Clare Jennings

Clare Jennings

Improv Lessons for Life and Lawyering: Find the Meaning

On the surface, Clare Jennings’ work as a Crown Counsel may seem average. What’s not average is the unique kind of training she's had for her work, and the fulfillment she finds in her equally unique life outside of work.

Clare graduated law school thinking that criminal law was the one area she absolutely did not want to pursue. She always thought she'd be a barrister because her lifelong involvement in improv theatre was the perfect training for that role – it taught her to think on her feet, but more importantly, to listen and to discover the importance and meaning in what others were saying. But it wasn’t until a clerking position in Northern Ontario that Clare was able to see to what trials looked like on a day-to-day basis, including coming to an understanding of the role of both the defence and Crown Counsel. This opportunity and speaking with an articled student about what her job entailed at the Crown Office in Sudbury, left Clare thinking that being a Crown Counsel was the one job she actually did want to do.  

Seeking justice is a top priority for Clare. The ability to be involved in the overarching justice issues that can result in fundamental, institutional change is what originally appealed most to her about law school. 

In her role as Crown Counsel, her job is to act fairly and to seek the most just outcome, in the context of not just that case but also the broader justice issues. She draws on her improv training daily when appearing in court, when speaking to witnesses, and when speaking to other counsel. Another reason why Clare enjoys her work so much is the fact that she doesn’t have to do what many other lawyers in private practice do – worry about the business side of things. There is no need to take instructions from others, build a book of clients, nor track billable hours. Clare doesn’t sugar-coat her job; she emphasizes that it can be emotionally challenging work. It is important to feel compassion, but it is equally as important to not take on the emotional burden of others as your own.

Exploring the legal practice through fairy tales

Clare’s work involves a lot of serious trials, but also some fairy tale trials. Yes, you read that right. Initially part of her involvement with the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia (CBABC), Clare writes scripts for Fairy Tale Trials for Law Day, an annual national event put on to educate the public about the law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These magical trials are an interactive way to demystify the court process and to help people understand what resources are available. Clare finds inspiration for her Fairy Tale Trial scripts by asking around the office for movies that are popular with kids that year, then watching the movie herself, and writing a script based on them. This work feeds into her creative side, and as of today, she has written a total of 7 scripts.

Climbing the ladder to Presidency

Working with people at the courthouse and in the local legal community opened Clare’s eyes to the larger legal world beyond that of a criminal prosecutor. The opportunity to work with others on advocacy projects and towards common justice goals, and the outlet it provided for her to communicate about issues she would not be able to address in her capacity as a Crown Counsel, is a large part of why Clare became more involved with CBABC.

Clare’s contributions to the CBABC over the years led her to being elected to the executive ladder,  eventually becoming the branch’s 2021-2022 President. On a regular basis in that role, Clare attended meetings with various people, including the President of the Law Society, Chief Justices of all three levels of court, and the Executive Director and the First and Second Vice Presidents of the CBABC. She also wrote columns for  BarTalk Magazine. And perhaps most importantly, she got to meet and work with inspiring, engaged lawyers across the province and the country.

Finding a work-life balance requires you to be realistic about your limitations

Many people enter law school thinking about the areas of practice they wish to pursue. Not enough people consider what working in that area of practice will actually look like on a daily basis. 

Clare reiterates the importance of self-awareness as the legal profession is a challenging one – “[it] can be as all-encompassing as you allow it to be”. She is a big proponent of therapy if it is something you can afford. 

The better you know yourself and are able to look critically at and identify what is going on in your body and your mind, the easier it will be to disentangle problems that arise and work on letting them go. Working on yourself is an essential part of working as a lawyer without taking on your clients' emotional burdens as your own.

Beyond being realistic with your limitations, you must be able to take a step back to include time and space to recover and replenish. For Clare, her downtime typically includes watching TV, reading, traveling, and baking and decorating elaborate cakes. Her previous improv stints have waned due to the pandemic, but she is hoping to get back into it once her CBABC Presidency finishes at the end of August. She also volunteers with other work, like sitting on the human research ethics board at the University of Victoria, or coaching a moot team, to provide some variety to her life.

“You cannot be happy all the time and quite frankly, you shouldn’t be.” 

If you are striving for happiness all the time, you are going to be disappointed. Life is full of myriad experiences, and happiness can become meaningless without the context of different emotions. This is why constant happiness is not what Clare hopes to achieve. Instead, she wants to lead a life of purpose. Clare has found what adds value to her life and hopes that so long as what you’ve accomplished leaves you feeling like you’ve contributed in a way that has importance to you, then you can find fulfillment too.

Not Your Average Support – Any Amount