Circuitous Paths

Three associates tell the tale of how their diverse backgrounds led to law

Amanda Fortuna
Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

I was serious about dance from very young. After injuring my Achilles tendon in high school, though, I was unable to dance competitively. So I started singing lessons and auditioning for musicals. I wanted to be a performing artist, so I went into York’s Fine Arts program through the theatre stream to obtain my BFA.

In my third year, it hit me: I wasn’t sure I was ready for the financial reality of being an artist. I come from a science family (engineers and doctors), but that didn’t feel right for me either. I thought about law and picked up the LSAT books. The summer before fourth year, I was working at the Blyth Festival Theatre in Blyth, Ont., where I did all my studying.

My background has definitely helped my practice. In university, Friday evenings and Sundays were the only days we didn’t have to physically be in the theatre building, so the time-management and organization skills were huge. We also had to work on multiple projects at the same time. Putting on a show is a team effort that takes strong communications skills with varying personalities. That’s not very different from practising transactional law, given your interactions with opposing counsel, your colleagues and clients. The show must go on; the deal has to close.

If I could say one thing, it’s that it’s difficult to know what you want to do at 17 or 18 and going into undergrad. My experience shows you really don’t have to. Do what you love.

Yun Li-Reilly
Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP

I was born in China and raised in New Zealand by parents who are both engineers. Perhaps this is where I acquired my love of science — I was most interested in biology as a child.

While I always dreamed of becoming a crime-scene detective, my favourite biology teacher in high school suggested I consider pursuing a post-secondary degree in science and law, and to “go from there.”

I began my studies at the University of Auckland, where my focus was psychology and biology, and law was almost an afterthought. After first year, I moved to Canada and transferred to UBC, where I decided to pursue my Honours research in the area of developmental neuroscience, studying Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder using a microscopic worm as a model. I pursued a JD at UBC thereafter.

I have found my scientific background and knowledge surprisingly useful at Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP. I am often reviewing medical reports as a part of my estate litigation practice, and in my work through the Access Pro Bono B.C. Mental Health Program. In my capacity as the Legal Member of the UBC Women’s and Children’s Research Ethics Board, the various medical research proposals allow me to stay updated with current scientific issues and developments.

I recently began my LL.M. studies at Harvard Law School, where I hope to take my science and law backgrounds and roll it all together somehow.

Lauren Kautz
Stones Carbert Waite LLP

After high school I was considering a science-related career such as optometry, so in my first two years of university I took a number of science courses. I enjoyed physical geography and got my B.Sc. in earth sciences, which focused on geography, geology, archaeology and geophysics. Midway through, however, I started questioning whether I would be satisfied in a science-related career. I met a number of lawyers and became interested in learning about law, and eventually concluded that my interests and strengths were more aligned with a legal career, so I applied to law school.

Today I practise civil and commercial litigation, with an emphasis on health and employment law. While my earth sciences degree is not directly relevant to my practice, I believe I learned valuable skills such as writing concisely, and applying logical, critical analysis to problems. With so many of my clients in Calgary in the energy industry, I feel I have an especially good understanding of their work. My undergrad experience also led to some interesting extracurricular opportunities, such as membership on a board of directors of an environmental law organization.

There are many things I enjoy about practising law. It’s a dynamic field presenting new challenges every day, which keeps me interested and engaged. I also feel that I am well-suited for it because I am detail-oriented, and I enjoy writing and meeting people. I am very happy that I chose to pursue a career as a lawyer.