The Every Lawyer

OBA President Kelly McDermott

Episode Summary

Julia welcomes OBA President Kelly McDermott to discuss EDI, neurodiversity, and lawyering when life shows up.

Episode Notes

In anticipation of our forthcoming mini-series marking the 30th anniversary of the Touchstones Report, celebrating what has been achieved in the last three decades while remaining vigilant and tenacious in the pursuit of true equity, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession, here is Julia's complete conversation with OBA President Kelly McDermott. Both as senior in-house counsel who leads labour negotiations and litigation at the Regional Municipality of Durham and as a single mom with an episodic disability and primary caregiver to a person on the autism spectrum, Kelly knows about lawyering when life turns up, and the importance of professional support networks. This is a solution driven podcast about EDI beyond the lip service.  To quote Kelly McDremott: "Conversations turn into ideas turns into action." 

Episode Transcription

OBA President Kelly McDermott

[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

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

Julia:                 Is it your first podcast or are you—you're a—

Kelly:               This is my first podcast. I'm new to them. 

Julia:                 Oh, great. Great. Today on The Every Lawyer, OBA President Kelly McDermott's first podcast. I'm Julia Tétrault-Provencher and thank you for tuning in. 

                          We recorded this conversation with Kelly earlier this year as part of our forthcoming miniseries on the 30th anniversary of the CBA Touchtones Report affecting actual change on EVI in the legal profession since 1993.

                          Throughout November, we will be hearing from original members of the CB Touchtones task force, the Bertha Wilson task force, and from a diverse group of women lawyers from across Canada including Kelly, on the challenges still facing women in the legal profession today. 

                          The Every Lawyer Touchtomes miniseries will be launched at the WLS, the Women Lawyers Forum Annual Conference in November 2nd and 3rd, 2023 in Toronto. But my full conversation with the OBA president starts now. 

                          Well, thank you very much for joining us. So my first question to open is how do you think the work that has been done by the Touchtone task force and other gender equality advocates, how it has improved your professional life?

Kelly:               Thank you. So first off, I can't believe 1993 was 30 years ago. That seems amazing to me. So you know, I've refreshed myself on the Touchtone Taskforce Report again and you know, I've been employed in a variety of legal sectors since my entry into the legal profession in 2004 and then called to the bar in 200. 

                          So I've been with a sister firm in Toronto. I've done boutique firms inside and outside Toronto and for the last 13 years as an in-house senior government counsel. And what I can say is, you know, certainly some of the structure impediments that were noted in the taskforce, you know, I think they still exist today. However, when I reviewed the concerns noted in chapter six which is in relation to gender equity in government legal departments, so my neck of the woods, I can really appreciate the advances that have been made, I think, in my small part of the world. 

                          I work at a sophisticated upper-tier municipality, you know, that has endorsed the best practices when it comes to accommodations, training, and EDI in general and I think that's really translated into gender balance. Our senior leadership including our—we have a female CAO. We have a female commissioner of finance, commissioner of social services. And I hold a senior legal position in our department and we have a very, you know, balanced gender demographics in our legal department. 

                          And certainly, while I've noted, you know, anecdotal challenges on particular files or with particular clients in sort of relation to gender and equality, I don't recognize the structural limitations I think that are outlined in the task force despite some, you know, what I would say, competing demands, limitations that I have. You know, I'm a single mom. I have an episodic disability. I'm a caretaker to someone with special needs. And of course, now I've got the added element of being the president of the Ontario Bar Association. 

                          I don't see the same structure of limitations along gender lines as I certainly experienced in private practice over the past decade. And I'll just one of the things that drew me to the OBA and the CBA was its leadership on EDI in our profession. You know, we have boasted an all-female officers team. You know, we've seen the torch pass between several female presidents of various backgrounds and intersectionality over the past few years and the next two years to come. And you know, that leadership, I think, really has set the stage for the profession, you know, in terms of education, advocacy, initiatives that put those ideas into practical action and change not just for a woman but for other—as you noted, other equity-seeking groups. And we're seeing this through the benefit of, you know, admissions into law school. 

                          We're seeing entry into the practice and I think we're continuing to work on promoting equitable and inclusive practices when it comes to distribution practices—distribution of work and promotional practices within firms. 

                          You know, at the OBA one of my main mandates is to focus on the lives of lawyers and providing support to our members to help them advance in their careers and so, you know, I think the OBA has been very important in that respect to seeing some of the work that the taskforce envisioned coming into reality. 

Julia:                 So that's something very interesting, you know, that you have some very lived examples, some recommendations of the task force that were implemented. So that's what I understand. Do you have more examples because I think it's very—you know, it's—I love that. I love to hear that. 

Kelly:               Yeah. You know, I think like I said, with working in an upper-tier municipality that has spent a lot of time on—you know, has spent a lot of time on creating best practices and working with the OBA who, I think, has just been a leader in initiating these things. Yeah. I mean I sort of took that chapter six because that's my lived world right now is working in a government setting and I kind of compared it to my day-to-day and I sat down and I thought I don't see the same impediments that—you know, that I experienced in private practice. 

                          I mean I certainly—you know, over a decade ago, I made a—you know, like many women, I made a choice to pivot to private practice because I was starting a family and you know, I was—I saw that it was going to be very difficult for me to thrive in that environment and move my career forward in that environment and that moving to a government where we work—you know, we work much more collaboratively. There's much less focus on, you know, time as being sort of the component we value and we measure and so that's been—you know, that has made all the difference for me. And it has allowed me to do things like be part of the Ontario Bar Association, sit on a number of volunteer organizations and board of directors. 

                          You know, that they've—I've had that freedom and agency and that sort of work/life balance that I think we're all striving towards. I certainly don't have it yet but I think we're all striving towards it. 

Julia:                 The ultimate goal. 

Kelly:               Uh-huh.

Julia:                 Yeah. But a case of—that's what's interesting. A lot of—and so I've been just often now—like I'm—you're my fifth person I'm interviewing or something, so. And I've heard a lot of women, if not all actually, saying that they decided to move away from a private practice because of their—well, many reasons. Some discrimination, some because of the workload, some because—well, basically at the end of the day it's just they decide to—not to stay there for their own good. And I like to hear more, you know, what should be done. What can be done? Why is that for the private practice and—because I feel like maybe this hasn't evolved. 

Kelly:               You know, I think that the key focus—you know, and like I said, in my neck of the woods I don't see it as much but I certainly—you know, as being the president of a 17,000 member association, I see it in the legal profession in general and I think one of the main issues is we need to take the emphasis off the practice of law as being valued through and quantified in time. 

                          You know, we really should be instead looking at the value added to the profession and our clients. And I'd like to see again that more team collaborative focus approach to legal work that not only accepts diversity but embraces it and actually sees the intrinsic value in it. 

                          You know, it's interesting. I'm a caretaker to someone on the ASD spectrum. So the autism spectrum. And while they have so many talents and strengths, they wouldn't be valued and adequately measured in the traditional firm structure that we have, right? In the recruitment process or within the practice of law as it stands today. 

                          So we just need to rethink—I think we need to rethink success as a profession. That doesn't, I say—you know, I don't think that belongs to one group. That belongs to all of us. But you know, I hope that the next steps we take do take some emphasis off of, you know, imposing time to get ahead because that's what we're seeing is that if you're in a billable hour structure, if you're in a model that values time, that means that's time away from other things in your lives. And you know, one of our key focuses at the OBA is looking at life. You know, life not only in the legal profession but life as a lawyer because of that intersectionality of trying to balance competing demands, competing intersectionalities and finding support to do that. 

                          My mandate this year is centred around developing peer support networks and this came from a pretty honest place. I had a great deal of challenges, I think like a number of people did during COVID around health. Like I said, I have an episodic disability. I've been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And I became a single mom during that period. So I went through a pretty bad divorce and I really turned to my colleagues at the OBA who shared—you know, who know what it's like to have all these competing demands and these life challenges and life crises and how to—and what else it means to be a lawyer and how to make sure that you can maintain both and come out and that was like the key to get me through.

                          I'm not particularly resilient but that gave me the resilience. That peer support. That peer support that was safe. It was a community of interest, people who got it, and so that really led to where my mandate's going this year which is providing reliable and accessible supports for lawyers when life shows up. And I'm happy to announce we're launching our first peer support network.

                          So we've taken a lot of time to set these up as very safe, reliable spaces for lawyers with community of interest and given my experience, we're starting with lawyers with disabilities. So that's starting on September 24th. We're going to have our first group where people are going to come together, talk about their concerns, talk about their challenges, share ideas and just find that space. And so I know I've gone off on a bit of a tangent from your original question, but. 

Julia:                 Not at all. It's very good actually. No, no. 

Kelly:               But that’s really what it is. It's that. It's how we value the practice of law and maybe not putting the emphasis on the right things which is, you know, making sure that your clients are served but also making sure that we're protecting our members and our lawyers and our profession because we do see—you know, as the CBA put out the report on some of the psychological impacts on lawyers and just how—you know, how alarming those statistics were to me but not a surprise either. You know, I think we need to start thinking about structural change. 

                          I think firms have done—and you know, I think employers across the—we've done a really good job at—you know, particularly in the last couple of years around mental health. Around promoting racialized and indigenous lawyers and promoting EDI initiatives in general. I think we've done a really good job of showing that. You know, firms are paying attention to it. Lawyers are paying attention to it. Are deeming it a priority. But where I'm seeing that we're—we haven't quite turned that policy, those ideas, that political will into action. And you know, I made the joke the other day that you know, some firms have been setting—

We've been setting up mindful meditation sessions, you know, throughout different areas, different workplaces. I've heard it a couple times and I said, you know, it's difficult to say, you know, you should—you need to spend 30 minutes a day doing mindful meditation but you better make up those 30 minutes later to catch up on your bill and whatevers.

So we need—like so we need to start thinking differently about the structure and what we're valuing and opening our minds a little bit and embracing what diversity brings to the table. Diversity, you know, not just in demographics but diversity in thought. 

So you know, I'm hoping that's where things are going next and I do applaud the firms for really giving this the attention it deserves. It's just, you know, where sometimes where policy and political will falls down is where it doesn't turn into tangible action. 

Julia:                 Thank you very much. Actually, your answer was very, very good. So you mention—so you're the president of OBA and you already mentioned a little bit like what a bar association can do. And I mean congratulations also for your initiatives. I think it's very, very interesting and important because that's also something that keeps coming up is the fact that people—women or people in the diverse range do need a network and they need to connect and they need to talk about their similar issues. So that makes them stronger. So this idea. I mean I can't wait to see how—what will be the outcomes of this because it's such a great initiative and really congratulations for that. 

                          So and I kind of guess also that it can bring some mentorship. So I'd like to hear your thoughts a bit on how you think mentorship can be effective for furthering women lawyers' careers and how seeing that the bar can do also, like the implication of a bar. 

Kelly:               So the OBA has been, you know, absolutely pivotal for the mentorship I received as a young lawyer. I've been involved with the OBA since—you know, since the young lawyers division. So since I started many moons ago. And also, you know, I've now been on the other end where I've been, you know, able to mentee other lawyers, you know, including making client connections and/or—actually hired one of the connections I made. One of the networks I made. One of the mentees I had through the OBA.

                          So you know, the OBA has always, I think, made mentorship a key priority, you know, for young lawyers' career development, for succession planning, for emerging areas of law. And I think a really great example which was spearheaded by our past president, Charlene Theodore, was the career accelerator program which was to promote racialized and indigenous lawyers in emerging areas of law such as AI, Fintech, ESG. And this program really galvanized, you know, the expertise that these lawyers already had. 

                          They're quite brilliant. I sat and listened to them and I was just in awe of what they brought to the table. But it was also designed to give them an extra boost to build connections and to provide a network for opportunities that you know, some of the structural deficiencies in our system have prevented. 

                          So it was such a success and you know, one of the things being part of an association is it brings, you know, all levels of lawyers together, different practice areas, and different—you know, different diversity, diverse backgrounds. It brings them all together and it has just played such a key role in my development as a lawyer. And you know, I think in my day-to-day job I think there's a less formalized mentorship plan working at, again, a municipality, a government. 

                          I have plenty of—I've certainly had plenty of opportunities to grow practice areas and areas of expertise that are beyond the area of law that I have an expertise in. So certainly it's been very important for my career development. And we're also really good at supporting and promoting from within. Working again as a team has been really important because everybody gets exposure to a lot. And you can also take vacation without having to worry that your work's going to fall by the wayside. Like you know, everybody's on board and it's going to get done. 

                          And because of all that, we actually boast a very small turnover rate. Like we don't—not many people leave the municipality once they start there. And when someone does it usually means they're going on to bigger and better things because they've created this breadth of experience that they may not get in a traditional firm setting where you're kind of focused on one specialty area.

                          Like I've been involved in so many things that I said I—you know, I entered the game like I have no business being here but here I am. And I learn and it's really—it's I continue to learn even, you know, 20-plus years into my career and that's amazing. And so there is—I have found mentorship opportunities not only through my professional association but also in my day-to-day work structure. 

Julia:                 That's beautiful. And I think you also—you show that mentorship can help the retention because that might be an issue sometimes. You know, we have or you hire people for diversity but the next thing you know you don't have anything to support them so they just don't stay because they don't feel welcome or they feel—you know, there's so many reasons. I think that's also a good example. And I'd like—

Kelly:               It's more pivotal today thought. Like I mean—and sorry to interrupt, but it's even a bit more pivotal today because—you know, because through COVID, we did embrace telework and so what was really interesting at least in my sector was—like I said, we're pretty static but the career opportunities opened up geographically. So you know, me being a lawyer in Durham Region, I can now work in Peel Region. And so that's why it's made it so much more important to—you know, to embrace, you know, these principles that I think are very important to lawyers coming into firms, you know, including that mentorship growth, diversity, all these things. 

                          You know, it's really—it's made it even more important to turn those, you know, principles into action. And so I think, you know, certainly that I'm seeing that's happening even more so now but it is more important about the firms and the employers who don't embrace that are going to see a lot of turnover. They're going to have difficulty recruiting and it's no longer just about money. I think it really is about work/life balance and about potential for growth and potential for—and recognition of important principles like inclusion. 

Julia:                 Yeah. So that brings me to the EDI policies that you mentioned already a little bit and I kind of like it because you seem to have a view that you know, they can work which is refreshing because so far I haven't heard so much like good experiences of EDI policies but I'd also like to hear you. What do you think about EDI policies and do you think, you know, they are useful? And have you seen them well applied also? I think we need examples of EDI policies that are well applied.

Kelly:               So I mean having an EDI policy is absolutely the most pivotal first step, right? Because you know, what it does is it demonstrates recognition and you know, political will. And so I would—you know, I mean I appreciate some people will be a bit—may be a bit skeptical of what they can do and I understand why that is but I think they are—it's the first step and it's very important and I think a lot of employers and firms have now taken that first step and not only developing EDI policies. A lot of firms and employers have EDI departments, divisions, right? 

                          So they are putting this emphasis that we never saw before. So I don't want to discount how valuable that is because it has to be that you have to start with that sort of top-down ethos. Like you need that. You need that as a core principle in place and you need their leaders to say this is important to us. And so 100 percent yes, it's important. We need them. 

                          You know, where it can get lost is if they don't, as we talked about, translate into tangible action and when we see it used as lip service. So I gave you the—you know, my fake example of you have to do 30 minutes of mindful meditation but you better make that time up tonight. You know, that's where the policy doesn't fit with what people's lived experiences are. And so we need to take—we've taken the very important first step and we need to take the very important next step which is turning that policy, that commitment, that will which is there right now and turning it into action. 

                          You know, the OBA has been—that's really been a focus of the OBA is creating some really objective and tangible programs and tools. You know, we did it through our Not Another Decade campaign. We had our innovator and residents have talked about the Cascina Career Accelerator Program. We had a work that works that allows—refers to sort of do a score sheet and remain, you know, reliable, accountable and then reporting back. People need to—you can't send a survey out and say tell me how things are under and EDI lens and you get back a horrible result and then nobody hears about it again, right? 

                          So that piece is so important and I think, you know, we need to act—you know, firms and employers need to act a bit quicker to start showing and then they don't need to be dramatic big changes because I understand. Like I understand it is not going to be easy to overturn the billable hours structure because again, these are businesses. There is a profit motive. I understand that. So sometimes we don't need to think so big. I think sometimes if we think a bit smaller and start seeing some tangible actions thinking about, you know, where are the bottlenecks to promotion for example. 

I mean traditionally at firms I always—I remember when I got pregnant I was kind of at that time in my career where I thought boy, oh boy, this is going to—this is now going to delay my attempts to become a partner, right? Because you know, I'm going to be now behind. I'm going to be gone for a period of time and I'm not going to be able to maintain those client networks that I might want to maintain and I'm not going to have the billable hours behind me and so this is definitely going to stunt my career. And so we need to speak that. And we need to think okay, well that doesn't make sense. That doesn't make sense that that should stunt their career. And you know, at the time for me what I forced me to do is I worked throughout my pregnancy leave. I took a short pregnancy leave which I deeply regret now. 

Like I regret that 15 years later. Like I regret that. I felt shortchanged on that and at the time I remember just feeling so guilty and worried that all the momentum I had made with my clients was going to be lost. And so I felt—nobody was telling me I had to, but I felt compelled by the structure. And so, you know, we need to look at things like that. What is the partnership track? What is—you know, what are areas we can do to ensure that women lawyers in particular but male lawyers as well can have that time with their family without losing on their careers. And you know, I don't think we've got quite there but there is—like there are tangible points that we can look to to say how can—what can we do to tweak that? What can we do to make that more plausible? And I just don't think we've got there and it amazes me that that's still—like that is still the issue today. Like there is still—you know, 90 percent of executives are still men, right?

Like it's still—there's still a pay equity wage gap. There's still all these things that are out there and so where, you know, in our profession I think the bottleneck is in that middle level. Entry's not as bad anymore. Like we—you know, our law schools are very—and in fact, I think there's probably more women than men now in our law schools. I don't have that stat on the top of my head but anecdotally I've noted that and there's lots of women coming into the profession and so then why is—why aren't they translating into the senior partners or the senior positions and that's not happening. And so like it's just about recognizing where the bottlenecks are and providing more points of entry and accommodating. Like you know, we have the tools. It's just about thinking about turning those tools into action. 

Julia:                 For me, it's also a positive because we managed. We knew it was an issue. The fact that we had no women at the university level. Now we have them. They are there. They are studying. We have many jurists or you know, lawyers. But then what's up at the top? I don't know what's happening but there's definitely now the issue is in the middle, yeah, and—

Kelly:               Or the attrition out of the private sector too, right? Like that’s a—

Julia:                 Exactly. Exactly. It's the same—

Kelly:               That's the [genre 00:24:26]. Fifty-eight percent were female students enter. There you go. 

Julia:                 I mean. I mean. And I mean do you have the—

Kelly:               So do you see the statistics there and it's just there's a drop off at the end and so it is so important to know this data, right? 

Julia:                 Yeah.

Kelly:               Because this is what—this is where we see where we need to—where change needs to be effective and it is that sort of middle area and it is—and you know, it'd be interesting then to take that stat about because the entry of women into the legal profession wasn't a big issue 20 years ago, right? And maybe not as much of an issue now. Now we may—you know, what other—what are the statistics around other equity-seeking groups coming into the profession as well? That’s another potential bottleneck as well. 

                          So it's really about finding where are we seeing the bottlenecks like women moving up to a more senior level or leaving private practice altogether and finding ways to make changes. And again, I think we're also—we all think we need to do something so big. That it needs to be really big and dramatic and you know. But I think change can start small and can start moving in that direction. And like I said, for me it was, you know, I worked—when I was in private practice and even when I actually started at the region it was very—I worked very siloed. I was—I didn't have much of a team around me and so it was very distressful when I had to go on—when I went on vacation or if I had to leave or if I was busy because then work wasn't getting done and I was worried about, you know, client relations, etcetera. And I can't tell you the value of having a team around me and that I—you know, there's no competition for work. 

                          We all have—the work is all there and we triage it according to who can handle what. And if something was going on in somebody's life then—that they had to pull out, my kid's sick this week, I'm out of commission, the work isn't getting affected. And that’s—like that's—we got to think about that. Like we got to take this individualistic siloed competitive nature out of the practice of law and start working together for the value of our clients and for the value of our lawyers. Like I can't tell you the burden that took off me by having the ability to know that if I'm not there somebody else is. Somebody else is going to pick up the ball because I can't tell you how many vacations on over the years or missed or had to give the time back because I ended up working the whole vacation. And I'm—you know, I'm not unique in that way. Most lawyers do that. 

                          Most of us work on the weekends and to the expense of our families and our personal lives and our mental health and we know the problem's there. We just got to start thinking about little ways—little ways we can start fixing it. 

Julia:                 It's very encouraging because I do think that sometimes firms see that—you know, they have the result of their EDI questionnaire, whatever, and they're like where do we start? But I think it's true. You can. There are little ways but can start. So thank you for this answer. I like that, the positivity and all that. So very appreciated. And also, I would like to hear because I do believe—I'm pretty sure you have some thoughts on equity and equality because well, you know, it's—sometimes we will hear well, you know, there is enough women or what do they need anymore. They are treated as our equal, and. So can you talk a bit about how you see that treating unequal people equally is a form of oppression? 

Kelly:               [Unintelligible 00:28:01]

Julia:                 Oh, that's great. 

Kelly:               No. But I wanted to give this the proper thought it deserves because I think—

Julia:                 I love that and it shows. It shows very much.

Kelly:               You know, inequality in itself is on everyone to address and so I always worry that you know, we shouldn't put the work exclusively on those affected to address the systems, right? So you know, and behaviours that disadvantage them. That work is on everybody but on the flipside, no solution should be created without consulting and listening to the groups that are most impacted. 

I mean that is, you know, also true for accommodations in the workplace. You need to have a—not a one-size sort of fits all approach to equality. You know, you need to look at the individuals and get the input, but also not put all the responsibility of change on the equity-seeking group because sometimes I think we do that, right? And I think that can be—that puts an enormous amount of pressure on the equity-seeking group but also lets others throw up their hands and say well, I got nothing to do with this or I don't have a voice in this. And I think that's not a—I think we all should have a voice in the discussion I think around EDI even if you aren't a member of an equity-seeking group.

                          I think everybody's got a role to play. But I also think we need to be—as much as I say that, we all have a role to play and we shouldn't put the responsibility on one group who's seeking—who's been disadvantaged. We also need to, on the flip side, make sure that we are—that they are being represented and that their lived experiences are being heard and considered. And you know, for me it was really interesting. You know, I was—about my disability. I was very—I felt compelled very early on in my career to hide it for fear of reprisal. I don't think that's a—you know, I think that's probably a store many people have but for fear of reprisal that my work would—equality and I did see a bit of that in practice when I revealed it to certain people. 

So I hid a lot of my struggles and you know, I hid a lot of my struggles with my disability. I hid struggles when I went through a divorce through COVID. I hid that. And you know, when I got into this position, when I got the presidential mandate and—you know, I felt very compelled that I needed to be, you know, as open and transparent about my struggles as possible because I don't want others to feel the weight of that. You know, I have some little things that—and I'm going off on a tangent but there's some little things I—you know, through multiple sclerosis I've lost some of the use of my right hand. 

So my handwriting is atrocious and sometimes I slur my speech and I often just sort of—I work through it or I make an excuse for it. I don't give—you know, I never acknowledge it and I—and so I haven't given other people an opportunity to help accommodate me or work with me when maybe I've needed it. And I've made the presumption that if I say this either there's going to be reprisal or somebody's going to take some control or agency away from me which I didn't want. 

But I think by being open about it, I think given this platform, I really don't want other lawyers to struggle like that. I want them to have the ability to—and if it isn't going to their employer. Like I said, going to their peers. You know, because nobody knows the struggles of being a lawyer than a lawyer. So going to their peers who maybe have similar struggles and being able to talk through some of those issues like that. That was everything to me and so that's why I've been very open. Way more open than I think I ever wanted to be or ever thought I was going to be going into this presidential mandate. 

But I really saw the importance of it because you know, inequality can't be addressed if we don't know the issues there and that's certainly—you know, like there was definitely things that I could have—that could have been accommodated in my workplace had I said something. And so I want to empower lawyers to also advocate for themselves around, you know, what do they need because gosh, I mean they're—I think people are much more open to have those discussions than we give them credit for, especially now. Especially now where the political will and the recognition of EDI has become so important. I think those conversations are much easier than they would have been for me ten years ago.

Julia:                 And you know, I think you mentioned something so important. I find that sometimes people are scared to mention what they need. And also lawyers, we know we don't want to say what we need because we don't want to look weak. And also the famous report of the mental health issues in the legal profession it's—it linked it to this fight doesn't need to be like superwomen or supermen and we don't have any flaws and we don't want to show our flaws. So I can imagine the difficulties that you had to share that but I can also only congratulate you for putting yourself out there and also for sharing that because I'm sure it also inspires others to be like I also have those issues and I should mention them, so. And you never go off track, by the way. Everything is good, so. But honestly, it's like it's very, very good. 

Kelly:               It was when I first started my presidency and I kind of came out with this and I just—I remember like I just felt sick to my stomach when I did it because it was out. Like it wasn't just to my immediate colleagues. Like it was out. It was out in public what my personal life was all about and what was so encouraging was I got so many cold calls from lawyers like right across the province sharing their experiences. 

                          What I actually found really interesting, there's a lot of lawyers who were on the—who were neurodivergents. They were on the autism spectrum, ADHD. And a lot of them were saying I've been hiding this forever but it's, you know, translated into interpersonal problems because I have different perceptions of social relations than maybe a neurotypical lawyer would have. And you know, we know that some law firm cultures can be very rigid and restrictive and so if you're a bit different then that can be difficult. And so, you know, that has also sort of made my mandate branch out even further and particularly with my experience with the—I guess as a caretaker to someone on the spectrum is to recognize where—you know, where these—where there are disabilities that you could hide or you know, inequalities you could hide. You know, how do we get to the point where people can feel safe to speak and safe to make the request for accommodation?

                          I note like I'm a labour lawyer in my day-to-day job and you know, I was sort of reflecting on it that the only time I ever came across cases where neurodivergence was sort of identified as part of the equation were usually—they were usually sort of triaging. So there'd been, you know, a workplace conflict or a harassment complaint or something. So we were dealing with it on the tail end versus dealing with it on the front end meaning, you know, what do you bring to the table? What—you know, what things? How can we accommodate you from the outset? And also even in the recruitment process how can we broaden it to say what we're actually focusing on? What is—you know, because people on the spectrum, people with neurodivergence some have some incredible talents. 

                          I think about my own experience, some incredible talents that may not be measured in a traditional recruitment process. And so, I've also been thinking about, you know, developing my mandate a bit in that direction. Getting a little bit more targeted on neurodivergence just because of, you know, my own experience but also the—like the outpouring of lawyers who just happen to be on the spectrum and were just like wanting to share. Wanting to be like oh my god, thank you for sharing because I'm holding this in and I've experienced these problems in my career and I really didn't know how to ask for accommodations without—you know, without feeling that I'm going to be the subject of reprisal or you know, being taken off client facing events because they're concerned about my socialization skills or things like that. 

                          So yeah, it's been—it's paid off in spades. Like you know, being open and as terrifying as it was. Like it really—I really see the value that it's given to other people because it allows other people some room to share their stories to.

Julia:                 Also. And I think you'll have the [unintelligible 00:36:54] for this either but I think we discover that people on the spectrum is way higher than we thought. 

Kelly:               Way higher.

Julia:                 It's way higher. So it's also good. And I think maybe sometimes people don't even know they are but they hear the stories of other people that are and be like oh, that's why. That's—I understand better now.

Kelly:               It's a lot of—a lot of individuals are getting diagnosed as adults now because we just didn't have the diagnostic testing, you know, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago that they do today. Like it's—you know, they're identifying people on the spectrum much earlier today and you know, there's a high incidence. 

                          I think there's a high incidence of people who would define themselves on the spectrum. And of course, we know that that doesn't mean they're all the same because—

Julia:                 No. Exactly.

Kelly:               —you know, spectrum of the spectrum, right? 

Julia:                 It's huge. 

Kelly:               But yeah, a lot of the—it's interesting. A lot of the lawyers who did call were saying they were diagnosed as adults because their children were diagnosed and they thought I have some of these issues too and maybe—and so they were getting—so that's happening too now is people are now understanding that I didn't even realize I needed an accommodation until now. Like it hasn't been—it's never really been defined and just realize I've been sort of struggling in this area or haven't quite fit into the regular mould of what we think being a lawyer is. 

                          And so, you know, I think there's a great opportunity to sort of expand what we're valuing as a profession. What we're measuring. What we're looking at. What we're—how we're awarding—you know, rewarding people for what they're producing. Like I think there's a great opportunity to really blow open how we've traditionally looked at things. 

Julia:                 What I hear from you as well is like making sure to have this environment in your firm, in your businesses. Would that—people feel comfortable to come forward and say that they need some accommodation because I think that's also the extra step that firms need to do, the legal profession needs to do so that people feel like I can ask and I won't be misjudged? And also, you know, you saying that we think people—that people are more open than we think. That's also very positive and I like that. I like to—and you're right because we see that. 

Kelly:               Yeah, it's true. 

Julia:                 Yeah. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Kelly:               You know, I've had some incredible mentors and bosses in the past that you know, that I have been candid with and have been really great about working with me to find the right accommodation and being really flexible and not imposing what they think is the right answer on me but actually involving me in the dialogue a little bit. And yeah, I see that again in my day job as a labour lawyer that—you know, that our approach to accommodation is very individual and we're very open to it and responsive to it. And so, you know, I think that maybe we don't give people enough credit in that. 

                          I think if we—if we're a little brave and have the conversation and really think about—you know, I would never come into a meeting not having some ideas in my mind about how—you know, here's the problem but here's how I think we can fix it. Here are a couple of ideas. So being part of the process, not just laying the problem down on your boss's shoulders and saying here, here it is and resolve it for me. That’s not helpful. 

I think it's opening—I think people are really open to dialoguing and thinking outside of the box and so again, you know, while we want this big organizational structural change across our profession, there's a lot of things, a lot of change that can happen just sort of in microcosms of just working relationships with, you know, partner, associate, like you know. Or lawyer, assistants. Like there's a lot of dynamic and flexibility accommodations that happen on a day-to-day basis that is just as important as the overall structural changes. 

Julia:                 Definitely. So now my last—because we have like ten more minutes and I don't want to take more of your time. But there's two last questions that I ask everyone. The first one—and you again don't have to answer if you don’t want to.

Kelly:               Right.

Julia:                 But if you could share with specific instances of discrimination that you have lived whether it's gender discrimination or intersecting types of discrimination so that you have encountered in your career. How it made you feel and if you could do anything about it. Maybe you haven't and I've heard a lot of women saying I haven't done anything because I just handled it, you know, and I was like well, whatever. So yeah, I'd like to hear if you have it. You—

Kelly:               Yeah.

Julia:                 —[unintelligible 00:41:22] a little bit but if you have anything else you want to add. 

Kelly:               Sure. I mean I've been in the profession for a while now and as I've said, you know, I really can claim I've seen some meaningful, positive change. So again, I'm very much looking at it with the glass-half-full approach to things but—

Julia:                 And I love that. By the way, love that approach. I'm like that too.

Kelly:               Yeah. So we've made change. We have made change. That's important. But yeah, certainly I've been subject to sexual harassment and I've had to prioritize my work over my role as a mother and like I had to change—felt like I had to change my career because of gender limitations in the private practice system. 

                          Yeah. Of course, I felt those things and didn't—you know, at the time in those moments, I didn't do a lot because I feared reprisal. And then I give you on the other side of it was with respect to my disability. So I kept it very quiet for a really long time. The one time I did come forward to my boss at the time and just, you know, said this is what's going on with me. I'm in the middle of an episode. And you know, very well-meaning and compassionate and all that but they came in and took some of my work away from me and you know, I don't put any ill intent behind that—you know, what happened in that moment but it took away my agency and control at a time where I already felt like I was spinning out of control. 

And so yeah, I think I didn't—haven't done much in the moment and all I can say is I feel like I'm doing something about it now which is through this mandate and through talking to people like you and putting my whole store out in the big wide—in the big bad world. But that's—you know, having those discussions and you know, I hope another young lawyer who faces this—and you know, I'm sure there are still these things. I mean I know these things are still happening in the workplace and law firms. You know, I hope that they can find their voice and find their people who can help them navigate through them. But I—yeah. No, I—like many other female lawyers, I sucked it up a lot and kept it hidden. 

  I think right now with the benefit of time, I think I could have done more at the time. But you know, I at least—at least can say I've done something now. 

Julia:                 No, no. Yeah. Definitely. And I mean also doing these podcasts. I mean and all the other things you're doing as a president of the OBA, but this podcast is ideal. So it's to encourage, you know, other women to step up and to say like you're not alone but you're definitely—with everything you've been saying to me I'm like wow. I'm very impressed. So you are definitely trying to make a change in the legal profession and I thank you for that. My certainly legal profession with my colleagues and friends. So thank you. And I hope the—

Kelly:               Well—

Julia:                 — Quebec bar is doing the same.

Kelly:               —so galvanized by the bar association, right? Like they have really been—I mean the association itself has been like a mentor to me because they've just led—

Julia:                 Mm-hmm.

Kelly:               —on these areas where—and I've made the—and have opened up the dialogue and have—you know. I think most of the firms, especially the big firms now, all have EDI departments and staff and that's amazing. I couldn't have imagined that a decade ago. Like that's amazing that we've—the attention has been focused and brought. And so that—you know, that gives—empowers me a little bit to talk a bit more and to be a bit more open about, you know, where I hope the profession is going to go. And I've been really impressed with even just some of my colleagues at the different firms for some of the steps they've taken to move—you know, move the pendulum. 

You know, it's all those small steps that matter. Sometimes it's—like I said, sometimes we see a problem and it's so big and we don't think we can handle it. But it's all these—all these small steps is helping, empowering someone else to take another step and you know, eventually, that is going to push us in the right direction.

Julia:                 Very much. And you just like—well, that’s a perfect segue for my last—

Kelly:               [Unintelligible 00:45:33]

Julia:                 —question which is how do you see—because you said, you know how you wanted to see the profession evolve. So where would you like to see the profession in like another 30 years? So we meet again. We talk about, you know, the 30th anniversary of the Touchtone Report and now you—

Kelly:               Oh, I hope I'm retired by then.

Julia:                 Yeah, I hope. I hope you are. 

Kelly:               [Unintelligible 00:45:49] But I think I've kind of already launched where I want things to go and I think—you know, I hope that the emphasis of our practice lives is really being, you know, looked at. You know, taking the emphasis off of the value and the quantity of time we spend on work. But again, focusing on the value added to the profession then as a whole and to our clients and I would like to see—you know, what I see in my small part of the world that you know, a more collaborative and team-focused approach to legal work that not only accepts diversity but embraces it, right? 

                          And so you know, I hope—you know, I hope that we have taken the next steps. You know, 30 years. Like I said, right now I think we've done such a good job of raising attention to the issue, developing some of the structural necessities to make change happen.

                          So all that's great and I hope—you know, I hope in the next ten years, not 30 years, but like particularly in 30 years. I hope that the next steps to action have been taken. That you know, that the change has resulted and action has resulted in results and we can sit back in ten years, 20 years, 30 years from now we're not going to be talking about 90 percent of the profession being dominated at the executive level, the senior level by men. Like I hope that's changed because we've identified the issues, we've taken action, and we now are seeing the results. 

                          So I hope we see the results in 30 years. But like I said, if I'm going to—I think we're going to do much better than that. I think in ten years time. I look back ten years I don't think I would believe how far we've advanced today, right? I couldn't imagine firms having—you know, put the emphasis on EDI the way that it is. And it is—you know, it is embedded in most first firms, employers' strategic plans now. You know, it's you're kind of an outsider if you have not embedded EDI into your strategic plan and your core value as an organization. So like that's amazing. 

Julia:                 That's already, yeah. 

Kelly:               So ten years from now that—you know, I'm hoping we're going to see that the change has moved into action, the action has moved into results and that we will not have these alarming statistics that we're throwing out here today. 

Julia:                 Thank you very much. And also, I think that talking about statistic [unintelligible 00:48:28] said partner Laval 70 to 30 men to women. So hopefully not going there. And I agree with you the 30 years. Like no, come on guys, we can do it in ten years definitely. But I thank you so much. I don't know if there's anything else you wanted to add that I haven't covered because you know, we were discussing about other stuff but if there's another point that you wanted to make please feel free to do it. Like it's your time.  

Kelly:               You know what? I think I do. I just, you know, would encourage, you know, all of the CBA members and anyone who hears this podcast. You know, if you're struggling don't—you know, look out for your peers. Look out for associations like the OBA that can, you know, provide you your community. That can provide you your peer support. And you know, none of—it's amazing the more conversations I have, the more open I've been, it's amazing how many people have had similar struggles, issues, concerns, and so utilize the networks that you have. They are available and you know, we're seeing how important it is. 

So I hope that any—you know, we're starting off with the peer support network on September 14th. It's, you know, front and centre on our webpage for lawyers with disabilities. It's going to be safe, confidential. It's just going to be a place to talk. We've done peers—we've done train the trainer training. So we have people who are facilitating who are going to make sure that that space [unintelligible 00:49:51] and reliable. And so I hope that if you or any of your colleagues have experienced disability in their life and in their practice that they will join us for the conversation because the more people we get, I think the more enriched conversations. And you know, I think conversations turns into ideas, ideas turn into action. So yeah, I really encourage everybody [unintelligible 00:50:16] that. 

Julia:                 Thank you so much. I mean it was such a like solution-driven podcast. I really like that. And I'm sure you're being told that often.  But I really like how you answered. Very lucid but at the same time having, you know, solutions and are proposing action. So very cool. Thank you very much. 

Kelly:               No. It was fun. I think that your questions are great and the—and obviously the topic's awesome. So I appreciate having a forum to yammer on. 

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

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