Lots of firms pay lip service to their mentorship programs – a flashy way to entice prospective hires. But in reality there is no substance. I was fortunate enough to article at a firm that actually valued and encouraged mentorship. I suspect this had much to do with exactly who was in charge of my firm’s mentoring program.
I was one of two articling students, a female Anglophone along with a male Francophone. I remember being told that there had been a debate at the firm before we started our articles. Would they pair me with a male Anglophone associate or a female Francophone associate (and vice versa for my counterpart)? Meaning, should we be paired based on language or gender? And would it matter?
Well, language won out. As for whether it mattered, I can only give my impression and am not sure what my counterpart’s conclusion was. I came away feeling that the mentorship was a success, as I was comparing it to the experience that my peers did not have at other firms.
I had a designated person who I could readily go to for advice on files and on career prospects without feeling intimidated. Or that I was being an annoyance. We would also chat about life over beer in the office – which was great.
Maybe the better assessment, though, would have been to compare it to what it could have been. On the plus side, women now make up over half of law school students. There are many female judges. Our federal and provincial justice ministers are women and, famously, half the federal cabinet ministers are women.
Even so, there are challenges unique to being a female member of our profession. Consider just these two questions:
- How can we, as new lawyers, ensure that we are taken seriously by a senior, male judge when he looks at counsel and recognizes one lawyer, who is male and of his vintage?
- When is the appropriate time to step away from our careers to have and raise children?
It has since been my experience that when senior female lawyers want to proffer advice to a new-ish female lawyer, it is always on the subject of work-life balance and managing the demands of being a mother and a litigator. The message is always positive: both roles are rewarding and we can find ways to make it work.
The takeaway here, at least from my perspective, is that the question of gender vs. language did matter. Gender should have won out.
by Natalie Scott, Advocacy Club Member
You can get in touch with the author at Natalie@mcnallygervan.ca or on LinkedIn, https://ca.linkedin.com/in/natalie-scott-bb230058