Lynne Vicars, ‘97 LLB, says she has either been consumed by school or consumed by work since she was in Grade 11 — and it shows.
The president of the Ontario Bar Association is also senior legal counsel for a major Canadian financial institution with international operations in more than 50 countries worldwide. She is the first in-house counsel to become president of the bar association and only the ninth woman to do so in its history.
Challenges seem second nature to Vicars — law is actually the second career she mastered, after spending seven years in banking, in roles that included analyst and assistant bank manager.
“I started in banking as an ambitious teenager who thought a year of commerce at Carleton University was all I needed to launch my professional career,” says Vicars. “After spending time in the workplace, I realized the value of completing my university degree and I returned to school where the potential to really accelerate my career through graduate studies became readily apparent.”
Vicars holds four degrees (a BA in administrative and commercial studies from the University of Western Ontario; her LLB and an MBA in international business and law, both from the University of Alberta; and an LLM in e-commerce law from York University, Osgoode Hall Law School), plus a certificate in computer studies from Centennial College and another in Lean Six Sigma from the University of Toronto.
“I’m a lifelong learner-worker,” she says. “There has never been a time in my adult life that I have not been either studying, working or both.”
Never more so, perhaps, than when she was earning her LLM as a newly-single mother of four school-aged children, while working full-time as legal counsel for a bank. Then again, in 2016 she was working full time and volunteering as treasurer of the bar association when she studied for, wrote and passed the New York state bar exams on her first attempt and was admitted to practice in New York state. Vicars attributes her ability to accomplish multiple goals simultaneously to “sprints of disciplined time management, interspersed with relaxation intervals enjoying family, friends, music and video games.”
Her drive for continuous learning is “a way to ensure I stay at the top of my game professionally — always being prepared to embrace new opportunities and accept broader responsibilities.”
Yet despite such indisputable dedication and success, even today Vicars says she still encounters some of the slights that less experienced female lawyers do — such as the co-opting of her ideas during meetings.
So in her leadership role as head of the bar association, she’s made gender equality (including intersectionality and the additional barriers it presents) a priority.
Among her initiatives, she’s launching small facilitated meetings of legal professionals in which participants must identify specific problems and potential fixes. The idea is to identify bite-sized solutions, ideally ones that could be implemented into their workplace within 24 hours. By seeding small changes into numerous law profession workplaces, she hopes the association can then create a robust blueprint for the entire profession to use.
She’s also developing a witty awareness-raising campaign that will encourage people to think about the everyday behaviours that potentially diminish women lawyers. And while the association’s regular professional panels are on topics of equal interest to men and women — skills for negotiating salary, for instance — they are chosen with an eye to those that, anecdotally, especially challenge women.
Gender equality is important to her because female lawyers leave private legal practice two to three times more often than men, says Vicars, quoting statistics from the Law Society of Ontario.
Those numbers should concern law firms who invest an average of $315,000 to train one associate lawyer for four years, but they also do a disservice to the entire profession, she says.
“If you are excluding 50 per cent of the talent, you are missing out on 50 per cent of the great ideas.”
While law is no worse than other professions for gaps in gender equality and diversity, “lawyers are ideally positioned to lead the way because they possess the specially-trained research and analytical skills honed to find solutions for our communities,” she says.