Focus On

Seizing the opportunity to change legal workplace | Charlene Theodore

Monday, November 23, 2020 @ 8:49 AM | By Charlene Theodore

Charlene Theodore %>
Charlene Theodore
To say that 2020 has been a difficult year would be an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives dramatically, both at home and at work, while the protests and uprisings we witnessed this summer have laid bare the failure of our system to properly tackle racial inequality, including in the justice sector.

While this has certainly presented challenges, I am also aware of the opportunities that are now before us.

When I took over the presidency of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) back in September, I made the commitment to help our members take advantage of today’s reimagining of the workplace. We are in the midst of a time where we can build optimal, modern, healthy and productive legal workplaces — ones that send lawyers fighting fit into the world to do battle for justice.

My presidential mandate — Work that Works — is designed to provide tools, education and other resources to build workplaces that work for the lawyers inside them, as well as the clients who rely on them. I’m talking about workplaces that value experience and a fresh approach, are meaningful, but also profitable, can innovate and harness the power of technology and the awesome power of humanity.  

I have spent my career focused on workplaces. As in-house counsel for one of the province’s teachers unions, I have the increasingly rare experience of working as a union side labour lawyer and an employer side labour lawyer. I have gathered valuable insight, and my experiences have shown me that the best workplaces are those that work for everyone.

It’s really about finding the right balance. Workplaces need to work for partners and associates, managers and new lawyers, seasoned pros and novices, equality-seekers and allies. We need workplaces that are both healthy and productive, where the work is both meaningful and profitable, where inclusion and equality are seen as tools of success not boxes to tick and access to justice and feasibility work in tandem not in opposition.

Lawyers fight society’s most important fights, but sometimes we forget to take those victories across our own thresholds and let them change things for the better in our own workplaces. I’m hoping Work that Works is a chapter of the OBA’s history that will put the profession forever on the right road as we cross the intersection of a younger, diverse workforce and a traditional boardroom culture that leaves many out of the advancement equation.

But this isn’t just about the “what.” In order for us to be successful, we need to have our eyes firmly set on the “how.” This means providing tangible resources to help the profession do what they need to do and coming up with specific goals and accessing the skills and expertise of our colleagues. This will include things like checklists and other tools, debates and CPD, as well as lifestyle services. We will also be celebrating successes and using this as a further opportunity to build solutions in a collaborative way.

This month, I’m launching a new podcast that will feature interviews with a wide variety of people already creating the change — and balance — our workplaces need. I’ll be touching on this more in future columns, so I hope you can give the podcast a listen.

I have always focused on making workplaces better. The coincidence in the timing of my presidency and the reimagining of workplaces that will emerge from the tragic circumstance of COVID-19 gives rise to a responsibility I don’t intend to ignore and another opportunity I do not intend to waste. I hope the profession joins me and the OBA on this journey to ensure we have workplaces that truly work for everyone.

Charlene Theodore is president of the Ontario Bar Association. A workplace lawyer with a background in public policy and government relations, she serves as in-house counsel to one of Ontario’s largest teachers associations.

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