Nov. 4, 2020

Women in corporate law: Students find fit through experience and mentorship

UCalgary law students urged to get involved, ask questions
Law students Ana Cherniak-Kennedy, Aisha Tung and Nesta Chan at the Olympic Oval
Law students Ana Cherniak-Kennedy, Aisha Tung and Nesta Chan at the Olympic Oval

Law school admissions officers repeatedly say there is no “right” undergraduate degree to pursue if someone wants to go to law school. For students interested in the umbrella term of corporate law, this idea is even more accurate. In fact, two UCalgary Law students with sights set on careers in finance, securities law, and mergers and acquisitions, are approaching the field from very different backgrounds.

Third-year student Aisha Tung did her undergrad in political science at the University of British Columbia, and had no idea what kind of law she wanted to practise before coming to UCalgary. She did some pro bono work in her undergrad and during her first year of law school, which focused more on criminal law and family law issues. She quickly discovered that although she found the subject matter fascinating, she found herself struggling to separate the emotions from the task at hand.

“The areas of law that a lot of pro bono work entails are extremely emotional, you’re dealing with people’s lives and livelihoods,” explains Tung. “I found it very emotionally taxing, and it was hard to compartmentalize the work and the emotions I felt towards my clients, which left me very drained.”

  • Photo above: Law students Ana Cherniak-Kennedy, left, Aisha Tung and Nesta Chan at the Olympic Oval.

Summer work, clinic experience helped confirm future paths

Through a summer placement at a law firm and networking with lawyers in a variety of corporate law areas, Tung soon discovered that a career in securities or mergers and acquisitions area was more in line with her preferences.

The opportunity to play an integral role in building something really exciting for your client was really satisfying. Although it was stressful at times, at the end of the day the firm and client’s goals are aligned and we’re all working towards a goal that ultimately benefits everyone involved. Closing a deal was such a rush of excitement and extremely awarding once accomplished.

Fellow third-year student Ana Cherniak-Kennedy agrees. She came to law school with a commerce degree from the Haskayne School of Business, with a focus on organizational behaviour and human resources, but she did not know exactly what area of business law she wanted to pursue.

After being exposed to the breadth of areas that live under corporate law, she has become intrigued by the complexity of all securities and derivatives law, and she plans to do a research project in financial technology (fintech).

Cherniak-Kennedy recently participated in the law schools BLG Business Venture Clinic, which gives students the opportunity to work with startup companies and entrepreneurs on deliverables such as memos, contracts, and agreements.

Working in the clinic is a unique opportunity for students to get first-hand experience tackling legal issues faced by startups. Sometimes corporate law courses in the abstract can feel pretty far removed from making an impact, but the clinic provides a very tangible way to see a client’s excitement about their new business. To be able to help them out is so engaging and solution-oriented.

Mentorship is key

Both women agree that while hands-on experience in various areas of corporate law is key to boost interest among law students, particularly female students, mentorship is key, especially in what may be perceived to be a male-dominated area of legal practice.

“Be proactive,” says Tung. “Don’t be afraid to cold-call practitioners to see if you can ask questions about their practice. The legal landscape is constantly evolving and women are finding themselves in the various areas of corporate law more than ever before.

"Building relationships are really important and having a mentor that can vouch for and support you is what really helped me succeed in navigating my summer at the firm and recruit as well.” 

Cherniak-Kennedy agrees. “I would encourage students to find out more by talking to our professors and practitioners in the field and canvassing the different sub-groups of corporate law. Take all the courses offered in corporate law areas, and participate in the mentorship opportunities offered by various law school clubs and other organizations, like the Canadian Bar Association, the Calgary Women Studying Law Association, and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers.”