Marian Serna
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How Stereotypes Have Contributed To The Rise Of The Non-Standard Legal Professional

published Feb 12, 2020

Nothing in this article is intended to be considered legal advice. All contents and opinions belong exclusively to the author and do not reflect the opinions of her employer(s).

Do you have a company that needs some legal help but doesn’t have the funds to hire a lawyer? Although having a lawyer is of great help, companies don’t need a lawyer for everything they do. Nowadays, expertise comes in all forms and shapes, there is a subject matter expert for every topic… and it does not have to be a lawyer.

The bulk of legal operations at a startup generally involves things such as contract management, privacy management, handling intellectual property, all of which can be managed by somebody who is certified in those areas. For instance, contract managers can be people with an IACCM certification, IAPP and ISACA certify people in privacy, etc.

One thing I have learned is that, regardless of your qualifications, your ability to find the right stakeholders, to extract the right information from them, and to put that information together in such a way that makes sense, is what distinguishes you from other people, no matter that their titles are way above yours. Evidently, it is important to recognize that you don’t have all the answers and that there will be times when you have to consult an expert; and that is fine.

To illustrate this topic, I am going to share a bit of my personal experience.

Since arriving in Canada eight years ago, I had been struggling to figure out how to get back into law. Little did I know that, by battling so many odds, I was going to put myself in the perfect position.

Having worked as a lawyer in Colombia for a few years before deciding to leave my native country, the feeling of starting my career from scratch was utterly discouraging. The first thing I did was to get an International Trade Certificate from the University of Toronto; I thought that would help me leverage my background...it did not. Then, I became a licensed paralegal in Ontario. I highly disliked the field I started to work in, my life felt so miserable. I wanted to become a technology lawyer but... how was I going to do that if I had no experience whatsoever in technology? I had to quit to become a software developer, I thought… And so I did. While doing freelance work, I went to college and got a diploma in Multimedia Design and Development, and then I got an IT Project Management Certificate (still working towards the infamous PMP). I didn’t like being a software developer, but I found something that I did enjoy… project management. Interestingly enough, that led me back to law as I found a position at a startup that required technology, legal, and project management skills. Now I am trying to finish my Masters at the University of Toronto to finally be able to take the Bar exam and become part of the Ontario Bar.

Writing that was tiring! You see, I am an internationally trained lawyer. Do you understand what that means? Having that stereotype hanging from my neck, there is no law firm in Canada that would simply assume that I am just as good as any of their own Canadian-trained lawyers. I had to prove to myself that not only am I as good, but that I am much better. It’s a survival thing, one that made me fearless. Having done so many things, now I’m finally focusing on becoming an expert in the area I work in.

Believe me, there are many like me. I perform at least three roles at my current company for a reasonable salary. I don’t provide legal advice nor do I make decisions, but I certainly assess risks; after all, I am trained to do so; that allows the stakeholders at my company to feel that they are in control, not that a lawyer has the power. They know the risks, they make the decisions, they assume the consequences.

I speak Spanish, I understand technology and the privacy landscape, I know how to manage a project, I can spot talent in a heartbeat and, more importantly, I know how to communicate with people. I roll up my sleeves and I get things done. I don’t sit behind a desk all day, don’t wear heels all the time, I get to the root of things; and all of this (except my tropical accent) I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t suffer the rejection coming from that stereotype.

So, thank you to the ones that rejected me because that made me the solid professional I am today. And, to you, company with little budget, when hiring legal staff, think what are the real needs of your company… Do you really need a lawyer from that fancy law firm? Think how much value a candidate may bring in comparison with the compensation they are expecting; analyze how their interests align with those of your company; and make sure that you both have the right attitude to support each other. I feel triumphant because I see that I am useful, I get to learn every day, and I get to do something that I love.