Leave for change // News

Toronto lawyers take their legal skills overseas

By Cameron Tulk

On Tuesday December 1st, 2009

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Melissa GhislanzoniWorking on the 41st floor of First Canadian Place, lawyers at the Toronto office of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP are used to being at the centre of things. But in November, three Toronto associates traded, at least temporarily, the bustle of Bay Street for something very different.

Melissa Ghislanzoni (pictured), Meghan Thomas and Emma Williamson volunteered to work in developing countries through a partnership facilitated by Uniterra, a program that connects organizations and companies in Canada to ones in the developing world in need of skilled advisers.

Through its Leave For Change program, Uniterra works with a variety of Canadian employers to fill two- to four-week volunteer placements in one of the 13 countries where Uniterra works. The employer covers part of the costs by providing $5,000 per volunteer and allows its employees to apply according to their interests. The types of positions can vary considerably, from helping with web design in Nepal to training science and math teachers in Ghana.

FMC is the first law firm to sign on to the program. Ghislanzoni chose to advise the San people of Botswana in the renewal of their constitution, Williamson elected to work with a feminist organization in Botswana and Thomas chose to advise the national community tourism federation in Guatemala about organizational and governance issues.

“Though our postings may not exactly correspond with our practice areas,” says Ghislanzoni, “things like logical thinking or drafting ability are valued skills anywhere and transplant well.”

Read Melissa’s guest blogs on Wednesdays in December here on lawandstyle.ca