench.

In 1987, she was appointed to Nova Scotia’s Family Court. Justice Sparks’ pursued her academic interests by pursuing her LLM while running her practice and then serving on the bench.  In 2001, she received her LLM from Dalhousie University (1979-2001).

Justice Sparks continues to serve on the bench. She has received numerous awards and accolades including the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers Service Award in 1997, the 1998 National Association of Women and the Law, Frances Lillian Fish Award, the 2002 Congress of Black Women, Service Award and the Elizabeth Fry Society, Rebel with a Cause Award in 2003.

Role in SCC’s Decision Regarding Apprehension of Bias
In 1993, a Black youth was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer while he was attempting to arrest another person. The officer claimed the young man purposely ran into him with his bike in attempt to free the person under arrest.

However, the youth stated he stopped his bike and asked the police officer what he was doing. Recognizing the person who was arrested, he asked him if he should call his mother. The police officer then threatened the young man addressing the person under arrest. But the young man continued to talk to person. So, the police officer arrested the Black youth.  This case became R v S (RD).

Justice Corrine Sparks was the trial judge in R v S (RD). After reviewing the evidence, Justice Sparks acquitted the young man. She noted that the only evidence was the testimony of both the officer and the young man. She went on to note that the police officer overacted. Her remarks prompted an appeal.

Her decision was appealed on the grounds of reasonable apprehension of bias. However, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with Justice Sparks’ acquittal of youth (RDS), allowed the appeal and restored the acquittal.

The Court noted, that “it is vital to bear in mind that the test for reasonable apprehension of bias applies equally to all judges, regardless of their background, gender, race, ethnic origin, or any other characteristic. A judge who happens to be black is no more likely to be biased in dealing with black litigants, than a white judge is likely to be biased in favour of white litigants. All judges of every race, colour, religion, or national background are entitled to the same presumption of judicial integrity and the same high threshold for a finding of bias. Similarly, all judges are subject to the same fundamental duties to be and to appear to be impartial”(paragraph 115).

To learn more about Justice Corrine Sparks, click here. To read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v S (RD), [1997] 3 SCR 484, 1997 CanLII 324 (SCC), click here.