Last month, the Women’s Law Association of Ontario created a series of stories, which highlighted some of its members and supporters making an impact in the legal community through short stories. In the feature, I was asked a few questions and I share them below:
Year of Call: 2004
1. Tell me what/who inspired your decision to enter the legal profession and why?
Clair Huxtable from the Cosby Show! There was no other Black woman like her on TV at the time. I loved her composure and the way she used to tell Cliff, “Let the record show” (with her hand on hip). I wanted to be exactly like her and that meant I would become a lawyer, a corporate lawyer. Well, I worked in a corporate law firm, so that counts, right?
2. You made the decision in 2010, to transition from your successful legal career on Bay St to launching Creative Choices for the 21st Century Lawyer Inc., a successful coaching practice for modern lawyers. Tell me, what did you find most rewarding about your practice and what experiences inspired your decision to transition into coaching other lawyers.
I really liked the one-on-one interactions with my clients, and I really thrived on developing litigation strategy. I enjoyed finding that angle or novel argument or crucial piece of evidence. But I wasn’t happy. I hired a career coach, who wasn’t a lawyer, and she helped me understand my values and strengths. There was a clear misalignment with what I was doing for work with who I am as an individual. Then it dawned on me that all the things I liked about being a litigator could apply to being a coach, who worked exclusively with lawyers. It took some time, but one day, I woke up and told myself “I’m going to resign.” I had no paying clients, no website, no office – just a belief that I could make it on my own.
3. In the past decade, your coaching platform, Creative Choices™, and coaching techniques has helped many lawyers discover their personal values, develop a lasting brand and build more satisfying careers. Tell me what makes Creative Choices™ unique? What have you found most rewarding as an entrepreneur and legal coach? Similarly, what has been challenging about your experience? What do you hope to achieve with Creative Choices™?
I am a process-oriented person and I love learning about different processes. One of my strengths is to see patterns and connections. When I was thinking about making a career transition, I took all sorts of classes to expand my horizons. From becoming a trained coach and mediator, to learning to play the guitar and studying business design, I combined the best parts into my own coaching process. Like you said, the foundational piece of the Creative Choices™ process is my client’s personal values. It’s like working with a dress pattern and tailoring it to your size!
The most rewarding aspect of my work is getting a call or email from a client with the news that they landed a job, rocked their presentation, or negotiated a raise. It feels so good to watch someone accomplish their goals and to know how hard they worked to get there. I love celebrating the successes of my clients!
The challenging part is running a business and enforcing boundaries. I’d love to help everyone I meet, but that’s simply not possible. If I stretch myself too thin, then I’m not valuable to the clients who are paying for my services. Plus, I have a healthy life outside of my coaching practice; I’m not interested in working crazy hours.
What I hope to continue to achieve with my coaching practice is to bring out the best of lawyers in their careers and practices. Lawyers are an awesome group of people. And I adore my clients: they are intelligent, diverse, altruistic, hard working and quirky. I just want to support them in any way I can.
4. As a seasoned career coach, you’ve worked with many individuals at various stages of their legal career. What key piece(s) of advice would you give to a summer and/or articling student embarking on their career on how to best position themselves for success?
Get to know yourself. Stop trying to fit into a mould. So many students ask me, “what do the firms want?” Students are eager to please.
The truth is you’ll be more attractive to a prospective employer when you’re grounded in who you are. I remember interviewing for a 2L summer position and a partner asked me what was the best thing that had recently happened to me. I was going to say something related to law school (I wanted to sound smart), but then our conversation got interrupted and it gave me a moment to really think about the question. I had just become an aunt and THAT was the best thing that had happened to me. When I told the partner about my niece, he related a personal story and, for me, that moment changed the entire dynamic of that interview. I was more comfortable in my skin. I got the job!
5. In what ways has your gender been a superpower/influence in your legal career?
I remember the first day of my first job as a lawyer, myself and another female associate were mistaken for being legal assistants. We were being trained on how to use the computer system of the firm along with two other male associates. The male associates weren’t mistaken for being support staff; these colleagues were mortified at the prejudice they had just witnessed.
From that moment on, I knew that I’d have many more encounters like that. It made me sensitive to some of the legal issues my clients faced. Over time, I learned how to refine my arguments in response to various injustices. Over time, I learned how to manage that fearful voice in my head that told me not to speak up. Being a woman has made me a better advocate.
I am honoured to have been a part of this project.
View the full series here: www.instagram.com/wlao_1919