The Every Lawyer

Meet Vivene Salmon, CBA President 2019

Episode Summary

We are chatting with Vivene Salmon, the new Canadian Bar Association President and the first person of colour to take on the role. We discuss why she thinks intergenerational dialogue between lawyers is crucial to developing the profession and her own podcast series, Conversations with the President.

Episode Notes

We are chatting with Vivene Salmon, the new Canadian Bar Association President and the first person of colour to take on the role. We discuss why she thinks intergenerational dialogue between lawyers is crucial to developing the profession and her own podcast series, Conversations with the President.

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Episode Transcription

[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

Intro: 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. We always love our guests on The Every Lawyer, but today I’m particularly excited to have a phone chat with Vivene Salmon. She’s the new Canadian Bar Association President and the first person of colour to take the role. She’s also the second in-house counsel in 123 years of the CBA to be president. So yes, she’s shattering a lot of glass. Vivene’s day job is Vice-President and Country Manager of Global Banking and Markets Compliance at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Toronto. But it’s not her legal skills we’re focusing on, instead we’re chatting all about the communication skills she’s honed at the role. Specifically, why she thinks intergenerational dialogue between lawyers is crucial to developing the profession. It’s this theme and others she’ll be exploring on her own podcast series, Conversations with the President. Vivene thank you so much for being here today with us.

Vivene: Well, it’s my pleasure.

Marlisse: I’m really excited to talk with you about your podcast series and your goals for the CBA this year. And I want to start at the beginning and the beginning is you graduating for the University of Ottawa’s Law School in 2009, being called the Bar in 2010, which is right in the height of the financial crisis and this is where you’re starting your podcast series. I hear that your first episode is called After the Crash and I wanted to ask, can you tell me a bit about the way the global recession changed the legal profession, what’s different and why; you were on the front lines of this?

Vivene: Well, I think a lot of things changed since that period of time. Obviously it impacted me directly as well as other lawyers, I would say, of my vintage and probably after, I would say. And there’s little pittering, pattering that there will be potentially another recession happening soon.

Marlisse: Yes.

Vivene: So, I think for a lot of younger people coming out at that time, many I think had very concrete goals of the area of law that they wanted to practice in, of the way that they saw their career moving forward. but I think just out of sheer practicality, you either needed to find work or whatever firm that you were articling in or a young associate at the time, you essentially are doing work that the, that is keeping the firm busy. So, if the firm doesn’t, is not booming in that area then there is not a lot of ways for you to cut your teeth in that area, especially during a recession.

So, I think that impacted many young people as they started out their legal career and I think that once those decisions are made, I think they really have far reaching long-term impacts on your career. And for some people, I think that's positive, because it goes in an unexpected area or direction that they never thought they’d be in, but they find where they landed very satisfying. And I think for other, others on the other side it was a little bit more traumatic, where they felt that they were never quite landed where they thought or wanted to be.

Marlisse: Right. So, what you’re saying is that the lack of selection during the articling experience in the time of the economic downturn, that people had less choice into their career path and that once you make those choices a junior level, they’re quite enduring.

Vivene:  Yes, absolutely. And of course, also within that I think it was a period of generally legal disruption that I think a period that continues up to now and I’m sure will continue far into the future. And there is many legal disruptors that have been very innovative in taking … taking I would say an area in that space, in terms of developing new products and new ways of doing services and businesses and the legal profession that have been very positive. But I think with any disruption there's always the pro side that works really well and then there's always those on the other side that it doesn't work so well for.

And I think in general, I think it's a question of adapting and whether that’s a firm or a company or a corporation that’s able to adapt to the changes or whether that's the legal profession itself, in terms of legal education, in terms of lawyers themselves, how they adapt to a changing world which isn’t going to go back to the world it was before. So, I think that’s something that I would like to explore this year through the podcast series and hopefully will have interesting discussions with a lot of legal leaders and talking about those issues and others that impact the profession.

Marlisse:  Yeah, what fascinating topics; innovation in the law and how that was precipitated by the recession as well. I wanted to go back to my first question actually, because your answer was really intriguing to me and it’s something - I graduated around the same time as you actually, a year later and I didn't think of my career in the same terms as you just put it, but I thinks it’s really accurate, right. You’re almost pigeonholed into the fields that survive a recession, can you tell me a bit about your own career and how that played out for you, because you have a really interesting legal background?

Vivene:  Yes. Well, before I went to law school I worked for the Government of Ontario in communications, it was a role that I loved, I was exposed to the policy world, drafted speech, speeches, communications plans, all those things and something that I loved writing. But I also knew that law was something I was interested in as well and I felt that time is ticking. I, looking back, I would've liked to probably go to law school right after I had graduated from undergraduate. But I came from a working-class family who had three kids, including my two older brothers that couldn’t afford for all of us to go to a professional school and my brother had done his MBA at IV and so all of that would be difficult. So anyways, to make a long story short, I took about four years off then working for the Government of Ontario, essentially earning money that when I did go to law school that I would be able to be in a financially better position than I would if I didn't make that choice.

So, I think those where great learning years for me, in terms of not only understanding policy and those issues, but also just hard skills and people skills and all those things. And so, when I came to the University of Ottawa, I think to some degree I was open-minded about my career, but at the time I thought, oh I definitely would like to go back to a career working as a Crown or in the Government of Ontario. But other opportunities came my way and in looking back, I think I was maybe more in the positive side, where I think given those years I was probably maybe able to see the bigger picture. And also to be a risk-taker in my own career and not necessarily feel that the well-trodden path was the only path to a successful career in law, so. But it's different for everyone I think, but for me, I think, so far I think the risks that I took maybe did payoff.

Marlisse: Okay. And it’s hard, you know, I think a lot of people who go into law, and this is myself included, you are risk-averse or at least very strong at calculating risk and it’s hard to take risks in law, so that’s, you know, that’s a brave thing. But that’s interesting advice for people that are listening, who are maybe at the more beginning of their career and are also getting ready to weather a recession.

Vivene:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah, I agree with you. I think maybe if you were a risk-taker at the beginning of law school, I think by the end you’re slightly less so of a risk-taker.

Marlisse:  I think so too.

Vivene: Yeah. But then I also see that many of our peers and our colleagues who have started these incredible businesses, whether they’re law firms or other tech; legal tech firms and to me I think those truly are the risk-takers in the profession. Others like me, I think we take smaller risk on a different scale, but I think in general, yes we are a risk-averse profession, but that I think is I’m not always positive. Because I think it prevents us from making real changes in the profession, changes that are needed, whether that be talking about wellness or diversity, where there's little steps being taken. But because of the general maybe conservative risk-adverse nature of the profession we’re sometimes our worst enemies, in terms of not being able to be more innovative. And generally the wider changes in society get forced on us rather than the law profession having more control over how many of these changes happen within the legal profession.

Marlisse: Right. What excellent insights, our risk-averseness is actually stunting us from instilling change where we need to instil it, like in diversity and gender inclusion. I wanted to go back to your podcast, because one of your goals was to spark intergenerational dialogue and I just thought that was such an excellent goal. And I know that when I was a junior lawyer I learned so much, I’ve, I was so grateful for more senior members of the profession who taught me the skills and, you know, both hard and soft skills that I needed. Why do you think it's so important for the profession to have this intergenerational dialogue?

Vivene: Well, I think both generations and I’m going to use that term widely, because I know generations can mean different things to different people. But in general, in the wider sense of the term, I think that senior lawyers have weathered many storms, they've had highs and lows in their career, they can see the big picture, they can look back on their own career and see things that maybe if they can do it again they would do it differently. And on the other side, I think that a young, a lot of younger people are looking to them for direction, looking to them to be inspired, looking to them how they can do things differently. I think a lot of younger people, and again not to overly generalize, but just by the nature of how they've grown up, they're very comfortable with technology, it's an integral part of their life and I think that’s something that each generation could learn from the other.

I think with younger people, they're also more in touch with the way they feel and their, maybe their goals outside of law and those are seen as very important and that those should not be subsumed to the legal profession. So, I think even conversations that we’re having about, how do you be a healthy lawyer, putting health and wellness first, talking about not leaving others behind and talking about a truly inclusive profession where everybody truly belongs in the profession. I think a lot of young people have a lot to say and perhaps they’re a little bit more comfortable about talking about tough conversations that the legal profession has to have. So, I see it as a respectful dialogue between both and trying to understand each other better, trying to leverage the differences, trying to leverage the similarities that together the profession can move a little bit faster on big issues that impact everybody in the profession.

So, those issues I think, for example, health and wellness, diversity we've had a lot of legal leaders move that forward, but I think even more exposure is really important. And even more specifically with the healthy lawyers and talking about mental health, those kind of issues, you know, for a long time those kind of issues were just not talked about in the profession. And it was like toughen up, if you’re not tough, how can you survive this tough profession, where it demands so much of you both intellectually and physically, but it's also understanding that at what cost, is that really the way we want to structure the profession. And I feel like young people can have a strong voice in talking about how they want the profession to be shaped for the future and how that profession impacts the very clients that we’re providing services to. So, whether that's corporate services or services that impact access to justice, how can they be at their best, but have a whole life themself?

Marlisse: Wow. Well, I’m definitely looking forward to being a fly in the wall in those conversations, otherwise known as a podcast listener. But it sounds like you have a lot of really pressing topics actually to talk to the different generations and spark those conversations, so I’m really looking forward to those podcast episodes.

Vivene: Well, I hope they'll be great and – 

Marlisse: Yeah, cool.

Vivene: - and I think we have some really great speakers coming up that I hope will have a lot to say and obviously not just talking in a vacuum, but concrete solutions that we can work on together.

Marlisse: Mm-hmm, absolutely. I wanted to talk to you about an initiative that I know is dear to you, and that is the National Young Lawyers Conference, it’s coming up in June of next year, so June 5th 2020 in Toronto. Will you tell me a bit more about this initiative and why it’s so important to you?

Vivene: Well, I was a chair of Young Lawyers myself in Ontario and I had come up through that stream in the Ontario Bar Association, volunteering for other committees, international law, business, many other committees and taskforces in the Ontario Bar Association, but specifically with coming up with this idea. I just felt that we needed to profile young people and I felt, well I’m not a young lawyer myself anymore, I still felt close to the issues and I still keenly remembered how I felt and things that impacted me. And how in some ways I thought, why are we keeping doing the same thing and nothing changes, in the sense that each generation is just kept, the expectation is just, buck up and be tough again.

And so, I just thought it would be a great point to end the year, being the theme of my year is intergenerational young lawyers, to end the year in a way with a big bang and bringing these intergenerational topic together, but also bringing the people together. It's perfect timing and the topics go really well together, we’re hoping that we can get a very diverse panel of speakers coming from different genders, different ethnicities, you know, hopefully we’ll be able to get a Supreme Court of Canada Justice or two, no pressure, but pressure - 

Marlisse: Now, you’ve said it, right?

Vivene:  - I said it, I said it. As well as, you know, as well as other very innovative legal firms that we have here in Toronto and who are national firms as well, as other corporations as well that are very innovative across the country, so the hope is it will be at a national conference. When I was at the International Bar Association in Korea in September, I also had invited some of our peers around the world in England and Wales and as well as the American Bar Association. If when the time comes, if hopefully some of their very young lawyers and senior practitioners can come and support and see what we’re doing in terms of innovation in Canada.

Marlisse: That’s amazing. And sorry, I don't, I just want to be very clear to our listeners, so it’s the National Young Lawyers Conference - 

Vivene: Yeah.

Marlisse:- and the theme is innovation?

Vivene: Yes, yeah.

Marlisse: Okay. What great topics, especially as a young lawyer, maybe a young lawyer that’s heading into a recession, what an important topic to address and to think about. You’ve said in an interviewer before, that being the first racialized President of the CBA is daunting, what are your goals for this year for the position?

Vivene: There’s so many.

Marlisse: Okay.

Vivene: And really I feel, even within my year I feel like how am I going to have time to do all these things in one year. Well, last year we started with doing the racialized leadership boot camp, and so I chaired that conference here and that was held here in Toronto and was highly, highly successful. Really it was overwhelming, the response that we have received for that boot camp, that conference.

Marlisse: Tell me a bit about that boot camp, I don’t know everyone is aware of what it is and what it meant.

Vivene:  Well, it was a leadership conference that we held here in Toronto, that was a national conference and it was aimed at racialized young people, young lawyers in the profession. And having amazing speakers to hopefully spark dialogue to develop hard skills in terms of, how they can develop skills to navigate a world which is not always welcoming for them in terms of the legal profession and navigating their way to the top. So, it was a conference aimed at sparking, building strong leadership skills and not aimed at blaming somebody for not having certain skills, but understanding that it's a complex, there’s complex social factors that impact how people develop their careers within the profession. So, that was held, like I said, in Toronto and it was very highly successful.

So, coming off that success I thought, hmm the next step would be then to have a conference that takes that conference to the next level, in terms of developing these leadership skills, but having that for senior lawyers, 10 years of call or more who have a lot of skills, whether social skills or hard skills, but are having a challenge taking their career to the next level. So, that will be spearheaded by Julia Shin Doi, who is a very accomplished lawyer in Toronto, a racialized person herself and who will spearhead that in, it will be December 5th and that will be held at the Ontario Bar Association facilities.

Marlisse: I wanted to know what you would tell other young female racialized lawyers who are interested in assuming a legal leadership role like you have.

Vivene: Wow, I guess there’s so many things, that’s such a huge question wow.

Marlisse: I know, I’m throwing the hard ones at you right now, I’m sorry, I’m ending with a hard with a hard one.

Vivene: Well, I guess the biggest thing is to just put your toe in the water, like just jump in, right, because I just think, not just racialized women, but I think women in general. So, many times no one is pushing you in the back, pushing you along or guiding you, right, but you know you – 

Marlisse: Right, yeah.

Vivene:  - you are capable of doing it, but you always have these self-doubts in your head, right. But I just think there's so many talented female lawyers that I’ve met, that I look up to, that I see coming up after, and racialized women within that body of women. I would just say in general, whether it's talking about gender or racialized women specifically or racialized people in general, not to be afraid to do things, to put, to work hard. Obviously you need to work hard, but I think when you work hard, I think opportunities will open to you that you don't see and I think it's also when they open to you, see that it's an opportunity and not close the door, because it's not on your, you know, your three-year plan, but being able to I think deviate off that plan to take some risk I think.

 And you know, like any profession is tough, there’s issues that obviously impact you more specifically as a racialized woman, but I think that it's not, it doesn’t have to be like a Bar to providing you not being able to achieve things that you want in life. Yes, maybe the road might be more windy, there’s definitely going to be other challenges that other groups don't have to face. But I think in the long term, I think just looking at more senior lawyers ahead of me, I think it's also perseverance and when things kind of get you down, you know, like that old cliché, don't let it get you down just get back up and, you know, keep going; that’s what I think.

Marlisse:  Okay. So, it to revert to clichés, dip your toe in the water and get back on the bike.

Vivene:  Yes, as simple as that.

Marlisse: As simple as that, okay. My last question for you, and it relates back to your background in communications and I understand that both teamwork and communication skills are particularly important as your role, in your role as in-house counsel. You’re only the second in-house counsel ever to be President of the Canadian Bar Association, I find that really, really shocking and interesting. How do you think that this perspective, so teamwork and communication skills, how do you think that those will benefit the BCA this year?

Vivene:  Well, of course Fred Headon was the first and so he definitely paved the way for me, that's for sure, but I definitely think in-house bring a special skill. And I think it is definitely communication, simply by where you work, I think you have to, there’s not the same, I would say, hierarchy in a corporation necessarily than there is in a firm. And so, I think that can benefit you greatly, because I just think you’re highly skilled at talking to people at every level of the organization and knowing how to communicate and in a way I would say speak different languages.

I also think just by the nature of being in-house you’re, a lot of times you're working on teams with other professionals who are not necessarily the same legal background as you. And so, I think that also brings a strength as well, working that way in that capacity. Generally too, I think in-house corporate counsel, they have excellent governance skills, just again by the nature of the work they do and they bring very, I think very strong finance and policy skills.

Marlisse: Right. And we finally have one to in 123 years. So, I’m really excited to watch what you do this year and see you accomplish your goals. And thank you so much for chatting with us today about them.

Vivene:  Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me …

Marlisse: What a privilege it is to chat with Vivene about her goals for the Canadian Bar Association this year. I’d love to hear what you think about intergenerational dialogue and the other topics we explored in the episode today. Tweet to us @CBA_News or you can reach me at my handle @MarlisseSS. We are on Spotify, Apple Podcast and Stitcher, wherever you list to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notification for new episodes and leave us a review if you like what you hear. Vivene’s podcast, Conversations with the President will start in November. In the first episode she’s covering, how the law firm of 2019 has changed from the law firm of 2007. Thanks for listening.

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