Nov. 24, 2020Print | PDF
Formed 10 years ago by Laurier students looking to share knowledge and resources about law school applications, the Wilfrid Laurier University Pre-Law Society (LPLS) is a student organization with a singular mission – to provide members with opportunities and experiences that will prepare them for successful legal careers.
Some students know that law school is in their future from a young age, others discover that it’s something they are interested in when they are well into their undergraduate careers. What unites all students looking to pursue a career in law is a strong work ethic, boundless curiosity, and enough ambition to see it through.
To expose students to as many examples of the multiple career paths available to law school graduates, the LPLS hosts panel discussions with lawyers from across the industry, representing all facets of the law including, criminal, corporate, tax, and human rights law among others.
“I don’t live with the fear of failure, only with the fear of regret. So, if you do good work, the good work will come.”
Their most recent panel discussion, Women in Law, brought together four remarkable female lawyers to discuss their different career paths, outlooks on the law, and provide their professional advice to the 75 aspiring lawyers in attendance at the virtual event.
“It was exciting having so many people out to hear from these inspiring women,” saying LPLS president, Jazzmine Gabert who is in her fourth year in the political science program. “Diversity was a key part of this event and as always, we aim to provide opportunities where students get to interact with lawyers and see new points of view. Our focus is on getting students connected and asking questions of people who reflect the diversity of our student body.”
Each event the LPLS hosts is coordinated by an event director. Planning for the Nov. 12 panel fell to second-year Bachelor of Business Administration student in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Grace Bilodeau who wanted to highlight the natural intersection of business and law.
“I work with Women in Leadership and find it very empowering to work with remarkable women,” says Bilodeau who worked at KPMG during the summer of 2019 and connected with some of the women in-house lawyers there. “They really inspired me to pursue law after my business degree. I think combining business and law would be a very powerful pathway for me, especially in corporate law or tax law.”
Bilodeau describes the business degree as having many attributes that fit well within the law profession. “All the skills you learn in the BBA definitely have a place in law where empathy, logic, and the ability to see the big picture are so important.”
The panel hosted some of the brightest legal minds in Canada, including:
Yi-Wen Hsu, a tax lawyer, business leader, and adjunct professor at Osgoode Law School at York University who has spent 20 years leading firms in Canada and internationally. She is now VP Taxation at Accor Hotels (owner of the Fairmont properties in Canada) where she leads a team of professionals responsible for all tax matters in North and Central America.
The Hon. Charlene Theodore, the first Black president of the Ontario Bar Association who began her law career with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, advocating against hate crimes and racism before the UN, and federal and provincial committees.
Noella Milne, senior partner with Borden Ladner LLP where she practices corporate real estate law. Appointed to the Order of Canada, Milne has been honoured by the Women’s Executive Network as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, and received Canada’s Top 25 RBC Immigrant Award in 2017. She currently serves as Chancellor of George Brown College.
Jordana Goldlist, founder of JHG Criminal Law, whose practice is focused on defending high-risk criminal cases for people charged with homicide, commercial drug trade, and firearms offences.
The variety of personal and professional experiences shared by the panelists was both inspirational and informative. Each panelist shared stories of what drew them into law and how their experiences can provide a template for future lawyers to follow, especially women.
Goldlist, in particular, highlighted her dual role as a business leader and lawyer, and the special attention required of both fields that is needed to succeed in running a successful boutique law firm.
“I started my law career working in a big, 30-lawyer firm and focused on learning how to be a good lawyer,” explains Goldlist. “When you come out of law school, you don’t know how to be a lawyer – you understand the law, but it takes time to learn how to practice well enough to serve your clients.”
Service is core to Goldlist’s approach to the law and after three years at the firm, she was ready to do things her own way. “You can’t go up to your boss who’s built a firm over 30 years and say, ‘I think we should do things differently,’ so I left to start my own practice.”
The main challenge facing Goldlist as she embarked on her private practice wasn’t representing clients, it was starting a business. “I run a business and I am a lawyer, those are two very different things. Being a good lawyer has nothing to do with billing, marketing, or client development, but running an efficient and successful law firm relies heavily on being able to do those things very well.”
Goldlist’s first year in private practice was grueling, with 17-hour days spent trying to stay on top of her client’s cases and the business needs of the company. She attributes her understanding to financial literacy as part of the reason for her success. “I think everyone should be taught financial literacy beginning at a young age. Even if you don’t have your own company, lawyers still need to know how to operate money because they are making it.”
Goldlist says that money is a means to an end and not an end in itself. “It’s not something you should just want to collect, there’s so much good it can do.”
Now that Goldlist’s practice is thriving, she’s noticed an increasing amount of respect and attention come her way as her profession succeeds and she wins more cases. “This really confused me at first,” she says. “Why do we assume people with impressive titles are good people and people who have checkered pasts are bad people?”
Goldlist began to share views that run contrary to common conceptions found in the justice system. “Some of my cases last for years so I come to get to know the accused and their families really well and see that they are good people who are in bad situations. I also recognize that titles and position have little to do with how a person behaves because there are a lot of respected lawyers and judges who are not necessarily good people.”
Putting her thoughts down in an article entitled, “Who Judges the Judge?” quickly earned Goldlist more attention than she was expecting. The article was published in Lawyer’s Weekly and The Toronto Star and opened up a conversation in which she was uniquely positioned to become a thought-leader.
“I have the philosophy that the criminal justice system is an economic system and that we don’t do enough toward rehabilitation and re-integration for people who leave the system. There are a lot of souls stuck in this revolving door and working to fix that can be a win-win. We can recognize that a person can do better and make them contributing members of society who pay taxes, rather than spending $100,000 a year for their incarceration.”
The article has branched off into a personal brand for Goldlist who has a related Ted Talk and podcast, and plans to launch a Who Judges the Judge YouTube channel next year. Her talent for branding and business development are only partly responsible for Goldlist’s success as a criminal defense lawyer. Her personal background also informs her empathy and dedicated approach to her clients.
“When I was young, a family member was convicted and put into the criminal justice system and I spent years moving around care homes. Eventually, I lived on the streets and developed a drug addiction and it took me until I was 19 to turn my life around.”
Finishing high school at 20 and enrolling at York University for a degree in philosophy, Goldlist knew from an early age her interest and personal experiences with the criminal justice system could benefit her as a lawyer. “After my undergrad, I threw my hat into the ring and applied to law school with zero expectations of getting in, but I did and haven’t looked back. My history is something I bring with me into my practice because it grounds me in how I deal with my clients and helps me to see things from their perspective.”
Her advice to the students was summed up in her approach to life and her career: “I don’t live with the fear of failure, only with the fear of regret. So, if you do good work, the good work will come.”
The Laurier Pre-Law Society is one of 185 student clubs on the Waterloo campus within the Students’ Union. The Laurier Pre-Law Society hosts events such as this one and posts law-related work opportunities for students on its Facebook page. For more information, or a complete listing of student clubs, visit the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union.
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