The Every Lawyer

Discovering atypical careers in the law profession

Episode Summary

We are chatting with Julia Kingdon about the new Law Students Section video project 20 minutes, 5 minutes. We look over the different guests and their atypical career paths.

Episode Notes

We are chatting with Julia Kingdon about the new Law Students Section video project 20 minutes, 5 minutes. We look over the different guests and their atypical career paths.

Julia has an undergraduate degree in International Development, a master’s degree in Rhetoric and recently completed her Juris Doctor degree. She’s the vice chair of the law students section of the CBA who put on this series.

The Law Students Section launched the video project: 20 Questions, 5 Minutes

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Episode Transcription

Discovering atypical careers in the law profession


Voiceover:        This is The Every Lawyer, presented by the Canadian Bar Association. 

Marlisse:           Welcome to The Every Lawyer. A Canadian Bar Association podcast. I’m your host, Marlisse Silver-Sweeney. 

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  Usually, I’m the one who gets to ask all the questions. But today on The Every Lawyer, we’re highlighting a CB initiative called twenty questions in five minutes. It’s a set of video interviews where lawyers from a wide variety of backgrounds give us the rundown on their careers and fields. And we’re playing you all the highlights today. I sure wish this existed when I was going through law school and didn’t understand the difference between criminal and corporate law. For real. 

Our guest today is Julia Kingdon. She’s the vice chair of the law students section of the CBA. They’re the ones who put on the series. Before law, Julia obtained an undergraduate degree in international development and a master’s degree in rhetoric. She worked in policy with multiple ministries across the Alberta government. Julia, thanks so much for being here today.

Julia:                 Yeah, for sure.

Marlisse:           Will you tell me a bit about the impetus for this initiative? How did you and your colleagues come up with it?

Julia:                 Funny story. We were brainstorming before we sort of became this year’s executives about what law students in particular but also young lawyers were really looking for. We know that law students do a lot of their own research. And when they’re trying to figure out what their next step after law school might look like, what practice areas they might be interested in. And so, we didn’t want to duplicate any of their, you know, previous experiences or any other programs out there. And, it’s a bit silly, but frankly we were looking for something a little bit more informal. A more informal medium to present information to law students, to young lawyers about what the law looks like and what practice areas look like and what lawyers’ experiences look like. 

And so, we had seen different videos about, I guess, people presenting information on Instagram and different social media platforms and what that might look like. And we thought it would be fun to do this sort of more times video. You know, trying to fit in twenty questions in five minutes. That was our goal, to present the information to law students.

Marlisse:           Awesome. I love that. So, I guess the next step is a TikTok video, right? 

Julia:                 Is a TikTok video? Yeah.

Marlisse:           Yeah. [Laughs].

Julia:                 Probably. But I’m going to leave that up to my successor, so.

Marlisse:           Fair enough. Yeah. Get it down to thirty seconds. I love that though. That’s neat that you were looking for different platforms, different mediums.

Julia:                 Yeah. Exactly. It’s trying to sort of reach out to law students as they are now. I mean, the profession is sort of notorious for often being a little bit behind the times. 

Marlisse:           Right.

Julia:                 And so, we’re trying to counter that with this approach. 

Marlisse:           Awesome. And why do you think it’s so important for law students to have the information in the videos?

Julia:                 I think one of the sort of key components of these videos or interesting aspects of these videos are that they offer a more personal insight into the law. So, it’s not objective. It’s not comprehensive. It’s not going to tell you – one of these videos isn’t going to tell you everything you need to know about family law or a complete comprehensive experience about what it’s like to work in criminal law. It’s going to offer you, the viewer, more of a particular insight into one person, one crown prosecutor’s experience, one family lawyer’s experience into what their practice is like and what their experience, what their career trajectory has been like. And so, it’s that personal kind of element that, I feel, can often kind of give more information than you might otherwise get when you’re, you know, reading a comprehensive summary on what the particular subject matter might look like. 

Marlisse:           Totally. I really enjoyed the intimacy in the videos and it felt like I was on an informational interview with you, I guess.

Julia:                 Yeah.

Marlisse:           So, I’m going to ask you more in a few minutes about some of the questions that you explored with the guests. But I really like the twenty questions and, you know, doing podcasts I’m always having to come up with questions. And they’re difficult. Can you tell me a bit about the process? About, you know, you had twenty questions, five minutes of time. How did you select what to ask with your teams? And what was the end goal?

Julia:                 Yeah. Well, it was truly sort of a group effort in terms of which questions we should be asking and what those look like. And it’s been sort of a fluid process in the sense that, you know, we tried it out and then we kind of revised some of them. So, we sort of sectioned them relatively loosely into different category areas. So, we wanted to just sort of start with the basic questions like, you know, tell us about your practice area and how long have you been practicing that kind of thing. And then we wanted to ask some questions about, you know, we called them the new lawyer questions. So, you know, where did you go to law school? What’d you learn in law school? What kind of stuck with you? What was some – a piece of advice that a mentor gave you that really resonated with you?

And then, of course, because what we’re doing with these videos is – the idea is to have videos across different practice areas. We wanted to get a little bit into the particular practice area of the interviewee, of the lawyer that we were speaking with. Because, frankly you know, at the end of the day, while these videos are fun, they are supposed to be informative to some extent. We tailored our, what we call field-specific questions. So, criminal law questions or family law questions or labour and employment law questions, whatever it may be, in a different way however. We talked about, you know, one of them was, you know, who do you consider to be a phenomenal lawyer in your field? As opposed to, you know, tell me the basics about how to practice family law. Or tell me the basics about how to practice international law. So, again, with that more personal angle to these subject areas in these different sort of categories. 

Now, you know, if you watch the videos, you’ll see that this gets to be a bit loose because it’s a game and we’re trying to fit in as much - as many questions as we can. But that was sort of the goal behind our thinking process when we were coming up with these questions.

Marlisse:           Right. Again, it’s that personal touch it sounds like.

Julia:                 Yeah.

Marlisse:           So, so far on this [unintelligible 00:06:44], and I know there are others coming, but so far there’s a video on family law, corporate law, criminal law and then in French there’s intellectual trade law and intellectual property.

Julia:                 Mm-hmm.

Marlisse:           Will you give us a preview for us of what other fields are going to be covered in the next few months?

Julia:                 We’re hoping to have labour and employment, which is going to be released soon. We’re going to hope to have an international law one coming out. We’re also hoping to have a video in Indigenous law, as well as possibly Aboriginal law because we really want to – one of the key principles when we were coming up with this initiative is that, you know, we’ve talked about the informal nature of these videos and the informative nature of these videos. But a key component for us when we’re figuring out not just what areas of law we should look at but the lawyer’s that we’re interviewing, is to really engage sort of a diverse audience. We wanted to talk to lawyers that might not be coming into law school and lawyers that were working in practice areas that might not be typical. So, we’re hoping to have an alternative dispute resolution area as well. These are sort of some of the subject areas that are in the lineup for it to be released.

Marlisse:           That’s great. That’s neat that you’re exploring areas too that aren’t as “mainstream” I guess. Quote/unquote.

Julia:                 Mm-hmm.

Marlisse:           Because I think something I know when I was going through law school, I wasn’t necessarily interested in kind of the basic, the practice areas that everyone’s talking about. So, sounds like it would be a really nice resource for students to be able to explore some other areas.

Julia:                 Yeah. I mean, like and law school’s, usually they’re so fantastic. You know? There’s so many different opportunities available for students to find out about, you know, big law and [unintelligible 00:08:31] firms and of course the different practice areas. Insurance law, corporate law, et cetera. And so, you know, again, not to repeat myself, but like we really didn’t want to duplicate some great efforts that are already existing across the country. We wanted to offer students something different. And the reason behind that was not just a, sort of a random desire to be unique. But rather, it was to really kind of give light to what the CBA offers students. And that is a different experience. 

It is the connections, it’s that personal connection. It’s the insight that you don’t necessarily get in law school or even from law firms when you’re, you know, interviewing or going out for coffees, et cetera. Like, the CBA, I think, is fantastic in that sense that it creates a different type of exposure. Like, we wanted the videos to kind of reflect that essence. I don’t know if that’s the right word but in a manner of speaking. 

Marlisse:           Yeah, that makes sense. That’s great. I’m going to ask you a high level question and then we’ll move on to the more granular questions. But -

Julia:                 Sure.

Marlisse:           - this is a hard one, it’s big. What did you learn when working on this series in kind of big broad strokes? Like some, maybe people gave similar answers to one particular question or themes that emerged. But, you know, looking at a big picture, what was a takeaway or two?

Julia:                 You know what surprised me when I was doing this? Because I was able to participate in doing kind of the interviewing of course, was the really consistent, strong desire of lawyers across the board – so the interview that I did and the interviews that my colleagues did as well – to really highlight the successes of their own peers. And so, and that was just, frankly it was unexpected. And there wasn’t really a question that directly address that. So this was something that sort of came naturally and consistently across the board where these lawyers, not identifying sort of the greats, but identifying their peers. And, to me, it sort of – what that really emphasized to someone that’s just entering the profession myself is the sense of community that’s really there. And I think these videos give an opportunity to demonstrate that, that sense of community that’s already existing.

Marlisse:           Oh, that’s a great lesson. It sounds like community, also generosity. You know, highlighting people who are doing – work in your field at a really high level.

Julia:                 Yeah.

Marlisse:           So let’s get into the videos now. I wanted to go through some of your favourite clips and moments from them and we’re going to play them for our audience. The first one is, you asked each of the guests – and by you, sorry, I mean you and your peers. So, each of the people being interviewed were asked what they learned in law school. And I was wondering if there was an answer that resonated the most with you personally?

Julia:                 A lot of them talked about sort of loose, abstract times. I think Erin Brook mentioned time management, which I thought yeah, that really makes sense, you know. That one of the first times where you’re, as a student, you’re really inundated with a lot of work. And that’s a critical skill that will transfer into the profession. So that one stood out for me there I guess.

Marlisse:           Great. Thank. And we’ll listen to it now. 

Julia:                 And what was the most useful thing you learned in law school?

Erin:                 Time management. So I definitely learned to prioritize and triage my work and it was one of the things that’s transferred over into practice and has been incredibly helpful. 

Julia:                 What’s one thing that took you way longer than it should’ve when you were starting out?

Erin:                 Everything. [Laughs] To be honest. It should take you longer because you’ve never done it before and it’s hard. And I always described it as putting on concrete boots to trudge through mud. But the more often you make that trudge, the easier it gets. So, I still find nowadays that I’m coming across even new things this late in my practice that I have to put those boots back on and struggle through. So, don’t beat yourself up. It should take you a long time at first. But the more you do it, the faster you’ll get. 

Marlisse:           I really loved, personal, my favourite question was how you asked each guest about imposter syndrome. And I just loved listening to their answers. It was something I definitely think about and suffer from and it was very vindicating to hear that a lot of people, you know, at the height of their profession who’ve been practicing for many years also feel like they suffer from imposter syndrome. Why was this important on your team? And did anyone’s answer here surprise you?

Julia:                 Yeah. This was important because we – when we came up with this question, we sort of felt like this was likely to be a common feeling among students and frankly a common feeling among young lawyers. And what we found out was when we asked this question, and in most videos of not all the videos, we ask, you know, have you ever felt imposter syndrome? And then we follow it up with, do you still feel imposter syndrome? And, in both cases, all of the lawyers, many who were quite senior, expressed not only that they have felt it at the beginning of their practice but that they continue to feel it. And I think, you know, when you’re talking about something that’s vulnerable like that, it’s important to give voice to it. 

And you can just sort of hear in their voices that this is a huge reality for, you know, all of the interviewees that we’ve spoken with so far. Which then, to me, suggests that this a big thing across the profession. And it’s not something we typically talk about in sort of more casual circles. So, I think it’s important to talk about here. Melissa Hazelton, she’s the crown prosecutor in Manitoba, offered a really good answer to that one. So let’s listen to that one. 

Julia:                 Have you ever felt imposter syndrome?

Melissa:            All the time. That’s probably a terrible answer. But honestly, like I think it’s really normal to kind of have those feelings.

Julia:                 My next question is going to be; do you still feel it?

Melissa:            Yes.

Julia:                 Yeah.

Melissa:            Not as much as I used to but definitely still happens.

Marlisse:           So we just listened to Melissa Hazelton, a criminal prosecutor. And I know that she’s someone that you got to interview personally. During your interview, did she say anything that you totally weren’t expecting?

Julia:                 Well, I know we’ve mentioned this before but this goes back to the phenomenal lawyer in the field. Frankly, when I asked, she was the first lawyer that I interviewed. And I had anticipated that when we were speaking about that question in particular, that we would talk about – or she would identify some historical lawyer. You know, someone that everybody knew. That was sort of, you know, for whatever reason in my mind, that’s how I thought she would answer the question and she didn’t. She thought about it. You know, she took her time there. And she spoke about one of her colleagues, you know? And why this individual had been so incredible and continues to be so incredible in the field. And it just, that was a really impactful moment for me because it was, again, seeing the value in recognizing our colleagues and our peers.

Marlisse:           Great. So we’ll listen to her do that here.

Julia:                 Who do you consider to be a phenomenal lawyer in your field?

Melissa:            A phenomenal lawyer in my field. There’s a lot to choose from. If I were to pick a specific individual, I would have like a bazillion of my colleagues but I will specifically identify one. Her name is Rekha Malaviya. She is also a Bar Association member. She’s an amazing mentor. She works so hard to support more junior lawyers and, in particular, she is super supportive of women in the profession, which is something that’s becoming more and more talked about and, I think, really important. 

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Marlisse:           You also got to interview Heather Hettiararchchii about labour and employment. And I actually have a really fun personal story about her. I was excited to see her name. When I was an articling student, she was a senior associate at the firm where I was working. And she caught me at a really bad day one day. She just kind of opened her door – my door to say hi. Like, she was a lovely person. And I was bawling at my desk. It was just a really bad – it was that kind of, you know, that typical like articling crying at your desk day. And she was so supportive and wonderful and checked up with me after. And she’s just a very kind person. So, I was excited to see that other lawyers get to learn from her and get the mentorship that I got from her. But I was wondering what was the best advice she gave you?

Julia:                 You know, she talks about reaching out to senior lawyers and getting feedback from colleagues. I think that’s one of the – it stood out to me because I think it’s one of the best ways that we can grow in our profession and as human beings, is getting that feedback. Because sometimes we don’t always know how we’re coming across or how our work is coming across. And so, being direct about it and saying hey, you know, let me know if I can do better or how I can do better or how I can be more effective, et cetera. And she noted that. And I thought that was really valuable.

Marlisse:           Yeah. For sure. We’ll listen now.

Julia:                 What’s helped you develop your own confidence?

Heather:            Just building strong relationships. Having senior mentors being able to talk with colleagues, share your feelings and ask them, you know, have you experienced this? And what do you do about it? And just getting that feedback. 

Marlisse:           So we’ve gone through a lot of different moments. But what was, so far in the videos that we have posted to date, and I know there’s more to come. What was your favourite moment? Like, just it can either be a piece of advice that resonated or something really funny or something that you thought, oh, I never really reflected on something this way before. But do you have an absolute favourite clip from our video series so far?

Julia:                 I don’t know. It’s not a funny story. But again, it’s Heather, and I think it’s just because it was so immediately relevant. You know, one of the questions that we ask is sort of, is there a change or development in your field that you’re hoping to see again – or you’re hoping to see happen rather. So is there a change or development in your field that you’re hoping to see happen? That’s the question that we ask. And Heather came back and she talked about her hopes for her field. The labour and employment, she also does some administrative law. But for labour employment to become more proactive. And so she spoke about how she hopes that this will help employers to become more prepared in how they’re dealing with the unexpected. 

And, of course you know, the unexpected is somewhat of a familiar thing for us right now or for the world right now with COVID. But I thought that was really an interesting piece of reflection that she offered in the video because it’s something that’s going to apply across the board as all different practice areas are going forward and going OK. Not only – like how do we respond to things like the pandemic? Like, how do we respond to what we don’t anticipate happening? So that, I really enjoyed that answer.

Marlisse:           We’ll listen now.

Julia:                 What is one critical precedent that’s changed your field?

Heather:            I would say, most recently, the amendments made to the Employment Standards Act in response to the COVID issues that have come up. So, giving people leave, for example, to go and get vaccinated. Or even introducing the concept of sick leave, which was not there previously. I would like to see more changes to the Employment Standards Act. More proactive changes rather than reactive changes, so that when things come along, like the pandemic, we are more prepared. Employers are more prepared in terms of how you deal with it.

Marlisse:           Julia, you talked a bit about diversity and how that was important for your guests and for the different areas of law. Can you tell me a little bit about how you selected some of the guests?

Julia:                 Yeah. So we reached out with an invite across the CBA. So across all the different sections of the CBA explaining what we were doing, explaining what these videos were, what the purpose of them was. And we weren’t, frankly, we weren’t sure if we were going to get any feedback because, you know, lawyer’s time is very valuable and we were asking them to volunteer even more of their time now doing these videos with us. But it was funny, the opposite, complete opposite happened. We got inundated with people that were interested in doing these videos. So, multiple lawyers in many different practice areas coming at us saying, “hey, I’d love to do a video with you guys, you know, let me know when we can set it up.” And so, actually, that was one of the biggest surprises, I think, of the project was the level of interest across the Bar by very senior attorney’s very interested in just being with us students and young lawyers about their career paths, about their lives, about their practice areas. 

So, when we got all that response, we really had to kind of sit down. Because we had to figure out, you know, what was manageable. And we couldn’t do everybody. So who are we going to choose and why? And, as we spoke about before, diversity was a big thing that, as a group, we really believed that’s what we wanted was yeah, not just the diversity of practice area but diversity within the lawyers themselves. So, we wanted to interview people from different genders. We wanted to interview people from across the country. Because, of course, we’re the National Law Student section and so we wanted to try to get representation across, from coast to coast to coast really. 

And then, of course, you know, another one was sort of the lesser known practice areas. So, we couldn’t necessarily have videos from every single practice area out there because there innumerable. But the ones that were sort of unique to us or lesser known were ones that we were like, OK, let’s try to integrate those. And so, while we’re still in the beginning stages of releasing these videos, we hope that as they continue to be released, we can investigate more of those sort of unique practice areas and unique life experiences to share with our audience.

Marlisse:           Absolutely. For sure, it’s really important to hear from a diverse cast of people. One – we haven’t heard yet from Aaron Baer, who was a corporate lawyer. And that his interview’s up on the site. So why don’t we play a clip from his interview now.

Julia:                 Yeah. For sure.

Male 1:             What advice would you give a law student who is considering corporate law?

Aaron:              I think, you know, always good to understand what does this job look like starting out? What does it look like in three years, six years? Does that, you know, interest me? And I think, learn the business. Learn things beyond just being – knowing the law and being a lawyer. That’s what clients are going to like. If you can understand their needs and explain things in a clear, concise way without a lot of jargon, you’re going to have a lot of happy clients.

Marlisse:           Alright Julia, I know you are a busy articling student and so I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. I know how valuable it is. But I just wanted to end on the note, if you could preview for our audience what’s to come from this series? What are – so there’s going to be more videos released from a diversity of topics. What are you hoping to see continue to happen from this video series?

Julia:                 For sure. I mean, I’m hoping to simply, like on the first stage, I’m hoping to produce more of these videos. I’d like to get more of them out there like we’ve talked about. But, you know, my dream or my goal for this project would be to see it shift and shape and develop such that the questions themselves change in shape as we begin to ask different kinds of questions dealing with different kinds of issues that students and young lawyers may be dealing with. So, I wanted to have that fluid flexibility kind of thing where the videos themselves reflect what the audience is looking for in terms of experience or in terms of career or what have you.

Marlisse:           Oh, that’s great. Well, I look forward to watching them in the months and years to come.

Julia:                 Yeah. Thanks.

Marlisse:           Well thanks so much again for your time.

Julia:                 For sure. Thank you for this. This is great.

Marlisse:           Thanks again to Julia for sharing her insights with us today and for our other guests who, unbeknownst to them, did the same thing. This series certainly showcased for me the vast differences in the fields of law. Something I didn’t understand when I was going through law school. Is there a question that was missing from the twenty questions? If you can think of one, let us know. Tweet to us @CBA_News or you can reach me at my handle @MarlisseSS. We are on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher. Wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes. We also have a podcast in French called Juriste branché. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for the next episode.

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