The Circuit: The 8th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala

8th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala

What: The 8th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala
Where: Berkeley Church, 315 Queen St. E.
When: April 11, 2018

“Each of you has worked very hard to get where you are and you have so much power to change conditions in your workplace,” said Mia Krishner, an actress and co-founder of the #AfterMeToo movement, as she addressed a crowd of 500 young women lawyers. “I don’t think there’s parity in your field right now. There’s certainly not parity in my field, the entertainment industry. I implore you to use your power. Organize yourselves — and don’t back down.”

The crowd cheered.

But the person they were really waiting for was Margaret Atwood, the keynote speaker of the Young Women in Law’s annual charity gala, which raised $45,000 for the #AfterMeToo organization. “We’ve been talking a lot as a board of directors about how we wanted to be involved and show our support for the #MeToo movement,” said Jessie Lamont, the events officer with YWL, in an interview. “So this is really a perfect partnership for us.”

Once Atwood took to the stage, the audience fell silent. “In 1957, the year I entered university, I knew only one woman in law,” she said. “That swelled to two, eventually.”

“By the mid-70’s, things had changed somewhat,” Atwood continued. “I took care to employ female doctors, dentists and lawyers, whenever possible for the simple reason that I knew they’d have to have been twice as good as their male counterparts to make it through school.”

Then came her best line of the evening. “My first real lawyer,” she began, “was a young woman called Rosalie Abella.” It was a name the crowd certainly recognized.

To find out more about Young Women in Law, visit the YWL website.

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Photography by 5ive15ifteen Studio

The Circuit: The lawyer who stars in Making a Murderer says she owes much of her success to her mentor

What: 7th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala
Where: Omni King Edward Hotel, Toronto
Wednesday, April 5, 2017

“I come here, as all young women in law do, wearing several hats,” said Laura Nirider in her keynote speech at the Young Women in Law (YWL) Charity Gala in early April.

The mother of two is the project director with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and a clinical assistant professor of law at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She has also been practising law for nine years.

Nirider is best known as the lawyer for Brendan Dassey, whose coerced confession to murder was featured on the Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer. It’s an experience Nirider cannot forget. She told the crowd that Steve Drizin, a law professor, gave her the videotaped confession to study while she was in school.

“I brought it home, sat down on my couch and I watched something that made my stomach turn,” she recalled, adding that she sat through the entire three-and-a-half-hour tape. “I felt outrage and heartbreak and from that day on I threw myself into Brendan’s case.”

Nirider spearheaded the case with her former professor, who became her mentor. “Brendan’s case became the vehicle he was using to shape my career,” she said. Nirider later quit her job in commercial litigation to join Drizin at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. Throughout her talk, she emphasized the importance of mentorship.

The event raised $26,500 for the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. The Frank S. and Julia M. Ladner Family Foundation matched every dollar raised, bringing the total to $53,000. “This event brings together our members and supporters and allows us to contribute to a worthy cause,” said Mariana Fonar, president of YWL. “Laura is truly inspiring and a role model for all. We are thrilled with the success of this year’s Gala and are already looking forward to next year.”

Young Women in Law is a non-for profit organization for women lawyers in their early stages of practice. It strives to provide support for women to connect, enhance their skills, and give back to their community. To learn more about Young Women in Law, visit the YWL website.

The Circuit: Marie Henein tells young female lawyers to “take your rightful place in the profession”

What: The 6th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala
Where: Arcadian Court
When: March 30, 2016

“We in this audience cannot help but be inspired by you,” said fifth-year lawyer Gargi Chopra, as she introduced Marie Henein, perhaps Canada’s most famous lawyer, to deliver the keynote speech at the annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala last week. Chopra, the group’s director of events, praised Henein for “running your own firm, raising two kids with your husband and generously dedicating your time to initiatives like this one.”

This warm preamble foreshadowed the tone of the event. Though Henein’s recent courtroom victory in the sexual-assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi has made her a lightning rod for controversy, the audience was enormously receptive to her remarks — which both encouraged women to be lawyers and skewered the currents of sexism that course through the legal profession.

And to illustrate such points, Henein used plenty of humour.

At the top of her speech, for instance, Henein raised the subject of her recent 50th birthday, and riffed on what society expects of ageing women. “A woman’s worth is yet to be measured by her life achievements or her battle scars,” she began. “We are urged to plump and cover and fill those lest someone accidentally discover that your face and a newborn-baby’s butt do not have the same texture,” she deadpanned to laughter.

Henein went on to lament that so many female lawyers don’t believe in themselves. “Even senior lawyers, women who are breathtakingly accomplished colleagues of mine, often talk about their lack of self confidence,” she bemoaned. Once again, though, she finished her point with a joke. “But I have never met a young male lawyer who lacks enormous self-confidence,” she said to more laughter and nodding heads. “I have never heard an accomplished senior male lawyer, upon receiving an award, say, ‘Golly gee, I didn’t think I was good enough.’”

At the end of her speech, Henein said that to become cynical about the justice system is “the worst thing that can happen” to a junior lawyer. “The best lawyers in history have never lost sight of why they went to law school and why they practised law,” she said. “I may be a little tired, but I have never questioned the value of our legal system or my involvement in it.”

Her final statement was a full-throated rally call to the women in the audience. “Take your rightful place in this profession — I look forward to seeing the extraordinary contributions that I know each one of you will make.”

To learn more about Young Women in Law, visit the YWL website.

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Featured photograph by Valarie Matthews

The Circuit: The 5th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala

What: 5th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala
Where: The Everleigh Club, 580 King St. W.
When: March 26, 2015

“You have gone through a lot of school and are way more educated than I am,” began Elaine Lui, founder of and co-host on The Social, as she addressed the crowd at last week’s Young Women in Law Charity Gala. “But I feel like the skill that would take you to another level of branding is going to be the ability to connect with people,” she explained, her broadcast-ready voice carrying across the room. 

The most successful professionals, Lui went on, can translate their own esoteric knowledge into plain English. 

Indeed, from networking to client building, communication is an essential skill, said Carrie Heller, president of the legal recruiting firm The Heller Group, the gala’s title sponsor. “Successful networkers are strong communicators even when in unfamiliar environments,” she explained. “And this is not a skill that comes naturally to every lawyer.” 

Which is why she encourages junior lawyers to attend events like the Young Women in Law Gala, where they can “gain confidence networking with their peers in order to build the skills that will make them successful communicators down the road.” 

Now in its fifth year, the annual gala invites speakers outside the legal profession to address — and inspire — women in their early years of practice. 

On top of that, it always raises money for a good cause. This year, the gala raised $18,000 for the Covenant House, a charity that assists homeless and at-risk youth.

This is the fourth year Precedent has covered the Young Women in Law Charity Gala! Check out our pictures from last year’s event. Invite us to your party!

Trial & Error: How young lawyers can find new clients

Atrish LewisAll firms emphasize the importance of “business development.” It’s clear that part of my job is to bring in new clients for the firm. What is unclear, however, is just how a junior associate is supposed to go about doing this. Quite frankly, I don’t know anyone who’s in a position to give me any business yet. And if you’re like me, the idea of “selling” and “pitching” to relative strangers with a cold call is terrifying.

In an effort to make headway in this brave new world, I find these two approaches really work. They even make business development kind of fun.

Take a long-term view.
Considering I was called to the Ontario bar less than a year ago, I probably won’t be getting work from the general counsel of a large Canadian multinational company. But I can get work from the general counsel in five to 10 years by doing little things now to foster future important relationships.

I make the effort to keep in touch with everyone — by sending a holiday card, forwarding articles of interests to people I know and by setting contacts up on “friendship dates” with each other when I know there may be a mutually beneficial connection. These small things help me slowly expand network. 

Treat potential clients like friends. I received this piece of advice from Godyne Sibay, a rainmaking partner at my firm who was selected as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women in 2011 by the Women’s Executive Network. She told me that in many cases, her clients have become her friends. This simple concept resonated with me because it took the pressure off of business development.  Rather than cold-calling and pitching, I simply try to make friends with people today who could become important clients and partners in the future.

Business development isn’t some magic trick you’ll be able to perform one day when you’re a senior lawyer: it’s something you develop over time. Here are three ways to start working on it right now:

  1. Befriend your counterparts. While I may not be able to pitch the general counsel, I am able to become friends with my junior equivalent on the client-side. This is the beginning of a beautiful business relationship as we both move up the ranks.
  2. Stay connected with your friends from undergrad and law school. Future business leaders come from all programs and all schools, so it’s important to maintain the friendships you already have. Given competing time pressures, I had to develop techniques to stay in touch with as many people as possible. For example, once a week I reach out to someone I haven’t seen in a while and ask them to join me for an afternoon coffee, which I would be taking anyway. I also use the gym time as my social time. I often invite undergrad and law school friends to drop in yoga classes, or invite them on a walk or run. It keeps me motivated and connected.
  3. Attend events targeted at young lawyers. Young Women in Law and The Advocates’ Society host events that will help you connect with people your own age. I always invite a friend I haven’t seen in a while so we can catch up. Plus, it helps to have a buddy when navigating the waters of networking cocktails.

While these activities haven’t yet translated into new business, I’ve already reaped an unexpected benefit: guidance. Recently, I had to review financial statements on my own and, to keep costs down, I couldn’t retain an accountant to assist me. However, through developing my network, I knew a few chartered accountants I could talk to. They provided me with (free!) advice in how to review materials that were outside my area of expertise. And, one day, I’ll be happy to return the favour.

Atrisha Lewis is a first-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis

Top photo from the Toronto Archives

The Circuit: The 4th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala

What: 4th Annual Young Women in Law Charity Gala
Where: Bloke and 4th, 401 King St. W
When: February 27, 2014

“No matter what you do, you’ve got to have a brand,” Jeanne Beker, host of Fashion Television, told an audience of 300 lawyers at last night’s Young Women in Law Charity Gala.

Hosted this year at Toronto’s downtown dining lounge Bloke & 4th, the annual gala invites speakers outside the legal profession to address — and inspire — women in their early years of practice.

“This isn’t a world that rewards followers,” Beker continued, in her characteristically pithy style. “Success comes to those with unique voices who colour outside the lines.”

Beker may not be a lawyer, but lawyers can learn a lot from her career, said Adrian Walrath, co-director of events at Young Women in Law. “Jeanne has shown an ability to brand herself and create a business — she has a clothing line, books and a television show — and I think lawyers are also, in a sense, small business owners who need to market themselves to clients.”

Indeed, lawyers need to do more than “sit at their desk and work really hard,” said Erica Young, president of Young Women in Law.

“You need to know what kind of lawyer you are and what your niche is,” said Carrie Heller, president of the legal recruiting firm The Heller Group, the gala’s title sponsor. “You need to know what distinguishes you from other lawyers.”

Beyond the thought-provoking conversation, the event has another worthy purpose: all proceeds from the gala were donated to Dress for Success, a charity that provides professional attire and career support to disadvantaged women.

This is the third year Precedent has covered the Young Women in Law Charity Gala! Check out our pictures from the 2011 and 2012. Invite us to your party!