Mirabelle Harris-Eze the BLSA Canada National Director of Communications, sat down with Raphael Tachie, CABL President and partner at Gowling WLG, to discuss time management, career planning, and lifting as you climb.
Q. Please introduce yourself by telling us a little about your law school and career journey and any fun facts.
A. I’m Raphael Tachie, the President of the Canadian Association. Fun fact? The only thing dominating my life right now it's my little 19-month old daughter who is a lot of fun, older than she appears to be. Probably that's the joy of my life right now.
Q. I've read a little bit on you and I know that you were pretty interested in legal dramas and that they potentially inspired you to pursue law. Is that still the case now, in that you still like watching legal dramas?
A. I don't think I've watched one in a long time, I think the last one I watched let me remember [was] Boston Legal. It’s funny because I got into those shows because I thought they were interesting. But more importantly, [they] reminded me that lawyers were problem solvers and for me that was really the interesting part. I didn't really clue in at a time why I was into them. It was later on when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and my career when I thought, you know, there must be a reason why you like the show so much. That kind of led me to my journey in law.
Q. Black people are underrepresented in the field of law. Did you have any role models to look up to when you first considered a career in law? If so, how did you come into contact with them?
A. I didn't have one before coming into law, but since i've been into it I've been very lucky to have happy accidents. A lot of my role models initially tended to be senior to me now they tend to be colleagues or friends and sometimes junior to me. What I've realized is that you have to have the humility to know what you don't know and to then seek people out that can help.
I’ve had friends in law school, a quite good friend of mine who sat beside me in law school on our first or second day in class. [She] happened to know a lot more about law, because her family were lawyers and i've been in the profession and just talking to her about. Just talking to her about my interest in law, what I wanted to do, opened up my horizon to what I could do and the possibilities that law could offer me. I had started off thinking that I was going to be a criminal lawyer, or an immigration lawyer, because that's all I knew. Sitting beside somebody, being open to a conversation, and being humbled to know that I didn't know anything started the ball rolling in understanding what corporate law could be. That corporate law was an option for someone like me.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet people like Arlene Huggins when I was a student, when she was on the CABL board when I was BLSA President of time. [She] shared her experiences with me, and I’ve had conversations with a lot of lawyers who have come my way, who have been really generous, whether black or non-black. I’ve always been willing to ask questions and listen, trying to craft a journey that was unfamiliar to me at the beginning. Slowly, you learn from others and try and figure out what people have done that's worked.
Q. You are a prolific and varied volunteer, from your role in CABL to sitting on editorial boards to being an active Uvic Law alumnus. How do you approach time management and why is it so important to be active in the community?
A. Time management is difficult. I think what I've been good at is being disciplined about what I'm going to focus my attention on at that particular time. Being able to say [...] I'm going to spend two hours on this, two hours on that, an hour and a half on this. That doesn't always work, because sometimes emergencies show up and they can be unpredictable. But what I try to do is, every day, try to move the ball on things that I care about forward so that I'm not stagnating. I try not to say okay, next week I'm going to work on this thing and that's what I'm going to do all day. It's saying, okay, I can dedicate an hour to this, let me move it to the next stage, I can dedicate two hours to that.
I tend to be disciplined: I give my days of the week themes. So Monday's are operational days; it's making sure I catch up on my emails [and] respond to calendar invites. I try to [dedicate] a significant portion of my day to that theme. I still have to be flexible in terms of the unpredictable nature of things, of work. But I try to make sure that three or four hours of my day is focused on that theme of the day. I try to be really intentional about how I spend my day.
What I also try to do is that, in everything that I’m doing, [I ask] what is my critical role [and what] in it? Do I have to be the person that knows everything, that does everything? Sometimes it's not the case. Other times, it is. [For some] meeting[s], I have to read everything [and] I have to be the person that's on top of all my materials, because of the nature of the meeting. [Some] things require full attention and full effort and maximum effort. And I try to do that and give that. Some things, I have to be disciplined about. I can only give this an hour of my time before I go. I just need to be familiar with a topic [and] I can listen, I can take notes. I [try] to make sure that I'm focused and present during those things that I don't have to.
It's [not] just how you manage your time. It’s also [having] a good understanding of what the effort level you need for different things are.
Q. What is an experience (whether a particular class, event, or activity) you think all law students should have during law school?
A. A financial literacy course. Especially for black students and students that are not coming from a place of privilege, whether you're not coming from wealth, etc.
Law school requires a lot of us to go into debt. [We do so] with the expectation that, at some point, we're going to make the money back and repay that debt and build a life for ourselves.
We don't always have the knowledge about how we manage money. Or how we manage the debt. So how do you manage it? How do you pay back in a responsible way that helps you? Debt can be a really positive force in your life if you deal with it properly. So how do you do that? How do you leverage that to build wealth or how do you repay bad debt and focus on accumulating good debt to amplify your financial ability?
We don't learn that as law students. A lot of us end up opening our own practices [but] we don't always have the knowledge. Opening your own practice is a business and practicing law is a profession, and those two things go together. We have to have the ability to do that. And so to me, one of my focus as CABL President has been to introduce a concept of financial literacy and financial education to our Members. It's something that I came to later in my career and I wish I had known way before. For CABL, that’s why we’ve partnered with TD to do financial literacy education. We're hoping to do that a lot more, with other partners as well. To try and bring that information into our world so that our members from early on—whether you are a student or you are a seasoned lawyer.
We believe our Members are really brilliant people, smart people, and once they have the information, they can apply. It is a question of making access to that information easy and digestible. So busy professionals can still take take advantage of that.
Q. You’ve worked in a number of different fields, from trusts to insurance. For students still trying to figure out where and what to practice, do you have any advice on how to decide?
A. I wish I knew! I mean, I can only tell you about my journey [and it] was a bit of a happy accident. After articling, Blake's was trying to figure out where to put me and they happened to put me into estates and trusts. I had never done it before. I had never been exposed to it [and] I enjoyed it once I started doing it.
As a first year associate just out of articulating, I was able to meet clients and go to a client's house and interview them. Get a sense of who they were, what they wanted. It was just a way of getting to know the client and in such a personal way. And it was a happy meeting. The client wasn't upset or anything. It was: okay, I’ve built this wealth [and] I'm thinking of how to give it away. What a meeting to have with a client! So, to me, that was really attractive.
I know you’ve said I worked in different areas, but that’s really all I’ve done, just in different contexts.
What I got to understand, and especially after I joined Bull, Housser and Tupper LLP in 2011—when I became part of what I thought one of the preeminent estates and trusts and wealth management practice groups in Canada—I came to appreciate all the different components that go into estate planning/high net worth planning. I got to meet accountants that were doing with really high-level work, investment advisors, insurance advisors. And it piqued my curiosity.
To answer your question: be curious about things. If you are, and something piques your curiosity, chase that. For me, that led me to a business degree. I need[ed] to understand how this industry works. So I ended up going to do an MBA and then, when I was doing that, I had the opportunity to work at Manulife. They were launched a new private wealth offer in Vancouver. So what I did with my MBA projects was work on what my company was doing at the time so that I could understand how I fit into it better. That experience was immeasurable. The benefit of doing that reverberates my career today.
I spent a year doing a deep dive into the wealth management industry. How the lawyers fit into it, how the accountants fit into it, where the industry was going, where were the big guns going, where were the insurance companies going? And thinking, somebody with my skill set, if I'm in this industry: How could I craft a career? How could I craft something that anticipates where the industry is going?
I think I got lucky in that I made a bit of assumption, a bit of judgment call, as to [where] I thought the industry was going. But it allowed me to find opportunities, that leverage, to where I thought the industry was going. I've been very lucky that I it's paying off in many ways for me now.
Q. For students who’ve tried one thing and felt they would prefer another route, what advice do you have for figuring out what to transfer to? How do you figure out what the “new thing” should be?
A. Be brave and be bold. If you don't like something, try the thing that scares you. I'm a big believer in that and I had to learn that [as] somebody had to teach me that. I think, by nature, a lot of people that end up in law are risk-averse. So we want to find the thing that is the least risky.
But if something is really interesting to you and it scares you a little bit, it's probably a good thing. It's because it’s stretching you. That's the attitude I try to take in my career decisions now. I want to take the thing that stretches me. That makes me do the thing that is just beyond reach. I’ll speak for myself: I want to dream bigger than my risk appetite normally lets me. I want to be able to say: can I do this thing? Can I take that big bold step? Especially if I'm curious about it and I'm interested in it. I know that if it scares me a little bit, it means I have to prepare for it. It means I have to work harder. And I'm naturally going to do that. So it's really about curiosity. It's more about interest. About: Can I learn a thing, and even if I don't know it? And then try to be bold and do the thing that scares me a little bit.
Interviewer: It’s true, law students do tend to be more risk-averse. I see that a lot in conversations with students.
And there’s a good reason for it. If you are not coming from wealth and you're taking a bunch of debt, sometimes you want to be careful that you don't screw it up. I get that. I was wired exactly the same way. But I think what that ends up doing sometimes [is that it] puts a ceiling on our ambition. That's the piece that I would encourage students to see beyond.
Q. If you were currently a Black student in your law school journey, what kind of legacy would you want to leave behind to help other current or upcoming law students?
“You lift as you climb.”
A. I’m a big believer in “you lift as you climb.” What I've tried to do in my career is to try and find pathways to lift others as I try to climb. I think that ethos, if you’re a BLSA member, if you're on the BLSA executive, you're doing that already. How do I make this path a little bit easier for the next person that comes after me?
I found that I've met people that would do that for me when I started out. I've tried to pay that forward. I see that in a lot of the BLSA students I meet. A lot of them are saying: what can I do? You know, how do I lift the next person up? Black future lawyers is an example of that. Students saying: how do I make it easier for somebody else to see law as an option? BLSA Canada and your moots and your conferences and your galas, and you’re moving it from province-to-province. It's a way of highlighting and showcasing that this journey is possible for members of our community that might not see that.
I think it's sad when you meet a black child that doesn't have any ambition because they don't see beyond their circumstance. To me that's the difficulty. But for students, I think if you're in law school you're already privileged. It means you have a higher high level education than most people in the population. Putting yourself out there to me, that is the interesting part. Putting yourself out there as a role model, as a mentor. Somebody that can lift somebody else up. An important thing that students can do.
Q. Keeping in mind your work through CABL, how can law schools and organizations like ours address or reduce barriers Black students face in entering the legal profession?
A. I think being intentional. This is not particular to BLSA, but a lot of the organizations and institutions in our profession talk a really good talk. It's only until recently that you’re starting to see concrete actions.
My view is: be intentional. Have concrete actions about what you're going to do that's going to move the dial forward, that’s going to make this profession more welcoming to faces like ours. I think that if we are going to talk, then there's an opportunity to put our efforts, our dollars, our privilege [too]. Let's put whatever we bring to the table, let's put that forward in a concrete action that makes sense. For me, and I’ll take this this opportunity to plug a little bit of what CABL is about to do— and I hope BLSA members will sign up as you get free membership with CABL. We are going through a process of re-envisioning what CABL does. We've been around for 25 years. We've done a lot of great things [and] our community continues to ask us to do more. The question we're asking ourselves is how do we be intentional about the things that we're doing? How do we be more thoughtful about where we're going? We're going through a process of reviewing everything that we're doing. And then saying: what are the things that we do well, and want to keep doing, and what are new things that we're taking on that we should be doing. What are the things we should leave for other organizations to do?
Next week, we are going to launch a membership survey where we are going to go to our members and [as where] you think we should be going. You direct where CABL is going. So I would invite BLSA members, who are hopefully going to be CABL members soon, to sign up with your free membership as a student. Inform that process so that you can be part of the survey, so that your voice can be heard. That's our way of being intentional about what we're going to do, going forward.
Q. I’d love to give you the final word to say anything to those listening, particular students. The floor is yours to speak directly to them, whether that means giving advice or highlighting a quote.
A. I was BLSA President 2008 and it’s incredibly amazing to see where BLSA is now in 2022. I know the conference is coming to Vancouver this year. The last time it was in Vancouver, that was myself, Zahra, Karen, a few of us that brought it and it was really exciting. We were exhausted, but I couldn’t have imagined at that time what BLSA Canada would look like. I've just been incredibly amazing work you're doing. Glad you're coming back to Vancouver I look forward to seeing as many of these as possible.
For me, I think BLSA is in good hands. Hopefully you all join CABL and, if you do, then CABL’s future is incredible. I'm very excited to see what you're doing next. I’m s fan, and I appreciate it very much. All the work that you guys are doing. You took kernels and you turned them into full-bloom plants and flowers. I’m just very proud of what BLSA is doing.