Women’s Legal Mentorship Program Celebrates One Year Anniversary by Unveiling Official Logo

The Women’s Legal Mentorship Program (“WLMP”) celebrated the one year anniversary of its incorporation as a not-for-profit by unveiling its official logo.

“We are very excited to celebrate our first anniversary by revealing our official logo. It represents our continued growth and hard work as we expand the WLMP’s programming nationally,” says Charlotte Wolters, WLMP Founder and Board Chair.

WLMP LogoLee Portas of Frisbee Studios designed the WLMP’s logo icon to represent women law students’ professional development. The interconnecting chain of leaves symbolizes both the knowledge and growth gained through the WLMP’s unique three part mentorship programming.

The WLMP — the first of its kind in Canada — aims to shift the culture of the legal profession and increase the retention of women in the law by helping female law students and WLMP Alumna develop their mentorship and leadership skills and establish networks that grow with them throughout their legal careers from the classroom to the courtroom and beyond.

“Addressing the issue of retention of women in the legal profession requires a comprehensive approach that includes female law students and gives them a chance to practice and develop their skills before they enter the legal profession. Increasing the number of women in the legal profession also improves Canadians’ access to justice,” says Ms. Wolters.

The WLMP is a national not-for-profit that partners with Canadian law schools to provide comprehensive, feminist legal mentorship and professional skills development programming. In 2011, the WLMP piloted its first university Chapter at the University of Ottawa. Currently, the WLMP is working to partner and expand its program to other Canadian law schools.

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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.

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.