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Thijiba Sinnathamby founded Her Legal Network to support women lawyers in Canada

It was when she was pregnant that Thijiba Sinnathamby began thinking about how her legal practice would change as a working mother; how would she balance the long hours with the demands that life with a small child brings? Starting her own firm was the first big move, but concerned that maternity leave would interrupt client retention, she began brainstorming other solutions to help her succeed, and that was when Her Legal Network was born.
 
At its core, Her Legal Network is a referral network supporting women lawyers, but as a community—connecting women lawyers from coast to coast— it’s growing to become the collective voice needed to create systemic change in “big law”, or shaking up the age-old firms that have ruled Bay Street and beyond for decades (largely controlled by older white men).
 
In creating Her Legal Network, Sinnathamby has provided a space for women lawyers to help one another, but also created a wonderful directory for the rest of us who are trying to track down representation. Currently, there are 18 different practice areas represented, including small firms that specialize in Employment & Labour Law, Family Law, Immigration, Landlord & Tenant and Wills & Estates. 
 
Sinnathamby explains in detail the motivational factors behind the network, and what she believes are the biggest changes that need to happen in the business of Canadian law.
 
What drew you to law in the first place?
As a daughter of racialized immigrant parents, I grew up very aware of how your race, gender and socio-economic background impacts the way you are perceived and treated in this world. Seeing how my parents navigated creating a life in Canada and my own experiences in various social and community circles made me very attentive to inequalities and sparked my interest in social justice work. I saw law as a tool for social change and a way to concretely help those in need. 
 
What motivated you to start Her Legal Network?
HerLegalNetwork was inspired by conversations I had with women lawyers while I was on maternity leave. Before I started my own law firm, TSJ Law, I worked in law adjacent fields, I was contemplating what kind of life I wanted after having my daughter and how to achieve some semblance of a balance with a small child. I talked to women lawyers who were sole practitioners or who worked at a small firm about how they were able to juggle life with kids and build a successful business. One of the most common themes in the conversations was how most of their work came from other lawyers. For someone like me who was on mat leave and had been out of the law for some time, I was worried about how I was going to build a practice with zero clients and no network and I was sure that there were many others who were in similar positions.  That, coupled with conversations on a few social media platforms with some fabulous women lawyers, pushed me to create HerLegalNetwork. 
 
How has the community shifted and grown since you launched?
HerLegalNetwork is still in its infancy, we have only been around since February of this year. When I originally launched the platform, it was intended to be a referral network for women lawyers in Ontario. However, the interest in the platform has been tremendous and we’ve since expanded across Canada. We still have a ways to go until we can cover all of Canada, but I know we will get there eventually.  
 
If someone becomes a member, what can they expect?
Unlike most referral networks, there are no fees involved with being a member of HerLegalNetwork. It’s very much designed to be an honour system amongst lawyers. What this means is that if a lawyer on the platform refers a file to you, if a file comes up where you might need to refer work to another lawyer, that you would consider choosing the lawyer that gave you the file or another lawyer on the network depending on what the matter is. In addition to being a referral network, we are also working on bringing relevant content and resources such as social media branding, tips on how to grow your practice, that would assist women lawyers as they work on expanding their own practices. 
 
What are the biggest changes, in your opinion, that need to happen within Canadian “big law“? Or Bay Street firms? 
I think “big law” and Bay Street firms have a lot of work to do to retain women in law in general, and BIPOC women lawyers in specific. If you search through the listing of lawyers on any mid to big law firm website, chances are you will not see much to any representation of BIPOC lawyers at the partner or even associate level. 
 
As a “lawyer mom”, I couldn’t imagine being successful at a big law firm because I would be seen as less diligent or less committed to my work if I told my office I needed to leave early to pick up my daughter from daycare or that I needed some flexibility in my work schedule to allow for doctors appointments or potentially working from home occasionally because my child got sick. There needs to be a culture shift in law firms and the practice of law in general. Retaining women and BIPOC lawyers in law shouldn’t be lip service because it’s finally trending on social media.
 
6. What change (if any) have you noticed in the field since you began your career compared to now?
 I’ve definitely seen a shift towards embracing technology for greater functionality and efficiency; and for providing more cost effective services for clients. I think it’s possible to provide high-quality service without your clients having to pay an arm and a leg for legal help. 
 
7. What do you love most about what you do? 
In terms of my own practice, I love working with people from different walks of life and at very different stages in their lives. I like being able to invest my time and actually get to know my clients and how I can more effectively help them. It may be that they don’t need me at all and it’s a matter of steering them to the right resources.  I find people remember and appreciate that and when the time comes when they actually need your help or they know a family member that needs your help, chances are you’ve made an impression for them to seek you out. Finally, being a social practitioner has allowed me to work on HerLegalNetwork and help support other women lawyers, which has been a real passion project of mine.  
 
We are so glad that Her Legal Network exists, and love that it’s grounded in social justice. If ever you are in need of a lawyer, its a great place to start your search. If you are a lawyer who is a sole practitioner or work at a smaller firm, we think joining is a very smart move.
 

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