The Secret to Getting Engaged

A discussion with Bencher Kevin Westell on how young lawyers can get more involved

The Secret to Getting Engaged

The practice of law can be very demanding, particularly for young lawyers who are just beginning their careers.  Amidst the constant stress of looming deadlines, it can be difficult for young lawyers to complete their daily work, let alone find the time and energy to work on extra professional projects.  Kevin Westell, one of the youngest elected Benchers of the Law Society of BC, a highly accomplished lawyer, and active volunteer and community member, was kind enough to speak with me and offer the following insights into how young lawyers can more easily get involved and give back to their communities.

Choose projects you are passionate about

Kevin shared that volunteering for projects you are passionate about, or which intersect with your personal or professional interests, will make the time spent on them feel less obligatory and more rewarding.  Kevin also explained that involvement on projects that feature a legal (or law adjacent) component will likely present networking opportunities and the chance to work with friends or colleagues in one’s area of practice.

Know when to say “no”

Young lawyers have an inability to say “no” and a tendency to take on too much; however, they are only human.  In light of this, Kevin advised it is important for young lawyers to be able to recognize their own limitations and to know when to decline opportunities.  This is crucial because, as Kevin put it, it is far worse to volunteer badly than it is to not volunteer at all.  Kevin expanded on this by sharing that even if one cannot fully commit to a given project, offering suggestions or referrals to other individuals who may be willing and able to take it on instead are still meaningful ways that one can contribute without becoming directly involved.

Finding the right balance is unique to each individual

Having limited time should not be seen as a deterrent to becoming more involved.  Kevin explained during our discussion that thoughtful intentionality is an important part of practising law, and it is similarly important when it comes to ensuring that personal relationships are properly nurtured.  Therefore, Kevin advised that finding the “right balance” between work, home, and volunteer work is very much an art, not a science, and exists as a deeply personal decision that is in constant need of re-evaluation.

Final words of advice

Finally, when asked what parting words of advice Kevin had for young lawyers (and what his current self wishes he could tell his younger self), he acknowledged that beginning practice can be both a challenging and isolating experience, and that it can also be difficult early on in one’s career to admit feelings of vulnerability due to the perception that it is synonymous with weakness and a lack of mental fortitude.  Having gone through this period of uncertainty himself, Kevin candidly shared that contrary to popular belief, these feelings are virtually universal amongst young lawyers and consequently, as important as it is to work hard, it is equally important to reach out for assistance when necessary because those that do will be supported.

In summary, it is all too easy for young lawyers to become fixated on a billable target or their ever growing to-do lists; however, it remains important for lawyers, young and old, to not to lose sight of the many benefits that can be derived from volunteering and community work, as ultimately, the practice of law is a privilege and with it comes a responsibility to give back.  The key is finding the right balance that works for you.

A special thanks to Kevin Westell for his generous time and valuable insights, both of which made this article possible.