I recently heard The Honourable Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein give a few remarks as he received the Manitoba Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award. In acknowledging the award, Justice Rothstein wisely noted that our career accomplishments don’t reflect only our own achievements but also the many contributions of our mentors and teachers.
Justice Rothstein’s comments reminded me of the importance of good mentoring, particularly in the early years of a legal career but also through periods of career transition, and turned my mind to the role of mentors in my own career.
The awards presentation also included the 2013 Isabel Ross MacLean Hunt award. Isabel Ross MacLean Hunt, born in 1894, was the first woman to graduate in law from the University of Manitoba, in 1915. She was also the first woman in Manitoba to operate her own law firm, and in 1953, the first woman to be named Queen’s Counsel in Manitoba. The award in her honour recognizes the achievements of a woman lawyer who opened doors for others and encouraged or mentored women in their legal careers. This year’s award went to the Honourable Madam Justice Colleen Suche of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench.
I am fortunate to count Justice Suche among my mentors, having had the privilege to work closely with her for several years through Manitoba’s Women Lawyers Forum and in the development of The Legal Help Centre of Winnipeg.
In my early years of practice, when I was working in a small rural firm with few internal supports, Ruth McNeill was a mentor to me. Ruth is a solo practitioner and was at that time the community’s only other female lawyer. Despite juggling the demands of her own busy practice and young family, Ruth was always willing to share with me the lessons she had learned,
When I left private practice to move into the non-profit sector, Barbara Palace Churchill was a key support in that time of transition, and she continued to generously offer her encouragement, advice and support even after she left the agency where we worked together.
Like Isabel Ross MacLean Hunt, each of these three women cut a unique path in her legal career, sometimes making unconventional choices along the way, and they have in common a willingness to lend support to other women in the development of their legal careers.
As I acknowledge the contributions of these mentors, I wonder how best to honour their efforts. It seems to me that the answer is simply, this – to quietly listen, openly share, generously support and honestly advise where opportunities arise, as each of these women did for me.
How do you honour those who opened doors and cut paths for you?