Give Your Time and Make Real Change: A Lawyer’s Advice on Creating a Support System and Investing in Yourself

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Article 13 of 15 in Series: Perspectives on Work, Worth and Faith


Nadine and I go all the way back to university. We met each other through a mutual friend and discovered that we went to the same school. We made it a point to meet up often and occasionally studied together in the library during exam time. As her friend of many years, I can speak to her silent (and sometimes not so silent) tenacity in unique and difficult circumstances, while maintaining a sense of humour. She encourages others to do the same. 

CHRIS-ANN: What kind of work do you do? 

NADINE: I am currently one of two mental health and addictions staff lawyers at one of Legal Aid Ontario’s community legal clinics. I provide accessible legal services to low-income clients who, on top of poverty, suffer with mental health and addictions issues. I work onsite at the hospital, shelters, addiction and crisis’ centers and engage directly with incredibly vulnerable youth and adults. My current role is a healthy mixture of front line social and legal work.

Growing up, I volunteered a lot (!) and learned soft skills that I carry with me to this day: public speaking, team work, organization, analytical skills, reading, writing. These skills and dealing with various personalities from an early age has made me a personable co-worker.

CHRIS-ANN: What are some challenges that you faced growing up and establishing what you wanted to do in life. How did this affect your overall decision-making?

NADINE: In all honesty, a lot of the challenges I faced growing up in establishing what I wanted to do in life was teachers. I had to learn to sift through which teachers were genuinely interested in my success and which weren’t. Some educators will scoff when you tell them what you want to become. Ignore them. Other educators will encourage you and even suggest careers that match your skill set. Listen to them. 

As a Black woman, I have never leaned heavily on the counsel of career counsellors/advisors. Actually, I skipped most of the sessions with career counsellors/advisors at the advice of my mother. She cautioned me that advisors/counsellors were biased and streamed certain students into particular fields. Years later, the research is showing that her suspicions were true.

“For me it was my parents, but it might be a different support system for you. Use your supports and create those supports if you don’t have one.”

I was fortunate to have parents who didn’t give me a ceiling. They listened to me when I said I wanted to be a scientist, and then a doctor, when I dropped biology and calculus and finally, when I said I wanted to go to law school. Although we were immigrants to this country, my parents came alongside me in doing research to figure out the route to law school. For me, it was my parents, but it might be a different support system for you. Use your supports and create those supports if you don’t have one.

CHRIS-ANN: Based on your personal experiences, what areas do you see youth and young adults needing assistance? What life tips would you give them?

NADINE: I am a firm believer that youth and young adults need assistance engaging in/exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), all areas that most youth and young adults are not drawn to naturally. STEM are also areas that are not fully developed in our educational curriculums yet. Since 2018, I truly believe that a handle on STEM increases the marketability of a candidate when entering the job market.

“Learn how to conduct informational interviews with professionals whose careers interest you, make requests to job shadow, attend court hearings, attend city council meetings, research causes that interest you and volunteer your time.”

Finally, the season of being a youth or young adult is short but vast. It is the only time in your life where you have copious amounts of time to devote to extra-curricular activities. It is also a season where most people are happy to give you opportunities and/or insight into their careers. Invest time in volunteering at organizations of interest. Learn how to conduct informational interviews with professionals whose careers interest you, make requests to job shadow, attend court hearings, attend city council meetings, research causes that interest you and volunteer your time. Don’t just spend your summer on social media. Go outside, give your time and make real change.


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