Samantha Peters

Samantha Peters


Changing the system and doing law differently.


Samantha Peters could not find the law job of her dreams, so she built it. No, she didn’t start her own firm. What Samantha felt compelled to do was change the system and “do law differently”, and that did not fit into the traditional law firm structure. After experiencing different forms of discrimination in the workplace, and hearing endless stories of other Black queer women, femmes and trans folks having similar experiences, Samantha successfully applied for a grant to start Black Femme Legal; a workplace Legal toolkit that provides holistic and accessible support to Black 2SLGBTQI+ communities who struggle to find it elsewhere. Samantha knew from a young age that she wanted to be a lawyer, but what she is doing is much more than just practicing the law.  
 
Samantha completed an undergraduate degree in Equity Studies, Political Science and French in 2009 and a Master’s program in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education in 2010, while keeping law in the back of her mind. She spent a year working as a Teaching Assistant with France’s National Ministry of Education in Paris, while trying to figure out what to do next with her degrees.
 
On her return to Toronto, Samantha got a job that combined her knowledge in education and law. As an administrative and client services assistant with the Ontario Bar Association, Samantha was surrounded by lawyers all day. One day, she was in the elevator and pushed the second-floor button. A lawyer in the elevator with her asked if she was a lawyer as well, as she was clearly headed to the Bar Association’s office. This assumption that Samantha was already a lawyer snapped her into a reality she had been avoiding. She WAS a lawyer and couldn’t avoid making it official any longer.
 
Samantha started law school at the University of Ottawa in 2013. Ottawa was a new city for her and though she liked it, she felt a sense of aloneness as a Black queer femme and experienced a lack of support. In 2020, Samantha created and filled the role of Black Legal Mentor-in-Residence at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, which now continues with her successor in the position. Future and new Black 2SLGBTQI+ lawyers often reach out to Samantha for advice and in speaking with them, which has illuminated that she isn’t quite as alone as she thought she was in school.
 
Although Samantha finished law school in 2016, she was not called to the Ontario and Alberta bars until 2020. She struggled with bar prep and with identifying what she wanted to do with her J.D., so worked in politics at Queen’s Park as an education and social policy researcher while she figured it out. She had always thought she would be a criminal defence lawyer, but it was not right for her. 
 
Since she had a legal education, friends and family started sharing more with Samantha about their experiences with anti-Black racism in the workplace and in particular, misogynoir (racism against Black women). Samantha began curating resources to help her loved ones with their workplace issues in 2019 and included non-legal resources like healing supports in the package. When conversation about anti-Black racism exploded and everyone from celebrities to front-line workers began sharing their stories of discrimination publicly in the summer of 2020, Samantha knew by this point what she wanted to do. She was already doing it, there was just no title for it. She applied for a year-long grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario and on December 17, 2020 (the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers), she received it. From there, Black Femme Legal was born.
 
Black Femme Legal provides curated resources for Black queer women, femmes and gender diverse folks experiencing anti-Black violence, discrimination, harassment and misogynoir in the workplace. Their resources include a downloadable Toolkit and “Know Your Rights” workshops. The Toolkit gives readers information about how to unionize and navigate systems like the Human Rights Tribunal, provides common definitions to help understand employment policies and contracts, and translates useful caselaw from legalese to plain language for people to use if they self-represent. The Toolkit also includes non-legal resources like crisis supports and healing supports. Samantha knows from personal experience that sometimes the biggest supports through difficult times are trauma-informed yoga classes or healing podcasts. It is really important to Samantha that Black Femme Legal provide holistic resources. 
 
Samantha loves that she gets to practice law on her own terms with Black Femme Legal. In applying for the grant, she was open about her goals, passions and opinions, as to never have to hide who she is or what she wants for the sake of her work. She was also able to teach “Intersectional Theory and Practice in the Law” at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law while running the project. Her days are busy, but she sets the schedule. Morning coffee and time to wake up is essential, and time spent outside with her partner every day (without their phones) is priority. 
 
Samantha wants to practice what she preaches, and as a workers’ rights advocate, she does not want to promote the idea of people as capitalist machines. Samantha believes instead in the idea of rest as resistance, something she urges you to learn more about from Tricia Hersey’s at The Nap Ministry. If Samantha is feeling burnt out, she unapologetically will take an afternoon off mid-week. 
 
Black Femme Legal meetings often start with the group asking, “what brought you joy today?” Samantha is in awe of this fabulous work environment and the creative and talented Black folks she gets to work with. Even online, they create a beautiful workspace that motivates her when she is tired. The work that they do together is community-based and Samantha holds the belief that community cannot be separated from her work. The law needs the community and the community needs the law to effect change through policy.  When we operate in silos, change can sometimes be less impactful. 
 
If you want to practice law differently, connect with folks who also practice law differently. Learning about their paths and seeking their support is valuable. Find connections in communities outside of the legal profession as well, because they are the people you will serve. The most powerful thing is your intuition. Advice can only get you so far, but your gut will carry you most of the way. Samantha doesn’t know exactly what will happen once the grant for Black Femme Legal is done, but her gut tells her she will figure out a way to keep doing what she loves.

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