By: Maitland Shaheen*
In 2017, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin retired from her role as Chief Justice of Canada, after an impressive 17 years on the bench. As the first woman Chief Justice (and the longest serving!) students, lawyers and legal professionals have much to learn about law and life from the former Chief Justice.
Below are five key lessons we’ve learned from this trailblazer:
1. You can (and should) be an empathetic lawyer.
The former Chief Justice has described her role as “an engaged, human act of imagination” rather than a cold and neutral evaluator of the law. She emphasized the need to “put yourself in the shoes of the different parties, and think about how it looks from their perspective”. While her comments are directed at her experience on the bench, this mindset can, and should be applied to the legal profession generally.
McLachlin speaks at the Queen's University Principal's Forum in 2017. Photo by Tim Forbes.
2. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right.
The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin has been honest and forthcoming about shortcomings in the Canadian justice system. She’s remained outspoken about the access to justice crisis in Canada throughout her career, and received both applause and criticism for her discussions of cultural genocide and human rights in Canada. Through all of her work, McLachlin has said her proudest moments on The Court are related to Indigenous rights and access to justice: “I would say I'm proud of the work the court has done on the Indigenous files and in the development of a legal structure into which Indigenous rights can function”.
McLachlin attends the Queen's University Principal's Forum in 2017. Photo by Tim Forbes.
3. Make space for life outside of law.
McLachlin recently released her first book, “Full Disclosure”, a crime novel, and recently revealed that she wrote the entire book while working full-time as Chief Justice, spending her early mornings writing. Not only is this a lesson about time management, but of maintaining your side hustles. So if your thing is writing, the arts, or even sports, it’s important to pursue your passions. It keeps you happy, de-stressed, and reminds you that work isn’t everything - and that’s important.
McLachlin attends a celebration of Canadian women's 100th year of enfranchisement in Vancouver, BC. Photo by Province of British Columbia.
4. Balance, while difficult, is possible.
We’ve all heard the stories about women in high-status jobs being discouraged from pursuing families, expected to choose one or the other. As much as we hate to admit it, gender norms still permeate our mainstream culture. While speaking about her novel, McLachlin reminded us, “I know through my work and my life so many strong, able women who are out there pursuing their careers. But I know also the conflicts and challenges they face, and I wanted to try to picture that kind of a person.” While maintaining family and a career is still a privilege for many, it's worth noting that the longest-serving Chief Justice was a working mom.
McLachlin speaks at a celebration of Canadian women's 100th year of enfranchisement in Vancouver, BC. Photo by Province of British Columbia.
5. Stay committed.
McLachlin reminds everyone to stay committed to the causes, people, and issues you care about, even when the spotlight does not shine on you. We have no doubt that even in her retirement, McLachlin will continue to be a symbol for Canadian justice system, champion its benefits, and challenge its flaws. "There's much being done and there's more we can do," she said in a conference on her last day as Chief Justice. "I'm hoping that when I retire, I can continue in some way, to push this project of access to justice and making justice more accessible to all women, men and children in Canada."
Maitland Shaheen is a Level volunteer and incoming senior at the University of Ottawa, studying a joint honours BA in Communication and Political Science. An aspiring lawyer, she is passionate about human rights, feminism and justice.