Key Lessons I Set to Convey in the Women’s Resource Centre

I’m so pleased to be able to finally talk about my involvement with the new Women’s Resource Centre (Centre)! It took me most of 2022 to complete and I’d like to share a few highlights, along with how I approached this project. Please share this article with anyone who you think might benefit.

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) launched the Centre on September 28, 2023.  This was an evolution from the Justicia Project, which started in 2008. The new Centre offers resources to all women legal professionals – whether lawyer, paralegal, working in a firm, in-house or government – through the various stages of their careers from law student or licensing candidate to senior professional. I’ll be referring to “lawyer” in this article because that’s who my audience tends to be.

It was important for me to make these resources practical and comprehensive. I immediately identified two streams of resources: Excelling at Work; Looking for Work. The Excelling at Work resources were the guides that had already existed under the Justicia project but were designed specifically for the law firm setting.  My challenge was to update these materials and make them applicable to other settings and career stages.

Below is a summary of the Excelling at Work resources, followed by a summary of the Looking at Work guides.

Excelling at Work

Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs): FWAs represent a range of work scenarios such as reduced hours, remote work, compressed work weeks and job sharing. The 2020 LSO Change Survey found that 41% of women lawyers lack balance between work and family life when citing reasons for leaving private practice. For women lawyers under 45 years of age, this reason rose to 58%.  This guide outlines what to consider when requesting an FWA. Working from home has become a necessary solution since the start of COVID, and many more organizations are option to FWAs for all kinds of positions/roles. You don’t need to wait for your organization to develop an FWA policy; treat it like a business proposition. Start with an informal discussion with the appropriate person, then provide a written proposal. There’s a template for a proposal in the materials.

Leadership in Law Firms: I kept this one specific to law firms because I felt that I couldn’t do justice to the topic across several types of workplaces. As far as the law firm setting, it can be tough to know how to navigate the landscape of leadership. There are so many opportunities and challenges. This guide will help make you shine and get noticed both inside and outside your law firm.  You’ll learn how to combat negative stereotypes and biases, and explore ways to identify your personal leadership potential. You’ll also learn how to identify people in a position to champion you and how to develop relationships with these people. There’s a useful checklist at the end of the guide that you can print and follow along as you develop career goals, as well as a sample leadership plan.

Business Development:  business development is a critical skill for any lawyer, but it seems like there’s a code of what to do that isn’t accessible to everyone. This guide offers tips and step-by-step strategies for the woman legal professional to create a personal brand and create rewarding revenue streams through clients, social media, websites, and public speaking opportunities. There’s a self-evaluation questionnaire, marketing roadmap, client research chart, and 20 questions you should ask current/prospective clients.

Pregnancy and Parental Leave: taking a leave isn’t taboo but it’s often treated as such with a lack of information and policies. This guide will empower you to prepare and return from your leave, and feel like a boss while doing it! Before you leave, the guide will show you how to communicate with your workplace about ensuring work is still being done in your absence.  While on leave, the guide will teach you how to maintain connections with your team and mentors without compromising the special time you have with your new child. To ensure a smooth return, the guide will help you plan for your reintegration in advance of your return date. It provides advice on everything from arranging childcare to discussing your anticipated workload and opportunities that will allow for a seamless transition back into the workforce. There’s a comprehensive checklist that will allow you to stay on top of key dates throughout.

Advancing from Associate to Partner: this was also one of the guides that had to be specific to the law firm setting.  It’s designed to help junior associates progress to partnership no matter the size of firm. There is a 30-60-90 plan to help when landing your first job as a lawyer (which can be used for any new job thereafter). It addresses mentorship, performance reviews, and becoming an active manager of your career. There’s a checklist that provides a personal and practice audit, along with an individual lawyer career plan.

The Looking for Work materials were ones that I created from scratch. This is where I got to reflect on the 12 years of my coaching practice to distill the most important pieces of information that I wanted to convey.  I tried to create a logical thought process to addressing the challenges of starting a career in law through to progressing, as well as a career transition.  Here is a summary of the Looking at Work guides.

Looking for Work

Career Planning: there are checklists for preparing for each your job search, career transition and general career planning. For a job search, it gets you to start thinking about what you’re looking for. Many engage in a job search hoping that anything will stick. I’ve seen this backfire far too many times. It’s best to start with the end in mind, even if that doesn’t include a specific job title. If you can describe what would be your ideal job (without a title), then you have what it takes to look for it. For a career transition, it’s best to identify the reasons for making a change. Some reasons are temporary or fixable. Others are permanent and fatal. For career planning, it’s always a good idea to start with an assessment of where you have been to be able to figure out where to go next. Self-reflection is key for each of these three areas, and I’ve included questions that will help you do that on your own, along with a host of resources for a diverse audience.

Start the Job Search: I outline 6 things to do to start your job search. From always keeping your résumé up to date and ensuring your cover letter is your best writing sample, I share the importance of having a LinkedIn profile as well as knowing what you’re worth and conducting salary research. Some reoccurring themes will start to emerge, such as defining your ideal job. Doing so, will allow you to create a list of target organizations you’d like to work for.

Know What You Want: whether you’re embarking on a career transition or engaged in a job search for a job that you know you want, you need clarity.  This guide helps you to identify the ideal role and ideal employer you’re looking for with a series of questions. It shows you how to take this information to be able to generate a list of potential employers to pursue.

Brand Yourself: branding is not always favourably looked upon but there is value to understanding how others see you. Being intentional about your brand is even better. I show you how to answer that interview question “why should we hire you?” and to create a tagline/personal positioning statement.

Develop Your Résumé: I address the common misconception that many women have about applying for jobs:  you need 100% of the qualifications before applying. I also provide the antidote to address this misinformation. I talk about working with a recruiter and tapping into the hidden job market.

Informational Interviews: up to 80% of jobs are unadvertised. Speaking to people is, therefore, key to unearthing opportunities. Informational interviews are also helpful for changing careers by assessing a new area before making a full investment.  I give tips on crafting an outreach email, preparing for the informational interview and what to do afterwards.

Prepare for the Interview: I provide over 100 questions to possibly ask at an interview of a recruiter, hiring manager, and human resources. I also include questions that address important topics such as hiring practices, work/life balance, and EDI. As for salary negotiation, I emphasize that most salaries are negotiable. One study found that only 7% of women attempted to negotiate salary, while 57% of men did. Conducting research and knowing your own bottom line in terms of salary are important for creating the courage to speak about money.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this project and thank the LSO for trusting in me to take it on. I learned a lot from working on these resources, and truly believe that they can make a difference in someone’s career and life. Please share these resources widely!

~Lawyer Coach Paulette

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