Stephanie Bishop Hall

Stephanie Bishop Hall

Goldilocks gets a bad rep, deservedly, but she got some things right. If you don’t like what you are doing, keep trying new things until you find your “just right”. 

When Stephanie Bishop Hall tells the story of how she came to open her sole practice, focusing on refugee law and sexual harassment and discrimination, she feels a bit like Goldilocks - for the right reasons. Stephanie had no connections to law and was drawn to the profession because she knew that it would be a platform to develop tangible skills to do human rights work that she cares deeply about. It took some trial to find her “just right”, but none of her steps have been in error. By not settling for less, Stephanie now has more free time, makes more money and most importantly, does more meaningful work than ever before.

An empathetic advocate from a young age, Stephanie spent time volunteering in international aid after high school and later, interned at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Canadian constitutional law seemed like a great next step, so, following law school, she gladly accepted articling at the Constitutional Law Branch of the Ontario Provincial Government. Here, she felt lucky to learn about how the government litigates policy, but Stephanie often felt like she was pushing policy that did not align with her values.

When a new government moved in, Stephanie moved out and into a boutique general civil litigation firm. In that role, she was introduced to sexual harassment law, which became an ongoing passion. Her next move was to another boutique firm that specialized in police accountability law. She expected that this would be the answer to finding meaning in her work. Instead, she struggled with only being able to offer her clients band-aid solutions. She could do nothing to prevent trauma and could do little to help clients cope with the trauma they had already experienced. 

Only three years after becoming a lawyer, Stephanie began to consider going solo. The security of having a supportive family and the confidence she gained working alone from home during the pandemic pushed her to actually do it. She had fears about the jump, but realized that most of those fears were being projected onto her by other people.

As a bit of a safety blanket, Stephanie secured work with Pro Bono Ontario doing sexual harassment and workplace law before going solo. She still loves and continues to do this work, which makes up about 20% of her practice. The other 80% of Stephanie’s work time goes almost entirely to refugee law. Before venturing out on her own, Stephanie had almost no experience in the area. She initially began doing work with IRDP in immigration detention representation, which allowed her to develop context, experience, and contacts that allowed her to develop a robust refugee law practice . Now, much of her refugee practice aligns directly with her sexual harassment practice as she has naturally attracted clients making refugee claims based on sexual violence, intimate partner abuse, and discrimination. 

One of Stephanie’s fears about going solo was that she would lack mentorship. 

What she actually found was the most meaningful mentorship she has ever received. Refugee lawyers usually share Stephanie’s care for their clients and she finds there is little competition in the area. This creates a community of generous people who want to see each other, and each other’s clients succeed.

The lack of competition also leads to an abundance of work. It helps that Stephanie is fluent in Spanish and French, but a second language is not a necessity for a refugee lawyer. She actually greatly improved her Spanish skills through her work as she now practices on a daily basis. Stephanie’s clients share intimate details about their lives with her and being able to do so without a translator helps build connection and trust. Stephanie also loves speaking Spanish because it is an opportunity for creative expression.

Along the same lines, the thing Stephanie loves most about her job is connecting with people. When clients first meet with her, they are often anxious. She watches as they open up and start to feel safe in their new environment. On the flip side, the losses in refugee law hit hard. Stephanie acknowledges that her low points in the job do not compare to the trauma her clients have experienced, but she still has sleepless nights worrying about them.

Running a firm and working in a high-stakes area of law must mean late nights and short weekends, right? Not for Stephanie. 

She has busy times, but generally works from 9am to 6pm, with at least one good run near the water with her dog in between. She is also able to commit to salsa dancing two to three nights a week with a wonderful community of salsa-enthusiast friends. It took a few months to compute the difference in income between associate and solo practitioner, but at the six-month mark, Stephanie saw that she would be making far more in her first year solo doing primarily legal aid files than she had ever made on her Bay Street billables. Feeling fulfillment in her work happened immediately. Stephanie is able to support her clients in getting the transformative help that they need, and not just bandaid solutions. She now has a practice that creates life-changing and sometimes life-saving impacts.

If refugee law interests you, there is plenty of room for you in the practice. You may struggle to find work at a firm because it is common for refugee lawyers to work alone, but the bar is happy to support you in your solo endeavors. If you are hoping to follow a career path similar to Stephanie’s, you can’t, because she did not follow a path. She tried things that were not quite right until she found work that was meaningful to her. Stephanie encourages others not to fixate on a path and to instead take opportunities as they come up. She understands the pressures of student debt - she has been there too - but there is a greater chance things will work out financially if you enjoy your work. In the end, your career will only be sustainable if you are happy. With so much opportunity out there for you, never settle for the wrong thing.