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It seems like a good time to reflect. January marks not only the beginning of the calendar year, but also the one-year anniversary of Molyneaux Law’s launch as Hamilton’s social justice law firm.

This post is a bit of a departure from my normal blog posts: it’s not about the law, it’s about me and my practice.

As I’ve told many of my friends and professional contacts over the last year, the first year in business has been a roller coaster ride.

It’s been a little lonely, without constant contact with the lovely colleagues I left behind at my old job.

And, it’s brought on new challenges that law school and articling didn’t prepare me for. Even the small details and tasks take time and energy: What will your logo look like? How about your letterhead? What’s your matter number system going to be? Then there are the bigger details that aren’t case-related: setting up your trust account, selecting a file management system, or finding a solid assistant, bookkeeper and accountant.

There were times when I felt like I spent all day going from the bank to the post office to Staples to my desk. I’d sit and sign cheques to pay my phone bill and send an email to my bookkeeper and un-jam the printer, only to spend my evenings doing the legal research and writing that I wanted to do during the day. Late nights of research have never been part of my vision of social justice law.

While these non-law tasks are always part of running a firm, they have become a smaller and smaller part as I build my new routine (and learn to delegate with the help of my assistant, Jennifer).

Alongside the burdens of having to deal with my own printer jams, this year has included some career and life highlights for me.

Focusing on Women at Work & Social Justice Law

As a lawyer, this year has provided me with a great opportunity to think about the type of practice I want and the types of cases I want to fight. I’ve been able to focus on my support for women and parents who have lost their jobs or experienced other discrimination following a pregnancy, maternity leave or other parenting-related issues.

As I reflect on my cases this year, I’m proud to find that I’m serving my target demographic: women, LGBTQI2S+ persons, and other people marginalized in our labour market. More than half of the clients I’ve worked with this year have been women or gender non-conforming folks. Less than 10% of the clients I’ve worked with this year have been non-humans, but I’m proud to say that this category of clients is made up of unions, non-profits or community organizations who share my vision of social justice and new small, local businesses headed by women and racialized folks.

Contrary to some naysayers’ predictions, slapping the word “feminist” on all my socials has not deterred men from hiring me. They make up approximately 40% of my clients. Sure, maybe some are turned off by this but I suspect they wouldn’t have wanted to work with me anyway.  Of my men clients, most have been men with disabilities or racialized men. After all, we’re united in this struggle against the systems that keep women, queer, racialized, disabled and other marginalized people down in our economy and our workforce.

Building My Community: Organizing, Educating, Learning

Ditching the commute to Toronto has given me more time to be involved in my community here in Hamilton. And being my own boss has given me the flexibility to take time off in the middle of the day to do non-law work I care about.

Getting involved in Nrinder Nann’s Hamilton City Council campaign, for example, might not have been possible for me before. Working with Nrinder’s campaign introduced me to so many new and wonderful people working in our community. It gave me the chance to work on something I value: the representation of progressive women of colour in politics.

Similarly, I’ve had the chance to meet some incredible local women who have been tremendously supportive and given me a crash course on business ownership issues, like marketing, time management and financial planning (hey there, Women Connecting Women!).

The extra time and freedom I gained last year let me return to a law school passion of mine: community legal education. In 2018, I did a couple sessions aimed at helping new, small employers treat their first hires – including at the Scadding Court Newcomer Entrepreneurship Hub and Seedworks coworking space. I was privileged to take on a small role in an anti-Peterson teach-in. I got to join Cameron Kroestch in leading a session at Pride Hamilton on issues that LGBTQI2S+ folks face in the job search and at work. I’m glad I could to spend this time talking workers’ rights over sandwiches instead of sitting on the GoTrain like I was in 2017.

2019!

I’m looking forward to continuing my work in 2019. In addition to my file work, I’m recommitting to public legal education, starting with a session on independent contractor work coming up on January 23 and a panel on sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace on February 20.

I know practicing law and being your own boss are privileges, as is carving out a career based on your values. But, I know that a social justice law practice is possible.

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