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  • Writer's pictureRecia Brown

The Unconventional Path to Bay Street: Motherhood, Academia, and Law

Hi! Please introduce yourself.

Hi everyone! I am Recia Brown, a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa Common Law Juris Doctor program, class of 2023. Currently, I am completing my articles at Borden Ladner Gervais, Toronto office. During my time in law school, I had the privilege of being a part of the Ottawa Law Review (“OLR”). I served as an Assistant Editor in my first year, an Associate Editor in my second year, and eventually assumed the role of Academic and Professional Development Manager in my third year. In my third year, I also created and hosted OLR’s inaugural citation workshops and facilitated valuable mentoring opportunities for fellow students. While my passion lies in the intricate realm of law, I found the most enjoyment in courses that offered me a chance to extensively explore the realm of critical legal analysis and exhaustive legal research. Additionally, I appreciated those that allowed me to refine my oral advocacy skills.

Prior to entering law school, I achieved an honors degree in Human Rights and Equity Studies from York University. I subsequently completed a Master of Arts in Humanities at the same institution. Concurrently, I embraced the role of motherhood, welcoming my first child at the age of 20 and second at the age of 27.

During my free time, I enjoy doing almost anything with my kids, reading a good book, watching a good TV show or movie, and building puzzles.

What motivated you to pursue a career in law?

My passion for law was not discovered during a heated university lecture on abortion laws, animal rights, or some other controversial topic. It was developed at a young age and not intrinsically for law but for debating against family and friends as to why some trivial topic was either right or wrong. It was for proving a point and standing for things I defiantly believed in, like why I deserved the over-priced doll house for Christmas. Of course, my educational journey nurtured and contextualized my passion, which I eventually identified as law. Consequently, I was drawn to the solutions that the field of law offered for numerous social challenges. These were the initial features of the law that made me want to become a lawyer. I found myself drawn to the pragmatic, structured, critical, and Socratic approach of thinking and learning that I believe is distinctively characteristic of the legal field.

The application process was quite daunting—an experience I believe is shared with nearly everyone who has applied to law school. Despite having a colourful history of academic, professional, and personal experiences, I still found myself grappling with imposter syndrome. While the process is certainly manageable, articulating why you merit a seat at the table of law schools, among the myriad of other applicants, felt nearly insurmountable.

My undergraduate GPA was adequate, and I achieved all A's in my master’s program. However, I believe the truly exceptional elements of my application were my life experiences, extracurricular activities, and the fact that I've been able to raise two children while actively pursuing my ambitions.

I chose the University of Ottawa because I was going through a transitional phase of my life. I sought a change in my surroundings, and there was an intriguing allure to being situated in the capital city, with access to the French language, which is not prevalent in Toronto—though I must admit that not achieving fluency in French remains a regrettable yet pending task on my to-do list. Beyond its location, the University of Ottawa has its own significant historical presence in the history of Canada.

When making the decision of which school to attend, individuals often tend to focus solely on the history or prestige of an institution. I encourage people to give more consideration to factors that can positively impact mental well-being and provide opportunities for personal growth in areas that align with their aspirations.

What was your experience like in law school?

Balancing law school while being a full-time mother of two children during the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges. When I commenced law school, my youngest son was about to start kindergarten, and my eldest was entering grade 6. It is nearly impossible to get a 3-year-old to pay attention to his virtual teacher, who is teaching him exactly what he did not want to learn. The online shift during COVID made everything chaotic (until it wasn’t), and everything felt apocalyptic. The struggle for balance led to sleepless nights—literally, I’d finish up a reading at 6:00 a.m., just in time to wake my kids up at 6:30 a.m. to get them ready for school. Amidst this, I relentlessly pursued academic excellence, while simultaneously safeguarding my children's welfare and ensuring they found joy in their experiences. I prioritized motherhood and succeeding in law school above all else, and I wouldn’t change a thing. My mother often quotes a Jamaican saying, "if you want good, your nose haffi run," which essentially conveys that success often requires enduring some challenges and making temporary sacrifices in life.

In navigating law school and motherhood, it was pivotal for me to maintain a degree of structure, adhere to schedules, and be conscious of time management. Naturally, there are instances where I detoured from my rigid routines, but it's crucial to remain focused on the ultimate goal and the path to reach it. While life's unpredictability might lead to deviations, even a less-than-perfect plan proves better than no plan at all. Simple things like a to-do list, and an agenda can make a world of a difference.

I also tapped into the resources provided by the school, such as the Source, which I used to refine my resume and cover letters for on-campus interviews (“OCI”). Organizing study groups for nearly all my courses proved to be incredibly valuable. Exam summaries were undoubtedly helpful, yet I took the extra steps to personalize existing ones and even create my own when time allowed. I wasn't shy about scheduling meetings with professors to seek feedback on how I could improve after receiving a grade on an exam or assignment. Overall, I strongly encourage students to make the most of all available resources and never hesitate to seek help when needed. It's a reminder that utilizing the tools at hand and asking for help can truly enhance your journey.

On a personal note, armed with these tools and others, I found myself continually pushing my boundaries and stretching my limits, ultimately discovering that these constructs are more fluid than fixed. This experience taught me that true boundaries are often self-imposed, and with determination, they can be stretched and surpassed. It is possible to attain things we didn’t even dream of!

My most memorable moment in law school was during my third year. I was enrolled in the Professional Responsibility class taught by Professor Dodek. The course was scheduled at 2:50 p.m. (if memory serves me right) and took place twice a week. I only had enough time to pick up my children from school and bring them with me to class. My elder son usually waited in the atrium with the other law students, occasionally making brief appearances in the class, while my younger son joined me and attended every single session. He had better attendance than some of the students actually enrolled in the class.

At the end of the semester, my professor presented my youngest son with a certificate of participation. This award recognized his impeccable attendance in the course. This moment stands as one of pride and beauty for me. The endeavor of bringing my children to school was not without its discomfort, and the delicate balancing act between motherhood and law studies was undeniably challenging. However, any ounce of unease I might have experienced while bringing my children to class, and maneuvering through the school corridors with them, vanished in that very moment. It was empowering, not just for me but for my son. On the ride home, my son asked, “Mom, am I graduating too? Am I a lawyer now?”

How did you find your first law-related job?

I found my first law-related job through the OCI process in 2L. I learned about it through some friends, and I did not have much expectations as I was consumed with the gossip of how competitive it was. I went through the regular process, applied to several firms during the summer, and waited to be summoned in the fall.

Remarkably, the OCI process turned out to be a success for me. I secured multiple interviews, and after completing the OCIs, I was fortunate to receive offers for various in-firm interviews. In the end, I found myself at Borden Ladner Gervais, which happened to be my first-choice firm.

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP Toronto Office Summer Class of 2022

I want to acknowledge that the OCI process varies for each individual. It's crucial to understand that the OCI does not define a student's worth or success. My advice, though it may sound cliché, is to stay true to yourself and emphasize your strengths. We are all uniquely crafted and bring distinct advantages to the spaces we inhabit. Don't underestimate the value of showcasing your authentic self in every arena you step into. In the end, it always works out!

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective or current law students to help them succeed, what would it be?

My journey to law school was not a direct path; in fact, it is more akin to an unconventional path. In some ways, it elicits polarizing perspectives on whether professions such as law have diluted its pool of sophistication. I make this observation because not only has my journey been atypical, but my own demeanor and life experiences are also unconventional. I don't claim to be a unique case, as I am not. Yet, individuals like myself—single Black mothers who fearlessly bring their children to class, who boldly engage in articulate discussions about legal matters, and who graduate with distinction, only to secure positions on the prestigious Bay Street—are still, to a great extent, few and far between. This reality is, in some way, deemed unacceptable.

I share this message to encourage people to embrace not only their strengths but also what may be perceived as weaknesses. Every journey is unique, and even if you don't conform to societal expectations, you are still capable of achieving remarkable things. Unconventional paths are not synonymous with failure; in my experience, they often lead to transformation and optimism.

Your journey will uncover the purpose for which you were created and the reason you exist. Therefore, embrace your path, whether it unfolds at a gradual pace or swiftly. Immerse yourself in the present, find joy in it, learn from it, and use it as a catalyst for growth. The journey is where the character is forged, where both tears and laughter flow, where pain and joy coexist, and where you encounter the highs and lows, along with everything in between. There will inevitably be obstacles along the way and voices of doubt telling you that you can't succeed. Do not listen to them. Your purpose is ordained and crafted by God but executed by you.

Your purpose isn't determined by external validations like job offers, grades, or any other false measures of worth. It's an internal process that the world has the privilege to witness. It demands time, effort, resilience, and dedication. But above all, it's tailored specifically to you, so be just that, yourself!

What are your future career plans going forward, and how can our readers connect with you in the future?

My future plans are a sleeve long. However, in the immediate, I am focused on successfully completing my articles at BLG, establishing a thriving career, and building a solid, positive foundation for my children. Very covert and ambiguous, I know, but I believe in demonstrating my intentions through actions rather than words.

If readers wish to connect, please feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn. It's currently the most efficient way for me to manage incoming messages.


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