On Wednesday, February 28, 2017, the UTM Mooting and Law Association hosted a “Women in Law” panel discussion, exploring the experiences of women entering and pursuing different fields of law. The panel invited three female lawyers—Sarah Naiman, Laurel Hogg, and Arlene Wolfe—to share their experiences as students and practitioners of law.
The panel members responded to prompts moderated by Warda Nayyer, the UTM Mooting and Law Association’s vice president of campus affairs, during the first-half of the discussion, and later answered questions posed to them by audience members.
“I decided I wanted to be a lawyer in grade 10. Before that, I planned to be a veterinarian. I was taking more science and math courses until I had a civics teacher in grade 10 who was actually a practicing lawyer,” recalled Naiman, who currently works as a legal counsel at Intact Insurance, when asked about why she decided to pursue law. “When we walked into class, he asked us how we knew the world was round. We all tried to give him answers of theories we had heard […] at the end of it, he asked us how did we personally know?”
Naiman continued, “And none of us [personally knew]. The purpose of the exercise was not to tell us that the world was anything but round, but to encourage us to think critically about the facts that we were given.”
When prompted about how each of the lawyers had found their law school experience, and if they would recommend it, Arlene Wolfe, now a retired corporate lawyer who was previously a partner at McLean & Kerr, said, “[Law school] is a great stepping stone. It teaches you a real way to think [after which] you can go into journalism, go into politics, [and] law development.”
Wolfe added, “It gives you the knowledge and the basics—a very versatile education experience—that you can use for anything.”
“I agree that it is a phenomenal education that teaches you how to think and it can lead to many other opportunities,” Naiman chimed in, “But I also tell people that it is a lot of work, and it’s expensive”
“It’s tough,” Laurel Hogg, litigator at Lenczner Slaght, agreed. “Law school is tough. [Being a lawyer is] incredibly rewarding and I’m happy with this choice, but if I think if I was at all on the fence—I don’t know that given the time and money, if I would recommend it.” Naiman adds, “Having said all that, if this is what you want to do, it is an incredibly rewarding career,” Naiman advised, “Don’t let any of that scare you.”
“You can say it’s changed a bit, law school?” Hogg mused, “Even when I would speak to my father [who was also a lawyer], it was ‘Look to your left, look to your right, only one of you will still to be here at the end of the year’ and that’s not the case anymore. They want you to get through, and to be successful lawyers, they want you to get hired at firms.
There is a culture of wanting to support you.” But as Hogg continued, “You have to go in there with some knowledge of what you’re headed into.”
“People told me […] that being a lawyer is miserable, people aren’t happy, people don’t have any work-life balance, you’re going to quit. And when I kept enjoying the process, they would tell me ‘Oh you’re just enjoying law school, it’s very different in practice.’” Naiman admitted, “My job is not always glamorous, there are parts of it that I don’t like. But I would say 95 per cent of the time I am so happy to be doing.”
Naiman also revealed, “I love what I’m doing, I find it engaging and stimulating, and I don’t think any job is perfect. If you’re really sure that this [is] what you want to do, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”
Despite the rewarding nature of the job, however, the time-commitment it requires, as the panelists agreed, can be daunting.
“I worked seven days a week,” Wolfe said, “You worked hard and you played hard.”
“As a young lawyer, you started early and you were there forever, especially if you were doing securities,” She continued, “You did a lot of grunt work, a lot of research, it was long hours.”
Similarly, Hogg also says, “I work most Sundays, and I work Monday to Friday, and some days I’m there throughout the weekend […]. You’re not on all the time, but I do have very long days.”
Naiman, on the other hand had a different experience: “I work in-house […]. I usually work 9-to-5, no weekends. I do work the occasional weekend, I do work the occasional late night, but probably one or two weekends every three months.”
“The key thing is that […] there are very few experiences that are going to be the same,” Hogg explained. “The firm culture will dictate a lot of what the expectations are, and you have to seek that out for yourself when you get hired—what works for you.”
At Hogg’s mention of the plurality of experiences, Nayver asked the panel about how being a woman had affected their career.
“My class at law school was about a third female,” Wolfe said, “The next class was about a quarter female.”
“It’s difficult […] first of all, with your colleagues, it’s hard being the only female because you get a little bit of special attention,” Wolfe described, “The other side of it is that you’re not included in certain things and some people won’t take you to things back then because—believe it or not—you were a woman. And that would never happen in today’s world.”
“I would say, from my hiring experience, I was in an all-female hiring class, the one below me was an all-female hiring class,” said Hogg with a chuckle, “It just happens to be that there is a large percentage of women in law schools.”
“I think that there are still challenges that woman do have to take,” Naiman admitted, “Even if firms are supportive of maternity leave, they’re still taking a year off practice and many women feel that taking that year off does hold you back.”
“I had two kids,” Wolfe told the audience, “One just before I became a partner, and one after I became a partner. My first child, there was no maternity policy […]. I was planning to take off three months, and probably ended up working two of three months.”
“I think we’re not at equality yet. We don’t see as many women partners on Bay Street [as men]. Maybe [there is] more equality in the numbers at more junior levels,” Naiman informed, “There have been tons of studies [that found] that for whatever reason, women are not staying in law as long as men are. Even though more of them are entering the profession, they’re maybe not staying in the same way. I think we need to pay attention to these issues.”
“It definitely exists in law, sexual harassment definitely exists in law, the way it exists in many other fields,” said Naiman, in response to a question about sexual harassment, “What I can say is that there is so much awareness going on about it, people are really open to talking about it, and learning.”
“I think when push comes to shove,” Naiman continued, “If you’ve got bad apples, no amount of education is going to help—they’re going to be gross and inappropriate.” Even then, Naiman did continue to say, “I think so many men are now understanding that it is an issue and are trying to combat it, and make [law] into a safe space.”