This month’s spotlight shines on Sara Forte of Forte Workplace Law.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I have been attending CLEBC Employment Law and Human Rights Law conferences annually since I was an articled student in 2003. That is a lot of conferences! I have always valued the practice-area-specific learning and networking at the conferences. It really provides a great opportunity to increase collegiality in the bar. Eventually, after many years, I gathered the courage to submit a pitch to the Call for Papers and since then I have been a regular presenter. I have a reputation for presenting on innovation and practice management topics (it is true) and I seem to always get the lunch spot for these. I must pair well with the buffet.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
I am currently on the planning committees for both the Employment Law and Human Rights Conferences. I really love being part of the process of crafting a great agenda and have been using my voice at the planning table to improve inclusiveness in our faculty and topics. I am presenting less regularly but really enjoy creating opportunities for more junior lawyers to present.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
It is cliché but I wanted to help people, and that is the truth. I had worked in Human Resources for a few years so I specifically wanted to help people navigate legal challenges at work. 18 years into practice, that is still what I am doing.
What made you decide to focus your practice in the areas of labour and employment law?
Work is centrally important to our lives. I remember many years ago in OCI’s at Queen’s University, I was interviewed by two securities lawyers from a Bay Street firm. They were confused about my interest in labour and employment law, and one said “isn’t that awfully pedestrian?” I responded, “if by pedestrian you mean it impacts every person walking down the street, then yes, and this is exactly why I want to do it.” It has been a fulfilling and meaningful career path for me.
You are very active in the legal community. Apart from speaking on labour and employment law issues, you also present on various other topics including lawyer wellness and law practice management. What spurred your interest in these areas?
I think it all comes back to the same thread of wanting to help people navigate challenges at work. As lawyers, we all see first-hand the struggles with wellness and the epidemic of unhappiness in our colleagues. I have never been willing to accept that as something we just have to live with if we want to have a legal career. After I started Forte Workplace Law and started experimenting with healthy practice models, I knew I had to share what I was learning with others. CLEBC has always been willing to provide a platform to talk about these issues, adding me to the agenda for (lunchtime) practice management presentations at its traditional conferences but also with its innovative offerings of the Women Thriving in Law Conference, and the Mental Health Conference.
You started the website Not Your Average Law Job – what you call the “one-stop shop for lawyers considering career change”. Can you tell us more about that?
Not Your Average Law Job is redefining what it is to be a lawyer to make it more inclusive and sustainable. Once I realized that I could have a full and happy life that also included a meaningful legal practice, I knew I needed to share this message. Through profiles of happy lawyers (including me and close to 100 others), we are shining a light on diverse lawyers and outside-the-box practices. Our website also includes job postings and resources for lawyers looking to change for the happier.
What advice would you pass on to a newly-called lawyer?
Don’t settle for a soul-sucking job. It is possible to have a happy and full life that includes an awesome law practice. Learning how to be a lawyer is hard, and there will be hard days and tough periods, but that should not be the norm. If your current practice is not working for you, don’t leave law, look around first to see all the different ways to practice. And, of course, check out Not Your Average Law Job.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
Family – my husband, 3 kids, parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law and I am an aunt to 12 (seriously). I love reading, especially Indigenous authors (Five Little Indians by Michelle Good, Daughters of the Deer by Danielle Daniel, and Back of the Turtle by Thomas King are recent favourites). We live near beaches and the forest and I love spending time there. I am President of the Board of Sources Community Wellness Society and am passionate about supporting vulnerable people in our communities. Instead of a pandemic puppy, we got 5 pandemic chickens and I named mine Princess Leia.