Connect to a lawyer

CASE STUDY: Barbara Worndl, Partner and Practice Group Leader, Aird & Berlis LLP, Toronto

Why did you want to be a lawyer?

I graduated from my undergraduate degree in the early 1980s. At that time, women had fewer opportunities. I believe in the power of education and wanted to be able to support myself and be independent. 

I wanted a profession as I knew that, as a female professional, I would have the opportunity to have a good career. I was drawn to law for a few reasons. First, my father was a lawyer and I had the greatest respect for my father’s integrity and intelligence. Second, I am interested in intellectual debate and I thought (wrongly) that I would be a litigator. Finally, I like to read and to think about issues and so I settled on law as opposed to other professions. 

What was the best piece of advice given to you during your career?

As a young lawyer, a senior partner said to me that your reputation is what will define your career. I have taken that to heart. I have worked hard to learn to be a good tax lawyer and to earn trust and respect from my clients and colleagues. During my career, I have seen lawyers who use bullying tactics, so I have always tried to treat my clients and other lawyers with respect. I am hopeful that as more women enter the practice, this type of bullying behaviour will be considered unacceptable.

What’s your best piece of advice to other women wanting a legal career?

I encourage young women to pursue a career in law. There is great opportunity for success if you work hard. However, it is very important to remember that your job is only one part of your life. 

I have three daughters, and I was able to have them and raise them while practising law. It was very busy when the children were young, but I made sure that we had lots of quality family time. I had to balance my family and career, but it was definitely worth it.

What has been your career highlight?

It is difficult to pinpoint one career highlight, there are a few. I was fortunate to be made a partner early in my career. There were only two other women partners in my firm at that time, and none in the business law area. Professionally, I have had the opportunity to work on many interesting transactions. I have enjoyed the challenge and the fast pace of providing advice on sophisticated cross-border transactions.

On a personal level, becoming a partner made other young women lawyers in our firm see that they too could be made partner. It may seem hard to believe now, but I also took the first maternity leave in my firm. When I asked for maternity leave, the executive committee had an emergency meeting, and from that point on, the firm adopted a maternity leave policy. 

What are your future goals?

As the leader of our Tax and Estates Group, I will continue to build our group into one of the best tax and estates groups in Canada. I also want to educate the young lawyers in our group and in our firm so that they can be successful and have a fulfilling professional and personal life.