Some people become lawyers because they like to argue. Jennifer Wright became a lawyer because she likes to find common ground. She may be a lawyer by training, but she is a mediator by calling.
Jennifer loves solving problems. This means listening to peoples’ stories, understanding how they ended up in complex situations and working to find solutions that benefit everyone involved. Disputes arise in every kind of relationship and Jennifer is fascinated by the different dimensions in personal interactions. Jennifer’s interests in preventing and solving disputes in workplace relationships began during her first career in human resources. While on maternity leave from her HR position, Jennifer studied alternative dispute resolution. Rather than returning to her HR job, Jennifer started her own mediation business.
Although she had the skill and experience to be a mediator, finding work was difficult at times. After encountering resistance, Jennifer realized that lawyers were often the ones hiring mediators, and they preferred mediators with a law degree. Jennifer started to consider a JD. She wasn’t interested at all in becoming a solicitor or litigator, but she knew a law degree was a path to becoming a respected mediator.
Jennifer knew she was missing out on potential mediation work because she didn’t have those two golden letters after her name. Jennifer bit the bullet and committed to writing the LSAT, 3 years of law school, articling and passing the Bar exam to earn the respect she deserved.
She did all this in her forties, with two children at home. (Cue hair flick)
So, after all the hype, was law school what Jennifer really needed to be a better mediator? Not exactly. Her experience in alternative dispute resolution was counterintuitive to what she was taught at law school. Her professors gave lessons on how to best advocate for your client’s case without consideration of the other party’s loss. At times, she felt like she was unlearning all her skills and knowledge as a mediator.
While legal education includes more training in alternative dispute resolution these days, Jennifer does not believe it is enough to show students the type of opportunities that exist in the area. She would love to see law schools teaching more in the way of specialized conflict resolution, like alternative conflict resolution in Indigenous law and restorative justice in criminal law.
Despite her clear goals going into law school, Jennifer fell into the classic law school trap. She got caught up in the OCI recruitment process and almost forgot why she had gone to law school in the first place. For Jennifer, disconnecting from the OCI process was a conscious effort. In the end, she received a few unreasonable articling offers including one position that paid only in a bus pass. Fortunately, Jennifer found an articling position in education law, an area of particular interest to this mother of two children both of whom have learning disabilities.
Although she was perfectly capable of being a successful mediator without a law degree, Jennifer appreciated the privilege she had to attend Osgoode Hall Law. She met interesting and kind people who helped to broaden her knowledge in law. That said, she continues to believe that the lack of a law degree should not be a barrier to practicing in the mediation field. Her greatest mentors have been amazing mediators who don’t have law degrees.
Jennifer currently works as a mediator for the Canada Industrial Relations Board. While considering this job opportunity, she was presented with a competing offer to be a practicing lawyer. Although the lawyer position would have been a much higher salary, she decided to take the government position instead. Not only because she loves mediating, but also because she appreciated the security and stability of a career in government. Family time is important to Jennifer, and she can enjoy more of it in government than in private practice. At the end of the day, as a government mediator she earns a decent salary to do what she loves.
Like most legal professionals, Jennifer’s workday is always different. When she is not doing administrative work for her cases, she gets to do what she loves most… mediate! Listening to people’s stories requires not only empathy but also collaboration.
It really is the best of both worlds as a mediator since no one goes home the “loser”.
Outside of mediation, Jennifer aspires to be on a beach as much as she can. She loves to travel, spend time with her family and to practise her newest hobby - refurbishing furniture. When travel was not an option during the pandemic, Jennifer needed something new to bring her joy. She began furnishing her cottage using her own creativity and talents instead of her credit card.
Whether Jennifer truly needed to go to law school to be an effective mediator or not, getting her JD introduced her to fabulous new people and gave her those gold letters beside her name that no one could question.
She knew what she wanted and is grateful to be in a career that enables her to take time for herself and her family while supporting their lifestyle.