Ellen Low is dedicated to fairness in the workplace for both employees and employers. On an average day, Low juggles cases that deal with everything from harassment to wrongful dismissal or simply helping people understand the full implications of their employment contracts, before they sign. Sometimes Low stands up in court while other cases are worked out through mediation (her specialty at law school). Like most lawyers, there is always an overwhelming stack of paper work, but Low enjoys the meticulous organization required to do the job and admits that prioritizing is key. At the end of the day, the most rewarding thing for Low is the fact that she is helping make a difference in people’s lives, be it a huge win or simply allowing them to sleep through the night.
What does a typical Thursday look like for you, starting from when you wake up – to heading to bed?
1. I usually wake up between 6:30 and 7:00, shower, breakfast, coffee, check emails on my Blackberry that came in overnight, hit the TTC, and be at my desk for about 8:30.
2. My workday really depends on the day- on days when I am in the office I get in, review my calendar, prepare for client consultations where we will go over the questions an employee has about a work situation and what his or her options are to try and resolve the situation. Between client consultations, I’ll work on ongoing files for employers and employees. The work is really varied, so in the morning I might be preparing for a wrongful dismissal mediation with an employee then later that afternoon work on a human rights response for an employer.
3. On days when I am out of the office I might be at court or the human rights tribunal, attending mediations, arguing motions, or attending settlement conferences.
4. I try to eat lunch about 12:30, which either means running across the street to pick something up from the food court, or, if I’m organized, eating something I put together the night before.
5. On Thursdays I leave early at about 6 or so, to attend a weekly yoga class. It’s a good time to re-focus and get some exercise.
6. I’m usually done about 8, and will then either meet a friend for dinner or head home and make something.
7. I’m also a devoted 30 Rock follower, so I’ll watch a bit of TV, read articles or new cases, and get ready for bed.
What was your first job out of school?
I articled at a large full-service law firm in Ottawa. Working at a large firm was a great experience at the outset of my career.
What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?
1. Good communication skills- personal skills with clients, written/drafting/editing skills and oral advocacy
2. Strategic planning
3. Research- Staying up to date on current developments in the law, finding answers effectively
What do you love most about your career?
My job is great because I get to help people. If someone has been terminated I can walk them through the process, explain what is good or not so good about their package and what, if anything, can be done about it. Even if an employer or employee has general questions about workplace issues, like dealing with harassment for example, I work hard to make sure they leave a consultation with a game plan and comprehensive legal assessment of the situation.
Do you have any warnings?
Being a lawyer is a lot of work. The subject matter is complicated, there is a lot of individual responsibility, the files are challenging, and the field is constantly changing. But its really rewarding and interesting work. When your clients are happy at the end of the day the feeling of success is immeasurable.
If you could try a different career on for a year, what would it be?
Travel writer. I love seeing new places and experiencing new cultures. Getting paid to do so would be a thrill.