Larissa Donovan is more likely to be found in her garden after work than at happy hour these days, but she has still spent more time in bars than most lawyers. Larissa is no less strong-willed or driven than she was when she started working in the service industry at 14, but these days, she is happy with less hustle. She was never given directions to navigate the legal profession and the freedom her work allows her comes from, in large part, figuring it out in her own way. It also helps that lawyering is a customer service job at its heart, as Larissa describes it, and she mastered those skills long before law school.
Work never intimidated Larissa. When babysitting didn’t pay enough to cover her pay-as-you-go cell phone cards, she started hosting at the local East Side Mario’s in Oshawa, Ontario. At that time, she was still in her first year of high school, so she had more immediate things to think about than her career future. That said, her family told her they thought she should be a lawyer whenever she was argumentative, and that concept stuck with her even if she did not know what it meant yet. Larissa was also interested in law because she wanted to help people, but with no professionals or lawyers around her growing up, it took a long time for her to find her path to it.
Working in the service industry through her undergrad in Gender Studies was fun. Larissa served in, supervised, and managed everything from college bars to fine dining restaurants. She had such great gigs that serving is still a backup plan that keeps her from worrying too much about her future. As good as her work life was during undergrad, finishing shifts at 3:00 am was not that conducive to getting good grades or to her mental health. Larissa ended up taking a semester off in her 3rd year of undergrad to refocus and make some changes to her habits and she reentered her final undergrad years with a clear drive towards a legal career. Larissa did not realize at the time the immense influence poor early undergrad grades would have on her law school prospects. Having inside connections within the profession may have made her entry into it less bumpy, but they would not have likely introduced her to the one person who changed the trajectory of her career.
After graduating from her undergrad and coping with her first round of law school rejections, a friend working in the kitchen of Larissa’s workplace told her about a lawyer his aunt recently married who was looking for an assistant. Larissa met with the lawyer, John Curtis of Curtis Law in Kingston Ontario, and was excited to “click” with him so quickly. When the two first met, John had been a solo practitioner for years, working in sport law, employment law and workplace investigations. Larissa had a diploma in human resources, and really took to the work. With John’s encouragement, she kept applying to law school and after two more application rounds, she got in.
Through law school, Larissa continued to work with Curtis Law with the plan of coming on as an articling student and then associate after graduation. Larissa and John stuck to that plan, and she continues, to this day, to be the only other lawyer at the small firm. Employment law was a natural fit for Larissa, and she likely would have wound up practicing in that area even if she had not met John.
Working at Curtis Law is also a natural fit for Larissa, and she is not sure that she would be able to find what she has at the firm elsewhere. Curtis Law has no office space, so she has always worked remotely with occasional travel for investigation interviews and mediations. She currently rents an old farmhouse outside of the city, where she and her neighbour exchange fresh eggs in exchange for her help loading hay. Larissa thrives without a set schedule, and though her days vary, they often start with a walk with her dogs and some gardening. She loves being able to make lunch in her kitchen every day, using food from her garden when she can. During the summer, Larissa also spends time working from her partner’s “cottage” or in her own words, “shanty in the woods”. The 8x13ft cabin has no hydro, just recently got hot water and is barely big enough for two people and their two big dogs to sleep in, but she loves the peace it brings.
There is more to Larissa's practice than just its flexibility. She also feels very lucky to work at a firm where her opinion is valued as much as the founder’s. Larissa also loves the work that she does. She loves the magic that can happen during mediation when two parties who can hardly be in the same room on arrival leave laughing together. She also enjoys hearing how multiple people interpret the same series of events during workplace investigations, and how she is constantly challenged to check her own biases. Larissa and John work together in investigations, and she appreciates the immense value that taking a team-based approach brings to this work.
Outside of work, Larissa has been leaning into some well-needed downtime lately. Until very recently, Larissa spent an enormous amount of time in service to different feminist organizations and initiatives. In undergrad, she ran committees and was co-chair of the gender studies department. In law school, she started the Thompson Rivers University chapter of the Law Needs Feminism Because campaign and was the President of the Women in Law Society. Larissa is proud of the work that she did as a founding board member of the Dandelion Initiative above all else. The Initiative provided gender-based violence prevention and survivor-centric education and services for almost seven years, before their unfortunate closing in 2022. Since then, Larissa has helped where she can, donating food from her garden to local organizations in need. She is taking time to detach from grind culture and rest while figuring out where her time and energy will be best put next.
During this “down” time, Larissa also wants to determine whether the extracurricular activities she did were driven by her desire to do them, or if they were a result of the pressure she felt to do more and combat the guilt and imposter mentality that law school inevitably engenders. As much as she loves her work, she is unsure about the advice she would give to a young person interested in law. Without connections in the profession or financial support, law school and the first few years of practice can be financially devastating. Larissa is an advocate for changes in the profession to make it more accessible.
Only a couple of years after graduating, Larissa feels financially fulfilled despite the student and bank loans she had to take out to get a J.D. She owes a lot of this to getting lucky and meeting John before committing to law school, and to the fact that she has no dependents and shares her bills with a partner who is in a good place financially. There are wonderful, flexible, fulfilling law jobs out there, but it can be a battle to get through the weeds and find them.
Law school can feel like a lottery and a happy legal career can involve a lot of luck. Larissa believes that the best way to improve your odds of finding a job you love is to find supportive people who are positive influences. You have a much better shot of being happy in your job when you like the people you are working for. Larissa is a highly independent person, but she has learned that no matter your level of independence, having someone you trust to help carry the load is exceptionally beneficial. All the inside connections in the world might help you land a job, but Larissa found the connections and opportunities that work best for her by paving her own way.