Interview with Kelly Samuels

Q: How long have you been with EKB for? When did you start as an articling student?

Kelly: I started as a summer articling student during the summer of 2004, and then I came back to article for the full year with the firm in 2005. So, after I graduated in May, I did PLTC right after school. At the end of August 2005, I returned to the firm. I’ve been here ever since.

Q: Why you were originally attracted to EKB for your articling position? What was it about EKB that you liked?

Kelly: I think the shortest answer to that really is the people that I met when I was going through the articling process. I distinctly remember meeting lawyers from EKB at the wine and cheese recruiting event that was held at UBC for law students applying for summer positions. It’s a bit of an intimidating event to walk into when you’re a student and quite new in the law process.

I was a first year. Walking into this room with all the law firms of Vancouver, with all the bigger firms and recognizable firms, was an overwhelming room to walk into. I also worked for a few years before I went to law school, and I had done a lot of trade shows. Investor relations work. So, being a front person, you know, talking to the public or talking to strangers, it’s something I had a lot of experience with. I was probably less intimidated than some students. But I was walking up and down the rows, and then I saw somebody I knew who was working at EKB. There was a familiar face, so I went over to talk to her. But very quickly, the other people that were there at the booth were just a really friendly and approachable group. It immediately put me at ease. I went from being feeling pretty tense to just lightening up after having lighthearted and authentic conversations. I decided I was going to apply there. Fast forward to getting an interview.

I remember walking into the firm, and again, I had felt some degree of intimidation walking into other firms. I still felt nervous coming into EKB, but immediately was put at ease from everybody that I met. The person who was sitting at the reception desk to greet me was just a really friendly person. And then I went in and sat in the boardroom and there were some current students there at the time. They’re meant to talk to you while you’re waiting to be whisked off to your more formal interview. Again, it was this trend of really connecting with the people that I was meeting. It just seemed like a genuinely nice place to be.

Everyone was very professional, but friendly and authentic. I feel like that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. The people I met weren’t putting on a front. They had good senses of humour, lots of joking and banter, but I could see it was a very professional and polished shop as well. That’s what drew me in. When I got the offer, I was really excited.

I think the other aspect of EKB I grew to realize, that I wouldn’t have appreciated just walking through the doors, was that it’s a really unique firm in that it’s a smaller shop with the same bigger caliber of exciting work. I think a lot of what appealed to me about other firms around town was that they did this glamorous, large, and exciting work. Well, lo and behold, we do a lot of that work here as well. To me, it was the best of both worlds.

Q: What was your experience like when you actually started at the firm?

Kelly: One of the things that I found really helpful when I started was, you know, you come into law, a law firm, and you have no idea what practicing law really means. I went to law school, and you read cases, but how does that translate into a day-to-day work environment? When I sat down with my summer principal my first morning there, and he came out to greet me and took me into his office, he gave me a good lay of the land, even explaining what sort of hours he spent in the office. He said, I’m here from 8 to 6 a lot of days, sometimes a little bit later, sometimes earlier.

Everything was well explained to me when I started. When I was given a project, there was definitely an appreciation of, well, Kelly just came out of law school. We know that she doesn’t know anything about practicing yet.

The way it works here is that typically, you’ll meet with the lawyer who’s giving you the work, whether that’s a partner or sometimes a senior associate, who will give you the assignment that they need your help with. I think it’s really beneficial to have that direct communication, because not only does it show you the different style that somebody might work in, but it’s a great opportunity to ask questions, and it helps foster that mentoring relationship that I think is so important between more senior practitioners and students or very new associates.

I felt that the lawyers would always go very much back to the basics like this. For example, this is how a memo is. First, you summarize the facts, then you lay out your issues. I would like a brief answer, and then you can get into all the reasoning at the end. I did a lot of research memos when I worked for the summer in 2004. I went from not really knowing how you would go about doing that to being able to crank them out quickly. The lawyer would look at it and then we would have a follow-up discussion on what was helpful in the memo. Usually, the lawyer would have some follow-up questions about the issues and had I thought about it like this or like that. What could I add to add to my analysis based on some further discussion?

I think it was these ongoing touch points as opposed to, I know that sometimes there can be a workflow situation where maybe there’s a listing that students are on, an assignment will come through e-mail and students will say, Oh, I’m available, and I can do it.

I think at EKB, and of course, I’ve only ever worked here, so I don’t have direct experience elsewhere, but I do feel that there is a conscious effort to bring students and very junior associates into a project early on and try it. Where there’s an opportunity to sit in on conference calls with clients, that’s something that’s helpful. Or the opportunity to be a part of a meeting. If somebody’s doing due diligence at the beginning of a transaction to try to bring them in on the second stage when there’s documents being drafted. I personally always try to explain the big picture to students. Like, this is what the deal is, and this is the part I want your help on, but I want them to see the big picture and not just the piece of the transaction they’re working on. I think it’s important to learn in context, and that was certainly the way I was taught. That’s why I work that way now.

Q: How did you find your transition from student to associate? To partner?

Kelly: I think the lawyers that I worked with always made time for me with the questions I had. Sometimes I felt like I had a lot of questions. I did say to one of the partners I worked with in my junior year that I felt like I always had so many questions. What can I do to make this easier for you? I felt like I was always interrupting him although he never made me feel that way.

It’s common to feel self-conscious when you ask a lot of questions all the time, even though that’s how you learn. But he was always really helpful in saying: just go as far as you can, it’s important to try to take it as far as you can on your own. But don’t sit there and spin your wheels. Because it may be that a very quick discussion will resolve your question, and you can then keep going.

So, I think making more senior lawyers accessible. That was one thing when I moved from being a student to an associate, I continued to have a partner mentor. I had a principal, of course, who was responsible for me during my articles, and we met once a week. We talked about everything I was working on. He made sure I was having a very well-rounded experience, working for a variety of lawyers, making sure I touched on all the main areas of law. When I stayed on as an associate, I chose to be a solicitor

.The lawyer that had been my principal during my summer continued to be my mentor through my early years of practice. We worked together a lot. I also developed a couple of more organic mentorship relationships. There was another lawyer here too, he’s since retired, but his office was next to mine for many years, and he was a very approachable person. He was the first one that I met at the wine and cheese. He was a real corporate law aficionado.

Every time I went in and sat down at his desk and had a question, he would turn to his bookshelf and pull the Business Corporations Act off and lick his finger and sort of flip to the relevant section and we’d talk it through, work through the problem together. It seemed to be the way I learned the best. Having that available to me was amazing and very instrumental to the development of my skills as a lawyer.

So that was my associate tenure. Just working with a variety of lawyers and trying to soak up what I got from them. When I became a partner, it’s funny, that didn’t change right away. It’s not like, one day I was an associate, and then the next day, I was a partner. But I know that overtime, things have switched. And now I see the associates starting to come to me with their questions. So, I see it as my way of paying it forward. I’m happy that people feel they can come to me with questions.

But in a way, it’s totally different. Now, instead of being a second share on a file, I’m often the one who’s making decisions. Having to use my judgement. That’s a new challenge. Law is interesting because you think, oh, I’ve become a partner, I’ll just always know what to do. And it’s true, you have great instincts, hopefully. You’ve seen a lot of different things and you have enough knowledge to have a gut feeling about things and to make judgement calls that are correct.

But there’s still sometimes things that come up that I’ve never seen before, or maybe client management issues that I’ve not had to deal with before. Sometimes, it’s those soft skills that I’m so grateful to have people to bounce ideas off of here. That’s the benefit of practicing in a firm where you have great relationships with the people you work with. I often say, when people come to me, that two heads are better than one. Two brains are better than one. Let’s look at this together. That’s how I learned to practice, by coming up through that.

Q: Why have you decided to stay on?

Kelly: Law is not an easy job sometimes, and there have been some challenging periods in my career. Either when I’m in a steep trend of learning, and you kind of go through these steep up curves, when you’re pushing through to that next level. Those were the times that I thought, why am I doing this? This is really hard. But during those tough times, it was the people that kept me here, and if I had a really bad day, the people I worked with were great. So, I didn’t really want to go somewhere else, because on the tough days, I had people around me that would support me and lift me up.

Law is not easy. And I think having people around you that you can count on and that you genuinely like and get along with is what makes those tough days easier. You always can always see the light at the end of the tunnel for that. It would be hard to work in this job and not really like or really connect with the people that I work with. So, I’ve stayed for that, and, the great work.

Q: Could you describe what a day-to-day is like now at the office for you? Is there an average day in the life of a partner?

Kelly: It used to be working more on a paper basis, like on a contract, drafting it or revising it. I would say it’s more of a mix now of doing that kind of pen to paperwork and managing files. This morning, for example, I spent on calls with clients reviewing agreements that we had commented on. They’re negotiating a contract and I previously reviewed that contract and had some comments for them. We then took an hour this morning to go through my comments on the phone, to talk those through and for me to get clarification on any questions I had. That’s something I do a lot more of now, time spent talking with clients.

Not to say that I didn’t do that as an associate. I certainly did have the opportunity to do that a lot. But I would say there’s more face time with clients, whether it’s voice, time on the phone, or over Teams. I do a lot more. Talking with clients and telling them my thoughts on why I think they should take this approach to a contract versus that approach. There’s a lot of negotiating.

I’d say the difference between my earlier years and my later years is I’m the one who has the larger knowledge base, so I’m talking to the clients, giving them my thoughts. It could be that I’ve had an associate also help review the contract. If it’s possible to bring them in on a call, then I would do that as well. I’ll say to the client: this is my associate. They’re helping me with this contract. It’s beneficial for their learning to participate in this discussion.

I would probably make it clear to them that I would be charging for my time only.

I definitely have people popping in from time to time throughout the day for questions when I’m in the office. I’ll have people popping in and then I have a weekly meeting as a principal for one of the students. I schedule a weekly meeting with them to go over all the work that they’re doing to answer any questions they have.

I also act as a mentor to two associates, so that means that they come to me with any questions they have. I keep tabs on what they’re doing, make sure they’re getting the kind of work they want. If they are feeling that there are things they want to be doing more of, or things they want to be doing less of, I will help them navigate that process. It’s a mixture of time on the phone and time working, and people.

Q: Could you speak to what your experience is like when you’re mentoring these articling students? Do you see yourself in them?

Kelly: It takes me back for sure. It’s very rewarding, because it’s nice to know that some of the struggles I might have had as a very new lawyer or law student, are things that I can help with now. I’ve learned something along the way because I can help them with those questions. Often there are themes that come up with students of things they might need to learn or have concerns about.

Lots of young lawyers, for example, worry or wonder about business development. How do I get clients down the road? That was something I really worried about as a young lawyer. There’s no one thing that brings in clients. It’s an ongoing process that develops somewhat organically.

I think that the advice I always give to the younger lawyers that I work with and mentor is play to your strengths. Sometimes, people enjoy going to events and shaking hands and networking and making small talk, but not everybody does. So, people who are less inclined to do that think, where will I get clients?

There are other ways to become a thought leader in an industry you might be interested in. There are articles you can write. There are speaking events you can speak at. Sometimes it’s just day-to-day activities in the community. You never know who you’ll meet along the way. Often, I’ve found that clients I’ve managed to attract are people that I met through somebody from a school, my child’s school, or a sports team that I might’ve participated in. So, all those touches that one has in the community, that’s eventually where those clients will come from.

That was something I really fretted about in my early years. Now, I think, I really didn’t need to worry about that. It eventually sorts itself out. With a little bit of conscious effort, of course, but not as much as I would’ve thought.

And then, drafting as a solicitor, of course, I draft a lot of agreements. I review a lot of contracts. I remember sitting in a partner’s office as a brand-new lawyer and he and I had been trying to draft an agreement and he was rattling off clauses to me that I was frantically trying to scribble down on a pad of paper: notwithstanding the foregoing blah, blah, blah, blah.

I remember looking at him and saying, how do you know those words? He said, it just comes with time. And it’s true. Now, I’m that person who can rattle off those clauses, and I never thought that I would eventually get there. I think a lot of the things that students and young lawyers worry about are the same things I worried about. I’m still here, so I must have figured out some things along the way, and I can help them with those because I remember exactly how it felt.

Q: Is there any other advice you would give to future articling students?

Kelly: I do the recruiting with Dave Turner. So, I’ve talked to lots and lots of students.
Be yourself. Be who you are. I think that one of the things I thought when I started was, I had to be this sort of rigid lawyer. And it wasn’t how I am naturally. I would sort of break out of character, then I would beat myself up for it later, and then eventually I just realized, you know, you have to be who you are. Because otherwise, you’ll just come out sideways. You won’t be happy if you’re not being who you are.

You need to be in a place where people know you for who you are and like you and respect you for who you are, so, just be true to yourself. It’s easier said than done, but don’t sweat the small stuff as much as possible. I made some mistakes as a young lawyer that I would just beat myself up for. How could I have done that? Well, we all make mistakes. It happens to everybody. Even the most experienced and respected of lawyers makes mistakes, we’re just humans. So, try to dust yourself off, and you’ll pick yourself up and move on to the next thing.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Go as far as you can with something, but don’t spin your wheels. Go get help at that point. Because for people who are intellectually inclined to do so, you can just go down a rabbit hole of getting stuck on a problem. And it might just take a quick conversation to get you out of being stuck. So, don’t feel like you need to know all the answers because you won’t. It’s ok to rely on the people around you to help move you in the right direction.

Q: One final question. What is the culture like at the firm for women? Particularly, what has your experience been like as a female partner?

Kelly: The firm has been extremely supportive of me as a woman in law. I think that the challenges I always heard about, you know, that law can be a tough profession for women, those challenges became clearer to me when I moved into later roles in my life, like becoming a parent, becoming a mom.

I was offered partnership when I was quite pregnant, so the firm was clearly supportive of me. It was October, and I had my daughter in March, so it was only a few months after they offered me partnership. They gave me the option of either becoming a partner right away or deferring until I had come back from maternity leave, which is what I opted to do. When I came back, you know, it’s a big change to become a mom, I think I struggled initially with how to balance everything.

Our managing partner had said something to me back in those days that really resonated with me, which is, in the grand scheme of a long career, that period of time is but a blip. My daughter is now turning nine. When she was very young, it was difficult to balance a busy professional career and a busy practice with being there for her.

I think that’s the same, not just in law, but in any profession. I think any professional, any parent who works full-time, has those same struggles. I think where our firm has shown its support of women is in the parental leave.

It’s for both men and women, but it’s a parental leave policy for associates and for partners. It’s something we’ve recently put into place and that’s because we see women in law coming up through the ranks that may not have their children until such a time as they are partners. And it’s an important thing to account for. How to manage that time in a lawyer’s life when they may be being pulled in different directions? We want, first of all, for them to have the time they need with their family when their child is very young. But also, there’s definitely an acknowledgement amongst my partners of which are mostly men, that I am a mom, and with that, comes certain obligations. That’s just life.

Also, for a period of time, I did work part-time as a partner. I worked four days a week. Ultimately, it wasn’t sustainable with the kind of practice I had, but it showed me that the firm was more than open to alternative work arrangements. My daughter was very young, so they really wanted to support me and at the time I felt I needed an extra day at home with her and they were like, let’s make that happen.

We are limited only by our imaginations, is what I was told. Let’s find something that works for you. So, I really feel that the firm is very supportive of women, of moms, and dads, too. We want them to also have the same type of support.

In a broader sense, I came through law school at a time when there was a lot of women, like it was pretty much 50-50. There wasn’t much prejudice. I would expect a few years before me, it would have been quite a different story. I hear stories from women who came just prior to my time who struggled in the profession. I think what has also changed to some degree is a lot of the more senior practitioners, their wives maybe stayed at home. That style of family was more of the norm in the previous generation.

My mom stayed at home and my dad worked, and I think that was very common in the legal profession as well. But now a lot of my contemporaries, both the husband and wife work. There’s a built-in respect now amongst men my age, at least, because their wives probably are in a similar position to me. So, there’s been a little bit of resolution in the sense that the working world has changed. But sometimes, when I would look around the partnership table, and I was the only female for a period of time, we have two female partners now, there were definitely times I wished that there were more women, but that’s just a matter of time. I never felt like I was looked at as different. I was considered an equal, and in fact, people were almost sensitive to that. They wanted to make sure I felt like I had an equal voice.