Diversonomics | Season 6 Episode 1: The Importance Of Intentionally Claiming Your Agency – Corporate/Commercial Law


We are excited to share that Diversonomics is back with
new hosts Phedely Ariste and Gladys Osien.

On the premiere episode of season six, Gladys and Phedely are in
conversation with Raphael Tachie, current president of the Canadian
Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) and head of Gowling WLG’s
Private Client Services team in Vancouver.
Together, they discuss the the inspiration and intention behind
Raphael’s professional career path, the value of legal
mentorship and sponsorship and more importantly – why it is
essential to claim your own agency and value regardless of the
communities to which you belong.

Episode tip:

If I deliver, I’m very intentional about making sure
that the right people understand that I’ve delivered and that I
claim whatever that offers me. What I’ve come to understand is.
I have to understand my value better than anybody else.

– Raphael Tachie, president of the Canadian Association of Black



Gladys: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast
about the diversity and inclusion from Gowling WLG. So this voice,
and the one that you’re about to hear, probably sounds
unfamiliar to the faithful listeners. I’m your new Co-host,
Gladys Osien. I’m a lawyer at Gowling WLG.

Phedely: My name is Phedely Ariste, and I’m also a lawyer
with Gowling WLG, and I’m looking forward to being your new

Gladys: We’ll get a chance to introduce ourselves more
formerly in a future episode, but to start we’d like to say
that we’re honoured to continue the work that Roberto Aberto
and Cindy Kou have done on this podcast, and grateful for the
opportunity to step in Co-hosts. We’d like to thank them both
for the insightful and timely discussions on a wide variety of
important topics that, in our opinion, have shaped the legal
podcast industry in how we talk about D&I. Roberto is still
with us, in a different capacity, as a resident producer of the
show. Shout-out to you, Roberto.

Phedely: We are coming to you from Ottawa and we would like to
recognize that Ottawa is located on the unceded, surrendered
territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation. We extend our
respect to all First Nations, Inuit and Métis people for
their valuable past and present contributions to this land. For
this episode of Diversonomics, Gladys and I want to showcase the
practice and work of Raphael Tachie, a partner and practice group
leader at Gowling WLG’s Vancouver office, who has by all
accounts defied the odds in this profession. According to a recent
statistic published by the Canadian Human Resources Reporter, in
2020, only 1% of partners at leading firms in Ontario are Black. We
can only assume that the number of partners is significantly
smaller in British Columbia where only 0.5% of lawyers identified
as Black in a report published by the Law Society of British
Columbia. We want to highlight Raphael’s journey, his practice
and take in an depth look into the choices that helped him achieve
his success and be where he is today.

Gladys: In view we can look at these statistics in two ways. As
a disappointing representation of the work that still needs to be
done in the diversity and inclusion space and also as an
opportunity to celebrate those that have joined a very singular
community as lawyers. Keeping in mind though that Black people are
not a monolith. Consider this a disclaimer for this episode and
future ones but acknowledging the importance that representation
has in these spaces. In the words of the lawyer and activist,
Marian Wright Edelman, you can’t be what you can’t see. We
hope that our conversation will inspire you, our listeners, with
the confidence to explore your goals no matter which communities
you hail from.

Phedely: And, without any further ado, we are pleased to
introduce today’s guest. But before doing so we’d like to
remind all of you that all of our episodes can be found at
gowlingwlg.com/diversonomics. Ontario lawyers, you can get your EDI
credits just for listening and please do not follow suit on
mistakes I have made in waiting too late to complete your hours. Do
so all throughout the year.

Gladys: As we mentioned, Raphael is a partner at our firm. He is
leading the private client services team. Raphael is primarily
focused on providing strategic legal advice to high-net-worth
clients and financial institutions across all areas of estate and
trust law. Or, as Raphael quite eloquently summarized it in his
Twitter bio, he works as a wealth preservation lawyer. In addition
to his role at Gowling WLG he is a very, very dedicated Arsenal
fan. Raphael sits on the editorial board of the Canadian Lawyer
magazine and is the President of the Canadian Association of Black
Lawyers, also known as CABL.

Raphael: Thank you. You make me sound fancier than I actually
am. I have to cut and paste that into my bio and send it

Phedely: Raphael, you know it’s an awesome pleasure to have
you here, but you and I have had the chance to go back and forth on
your allegiance to Arsenal and mine to Manchester United. I did go
back and forth with Gladys on whether we should have an Arsenal fan
on the podcast but I just want to say it’s an awesome pleasure
to speak with you today and welcome to the show once again. So can
you tell us a bit about what your practice entails? What does it
mean to provide strategic legal advice to high-net-worth clients
and financial institutions across all areas of estates and trust
law? Try saying that five times. What does it look like on a daily

Raphael: My practice is actually really interesting in a sense
that it’s not a typical estates or wealth preservation
practice. The reason why I try to use a broader term like wealth
preservation The other piece of the work that gets
really around advising executors and corporate fiduciaries on the
… responsibility of duties. Sometimes helping them with
administration if they need that guidance. It’s really just
explaining to fiduciaries what the obligations are and who they are
working for. So fiduciaries usually are responsible for somebody
else’s either financial well-being or personal care and health
care situations. So really working with them and explaining to them
what they need to do, what the obligations are. A lot of asking
names, you know; powers of attorney and things like that, and you
don’t quite know what that means until it’s time to start
really operating under those documents, and then it becomes really
real that looking after your money or your own personal finances is
difficult. Looking after somebody else’s is kind of sometimes
really challenging. Especially if that person is in some kind of
situation where they depend on …, can’t do that themselves
and they’re relying on your judgment and the … to look after
their needs for them. So that to me, it’s a really rewarding
work. Then finally, the last big bucket which is really different
from a lot of lawyers in my space do, is focus on advising
financial institutions on how their products, their market
products, impacted by citizen trust law issues, as well as
regulations that impact that. So the example I will give is a lot
of us, I’ll use maybe the two of you as examples, you are
starting your career, so you’re probably hearing from a lot of
your friends in financial services about, come do banking with me,
or you’re earning extra money come invest with me.

Phedely: All the time. All the time.

Raphael: Right? So you hear that and they tell you, we’re
going to be here on your journey. We’re going to help you
build, we’re going to preserve it, we’re going to protect
it, make sure that when you’re about to retire, 40, 50 years
from now, that you’re going to be fine. Now, that promise to
you, it’s a really great promise, but imagine over the course
of your lifetime you go through a life circle, life journey’s,
that impact your finances and you’re supposed to be there to
guide you. Towards the end of your life, because we’re all
living longer, what’s happening is we are likely to have mental
health issues, as with age, so think of the epidemic of
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and things like that. That
impacts your ability to manage your money. But these institutions
have promised you that they’re going to help you and now
there’s expectations from the regulators that they’re going
to take active steps and protect your oldest and most vulnerable
clients in those situations. So as an institution, that is across
the country working, using thousands of employees, how do you meet
that obligation? For a long time the view was, no, we’re in the
business of just doing banking or investments, and you put your
money here. When you come here, we give it to you. But if you come
and we give it to you and it’s because you don’t understand
what you’re doing, or that you deplete the money because
somebody that you met online is telling you that they love and that
they have an emergency, and all of sudden that little nest egg that
you saved you’ve just sent it off to this person somewhere
else, what is that institution’s obligation to you? What should
they be doing to help protect you? My role for a long time was
working those institutions to help them understand that. At Gowling
is to, again, help them build practices, products that contemplate
these issues and market conduct that align protecting your clients.
Finally, I’ll wrap up by saying, demographic shifts in Canada
means our wealthiest people are also our oldest people sometimes,
and so this obligation and this liability for financial services is
just increasing. It is an exciting space for me to be in because
what I wanted to use the law, all the way from law school, was to
impact people’s lives and I find that this space allows me to
do that.

Phedely: Yeah. 100%. I think that’s one of the great things
about law is that regardless of your area of practice, I think one
of the great things about law is it allows you to improve the
stories of other people, which clearly you’re doing in such a
wide range of ways. Raphael, I’m also pretty curious to know,
what do you love most about your work or your area of practice? And
also, reversibly, what do you not like about your area of

Raphael: It’s really interesting because what I love and
what I don’t love coincide, and it’s really not a function
of not loving or liking something, it’s a function of how do I
do it better? How do I do it faster? What I love actually, I fell
in love with this area by accident. I had articled at a big
national firm in Toronto, and they hired me back, and then told me
you’re going to work in estates and trusts. I had never … or
done any work with them. Had no idea what I was about but as a
first year associate I had an opportunity to be in a client meeting
where we were talking about a really wealthy client, but an older
client, who wanted to give the assets away, and how they could give
it, and all these things that they cared about. I sat there and I
thought of my experience in articling where I was doing doc reviews
and due diligence and the best part of my deal was drafting a
shareholders agreement that I never knew what happened to once it
was gone. But the opposite was happening. I was talking to the
client. I was hearing her story. I was able to connect with the
client, just to understand who she was, what she cared about, how
she thought about her family, the challenges and concerns she had
about her grandkids and how she wanted to protect them. Sitting
there, to me there was, this is a thing that I was meant to do.
This is the kind of work that I was meant to do because it is
really a practice that’s focused on their individual needs.
Even if one of my clients is an institution, it’s really how
those institutions work and product impact the life of the
particular person and vulnerability. To me, that’s what law is
meant for. I think that’s law at its highest ideal. So
that’s what I love about this work. The challenge of this work
is the same thing because you get to know people so well and so
intimately. You get to hear the hardest stories. I’ve had files
where my law clerk on the file is sitting in my office crying. Not
because the work is hard but because the work is so emotional.
Because how can a child do this to their parents? How can somebody
really take this person’s entire life savings? So the thing I
love about it, it’s also the thing I found the hardest, because
you have to be able to empathize and connect with people but also
be detached so that you can actually say what’s the kind of
advice I think you’re here. For the most part I ask financial
institutions, so what is the scope of this institution’s
responsibility? How far can you go because you can’t do
everything for everybody, so to me that is both the greatest joy of
this work and the biggest burden of this work.

Gladys: Sounds so much like you have that people connection, and
that’s drawn you to this type of work, but I’d like to go a
little bit back before you were in that boardroom. We read that
when you immigrated to Canada in 1993, you found yourself drawn to
re-runs of television shows like Matlock, Perry Mason and LA

Raphael: It’s funny. I watched these shows and it was all a
trial. It was all about, you know Matlock shows up with this great
suit, and is in a trial, and posts the evidence of the last living.
A surprise witness was announced was awesome to me. It’s not
exactly what law is about. But that’s what attracted to me to
it. The new Perry Mason, the newest Perry Mason, tried to go over
from that so it wasn’t really all about the courtroom
dramatics. It was the work behind the scenes. How do you get to
that resolve? It’s not quite reality but it’s a little
closer to reality. That’s why I watched every episode of it. I
don’t remember everything but I remember significant portions
of it.

Gladys: I love that these shows still inspire you. That’s
awesome because I feel like this is the year. The past couple of
years have been the year of revival so who knows? Maybe
there’ll be like a Matlock revival at some point.

Raphael: Don’t do that to me because I actually have to work

Gladys: Well, on that note, how did you get acquainted and how
did you connect with these shows?

Raphael: I probably just ran across it on TV as a 13, 14 year
old, new to Canada. Didn’t really have a lot of friends at the
beginning so I spent a lot of time at home. I came from 3 TV
channels to every channel there was so I watched a lot of TV. I
read a lot but I also watched TV and I just found myself very
attracted to law inspired shows. I didn’t know that was going
to lead me into a career of law but, ultimately when I was trying
to decide what I meant to do with myself, those came back. It
helped inform my decision that law was the right path for me. By
the time I just thought they were really cool shows. I really liked
how the lawyers were in it. I didn’t actually take it deeper
than it was until I got to a stage in my educational journey where
I had to figure out what to do with myself. I thought, when it was
the question of can I go to law school? Is law school an option for
me? When of the things I had to think about was, was law the right
thing for me, and really those shows reminded me that at least the
interest was there. The inspiration was there. So then it became a
question about ability and financing and other things.

Gladys: Yeah. I think what’s interesting is when you talk
about having that interest and just seeing that this was something
that you could do. The interesting part about your show comment, I
found that the main characters, like you said, were courtroom
lawyers and they were litigators. I’m wondering when did your
perspective of what a lawyer is shift to kind of like more
solicitor’s work?

Raphael: It’s funny. Anyone who has heard me talk about my
own journey will always hear me use the phrase ‘happy
accidents’. This is really one of those. In law school I sat
beside somebody and my happy accident. She was somebody that knew a
lot. Was from my family that was really steeped in the legal career
and that was a Dean of a law school in … human rights lawyer and
professor. So I went to law school with two things, really, based
on my shows I believe litigation was of the focus and, two,
criminal law was a focus. I had done a criminology undergrad with a
double major. The other piece was I’m an immigrant and so those
were my animating sense of what law was about. It was I knew
lawyer’s helped immigration, because I had experienced it on my
way to Canada, and I knew from these shows that most of these
lawyers, LA Law is a little bit different, but Perry Mason and
Matlock was all mostly about criminal law issues. I went to law
school, still being animated by that thing, so my path was going to
be either as a criminal litigator or some kind of immigration work.
The … I seen that happening was that when I met Diana Backhouse,
was a really good friend. She and her family were generous to
introduce me to more what law was and a profession in law could
look like. That experience of meeting her, and her dad and her mom,
really taking interest in me and telling me there’s other parts
of law. There’s Bay Street, which I had no concept of. This was
first year of law. I had no concept that Bay Street was a thing or
even an option for me. Second, that there was this other kind of
work around non-litigation work that could work. My first year …
course taught me that I was not meant to be a litigator. I
didn’t love the pan for it. I didn’t love, and even
regardless of how well I prepared, and I thought I prepared really
well, when it came to just speaking I just couldn’t deliver in
the same way that I could in different kinds of ways. What I
realized was I was just so nervous and so focused on each word I
was about to say that I actually couldn’t hold it together. The
… told me maybe litigation wasn’t for me. Diana and her
family where the happy accident that broadened my horizon of what
law could be. Summer and articling confirmed that for me. My
litigation rotation, I had the best mentorship in that rotation,
but I felt I did the last amount of work that I liked.

Gladys: Right.

Raphael: So I realized very quickly that as a junior litigation
practice we’re going to be doing a lot of … I guess evidence
books or record books or whatever that thing is, timelines were
always, you couldn’t predict your experience because it
depended on the court dates and a these things. So I started seeing
a lot of that and I thought, that’s not really quite my style
and what I want to do. My corporate rotation and civil based
rotation confirmed for me that I want to do that in a way that
avoids the animosity and the challenge of dealing with the

Gladys: Yeah, it sounds like you maybe aren’t a big fan of
the adversarial aspect of litigation. I can relate to that story a
little bit because I did my articling with a strong advocacy type
of rotation. Those timelines just stressed me out. You don’t
anticipate that type of how these types of requirement stress you
out or how you will react to these types of requirements or this
type of work. I found myself very happy and kind of working with
the client and finding a solution and advocating in a totally
different way, but in the way that still I found very satisfying,
and I felt very good in doing that type of work.

Phedely: You know both you and Gladys sharing those parts of
your stories and your journeys, it somewhat reminds that us in law
it might not hit you in your first year of law school, it might not
hit you in your second or third, or it might not even hit you in
your first year’s of practice, but there will be something that
just speaks to you at a certain point. Or sometimes altogether
maybe this practice or this profession is just not for you. But I
do think if we keep at it we will find what speaks to us more
naturally. For example, Gladys, her and I we had the chance to
summer at Gowling. We al so articled together so I got to know her
very well. Oftentimes we go back and forth about the things we
enjoy, the things that we don’t enjoy. For instance, she
doesn’t like deadlines and whatnot, but as a litigator myself I
love that. I feel, okay, this is that clutch period. I feel like
I’m Kobe Bryant, or as the power to Kobe Bryant, but I’ve
got to get that across the line. But speaking of that, did it ever
cross your mind that this might not be for you? This profession or
the practice of law. Maybe as a result of the fact that you
didn’t specifically have lawyers in your circle or our family,
or maybe the fact as well that may not be many people in the
profession who may look like us, or who may hail from similar
communities within the legal profession.

Raphael: It’s an interesting question. I’ve never
actually thought about it in that context. So once I was on my path
to law, I never considered a lawyer is not for me. I found a love
of joy in the practice of law. What I usually would tell people
that are interested in law is to say, it’s a demanding career.
It is a challenging career. You have to be motivated by a real
interest in it. I think I’ve always had that. Part of my
identity is wrapped in myself as a lawyer. The question I’ve
had isn’t whether law was right for me. It’s really about
what space do I practice law, or, in what avenue do I use my legal

Gladys: That’s an interesting thing because do you think
it’s because you were used to maybe being the only person,
sometimes, and so maybe you didn’t look for people that
necessarily looked like you when you were getting into these types
of career choices?

Raphael: Yeah, I do and I also think it’s actually important
for, let me caveat this because my experience of Black, abled,
straight male, who spent his life in Vancouver, is very different
from other Black experiences in Canada and that informs my journey
and my thinking about my place and profession and Canada,
generally. I came to Canada at 13 and for the most part I saw
myself as a very visitor, as a guest, because I was in it with that
immigrant mentality. So I never claimed my spaces in the same way
that other Black Canadians, or Black people, who happen to be in
Canada in my field. I, for a long time, viewed myself as a guest in
a space so I was happy to get whatever I got. The African mentality
says that when you go to someone’s house you’re a guest and
you’re supposed to be accommodating. So even when things
didn’t work out for me the way that I expected it was, okay, I
was in this person’s house and yes, they’ve given me a
glass of water but I want them to give me the best champagne, and
that’s okay. Even though I became a Canadian citizen, and
I’ve lived way more of life here, it took me a long time to get
to a place where I was claiming my space, both as a Canadian and an
equal member of this profession. So why you’re saying yes to
that point, that even when I was going through law school I
didn’t really see myself as somebody that deserved an equal
space in the places I needed to be. So when I talk about the happy
accident with a friend telling you what to do, I really believe it
was happy accident where they were helping me. I didn’t realize
that when firms were saying no to me, because they didn’t see
me as somebody that could build a practice, that was somehow
inferred to me. I didn’t appreciate that until later in my
career when I had a better sense of myself in Canada, and my place
in this profession and that’s what animates my work with CABL,
the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, for example. I think at
the beginning of my career I struggled because I thought if I
showed up, and … … put your head down, you’re going to make
waves. You’re humble even when you deliver on something,
you’re humble about it, you don’t brag. All those are
things that I think have served me really well in other spaces.
They didn’t serve me well when I got to this profession.
Actually in some places hurt me but I didn’t expand that until
I got to later in my career.

Phedely: It really hits close to home, Raphael. 100%.

Raphael: Yeah, I’m happy to have that conversation because I
think it’s a conversation that we need to have within our
community, for ourselves, because we have agency that sometimes we
surrender and we need to figure out how to grab that agency back,
and then how to amplify it because we bring a lot to the table when
we do that, when we claim our agency.

Phedely: Raphael, would you have any advice for those who are
maybe looking towards, or desire, to start claiming their spaces as
you were mentioning because as a Black Haitian man that is
something that I contend and struggle with at times too,
particularly within the profession. So, would you have any advice
as to how someone can get into doing that?

Raphael: I’ll tell you what works for me. I think our
journey’s are different and our skill sets are different so you
have to kind of tailor this to yourself. But for me, it’s
really being intentional about where I want to be. So I am very
intentional about what I want my career to look like a year from
now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now. Two, I’m very
intentional about the effort I put into my work and the expectant
result I expect based on my efforts. If I deliver I’m very
intentional about making sure that the right people understand that
I delivered and that I claim whatever that offers. What I’ve
come to understand is you have to understand my value better than
anybody else and so when I get to a point where my value is
undermined in anyway, to have to figure out whether I have the
ability to claim it where I am, or seek it elsewhere. What that has
done for me, is yes I’ve moved a lot, but I’ve always moved
progressively to more senior, more responsibility roles and more
financial rewarding roles. Because what I’ve come to appreciate
is to say to myself, what do I bring to the table that’s unique
about me, that makes the … contributions to wherever I am. That,
once I understand that and I deliver on that, whatever the opposite
side of that is has to arrive and I have to claim that. If that
doesn’t arrive I don’t let it go anywhere. I don’t put
my head down. I don’t stay humble. I am not prideful or boasty
but I’m very intentional about saying I delivered on this and
this then obligates you to that. You can do all of that
respectfully. I’ve done all of that respectfully. Maintain my
relationships even when I’ve left places but I’ve always
explained to the person I’m leaving why I’m leaving. So
that it’s not that I don’t love the people that I
didn’t do good work but because I’ve come to appreciate my
value and so if that value is not recognized then I’ll go where
it is. Being in private practice as a partner shapes it differently
but I think all of us need to think about what’s unique about
us, what do we bring to the table, what can we deliver that
improves fundamentally what the objective of this enterprise. So as
a firm we need to produce, we need to bring in clients, we need to
produce good work. So if you do that then the conversation is what
is my space? What is my due reward for that work? I think we all
have to be really confident about and really intentional about
having conversations. First that sets out the boundaries of what
that looks like, and what you have to meet, and when you meet that
what that results in. I think that is something that I’ve had
to learn that a lot. Even through CABL what I’ve learned is I
have to talk about what CABL does a lot more. We have to amplify
what we’re doing because we need people to understand and
appreciate the work so that they can use us effectively, and they
come to us for things that we think we’re really great at, and
we can be at the right tables.

Gladys: So it’s like taking kind of the idea of not feeling
like you’re entitled to something but really putting objective
measures onto things that you deserve.

Raphael: So let me use a different phrase. I wouldn’t say
deserve. It’s earned.

Gladys: Earned, yes.

Raphael: My view isn’t that I deserve something because of
who I am. If I’ve earned it then you want to be able to
recognize it. Let me use another example because I think this is an
important point. I used to apply for jobs and then they will hire
you and they’ll say, this is your salary. I’ve got the job,
thank you so much. This might not be exactly what I was expecting
but they will see how great I am and they’ll give me a raise,
they’ll give me a promotion, blah, blah, blah. That didn’t
always work because you go there and not only do you deliver but
you sometimes deliver more than is required of you because you want
to show that you deserve more and then it’s now a conversation
around, yes you did that but can you repeat that? I, in the last
few years of my career, have taken the approach that I’m going
to ask for what I think I bring to the table, give in to the salary
negotiation, and take the risk that I might lose it. I might lose
the job because that’s worth more to me and when you look like
me I can’t let people assume that I will take the minimum.
It’s what would you give somebody that is of equal quality and
experience and ability. That’s where I think we all have to
start from. The challenge is I appreciate that when you are new in
your career, starting out, the confidence is not there and I’ve
always claimed that I’ve always had it, but I think we have to
be intentional about understanding about more.

Gladys: I totally agree. I really like that you made that
distinction between deserving and earning something because I think
that really puts things in perspective as to your value. Exactly
what you said like what you’re brining to the table and so I
think earning is exactly the right word for it. I kind of want to
shift to your unique experiences and what you’re bringing to
the table. In looking into your background we saw that, like you
mentioned, you’ve worked for financial institutions and you
also have an MBA. Can you tell us a bit about that journey and what
those types of experiences are bringing to your current

Raphael: It’s interesting. My journey to go do an MBA was
actually, again, inspired by the same experience about getting into
estates and trust work. After a year, almost a year at Blake’s,
I came to Vancouver to join a firm, Bull, Housser now part of
Norton Rose, and I came because of another happy accident. I met a
woman that was doing, in my mind, the premier work in this area,
Carmen … and really she took an interest in me and wanted to
develop me, and a lot of hard work and really a lot of late nights,
but I felt I got the best trust training and experience anyone
could get in this space. About 3 or 4 years into it I came to
appreciate that where my interest really in this area lied was
understanding the business behind this. So in this space what
happens is you have a really high-net-worth client, for example,
that person has an investment advisor, has an accountant, has
probably an insurance advisor, will sometimes have a family office
advisor and then you have your lawyer. All those people serve,
it’s the ecosystem that supports that wealthy individual. For
the lawyers, most of the time we’re at the end of any planning
process for that person because the accountant would do the tax
structuring, the corporate organization for that person’s
business and everything else. An investment advisor’s talking
about how do we put the money in the market. What’s the best
market. Equities, bonds, whatever. Insurance advisor’s talking
about what’s your liability at death? Do you need insurance to
kind of govern that? Once all that planning is in place that’s
when the lawyer comes in to document all of it. It’s really
interesting work but I found I wanted to understand all the other
pieces because it’s really up front and, as a junior, what
happened was I’d be at all of those meetings, I’d hear
those things that were super interesting, but then the client I was
working with said make your notes and go draft these and that’s
what I did at night. So as much as I loved it I thought I need to
understand what those things do. So the MBA was, I had a
polyscience criminology background, I didn’t have any business
background. I also wanted to get into the industry, because a lot
of what I started to see was a lot of the people that made a lot of
money in that industry were on the business side of it, not on the
legal side of it. I wasn’t a partner yet so to me, as an
associate, I thought when I talk to an insurance advisor, their
salary on the sale of insurance policies, first there’s the
premium, in some instances it’s in the millions. Hundreds of
thousands so I went, hmm, I went to law school for a long time and
I’m not making anything like that insurance guy. When I talk to
an investment advisor, and the fees they were earning and things
like that, I spent lots of time in law school, spent a lot of
money, I think I’m just as smart as this person but they’re
making more money than I am. Once I got to understand that I wanted
to be in that industry more so I went and did the MBA to understand
the business. To kind of get a business background. What it did,
ironically, is emphasize my interest in being a lawyer more but now
I had a new insight into what those people are doing, what a
business looks like and why they were earning what they were
earning. One of the things that I thought they had, a skill that I
couldn’t bring to the table, was I didn’t have the ability
to go to a client and say, let me convince you that you need 10
million dollar insurance policy. That’s not a skill I have. So
understanding the business got me to, okay that’s not a skill I
have. I could never deliver that but I could do these other things
in support of that business. The other piece was it also gave me a
sense of where the industry was going. I got a sense of
Canada’s demographic shift. To be coming older was going to
impact my business in 2017 when I was going through that MBA.
Another sense of what lawyers that work in that field, especially
estate lawyers that work in that field, how we could support that
work and where everyone was focused and where I thought there was
opportunity. I knew a lot of financial institutions, accounting
firms, law firms are all focused on how do we plan for the
transition of wealth? No one’s really thinking about the risk
imbedded in that as people get older. To me, what that helped me
shape was there could be a niche here for me. There could be an
opportunity to do really interesting work. It allowed me to kind of
craft my career and what my career could look like. I didn’t
think it would bring me back to private practice but I thought it
would place me in a space where there’ll always be a need for
me in the financial institutions space. So that’s kind of what
the MBA did for me.

Gladys: It’s fair to say that it kind of helped you build an
expertise and think ahead.

Raphael: It did. It did. What it did is give me the ability to
assist my own career with a different lens. In the spaces where
I’ve worked, and maybe now when I work for financial
institutions, my advice isn’t the law says X. My advice is the
law says X but for you these are going to be operational challenges
that you’re likely to face. There are going to be risk elements
embedded in your products so this how I’d recommend you deal
with these issues. So it gives me something different than what
somebody that would have traditionally done estates law would do,
which is the law says X. To me I think that’s what makes me
unique in this space. It makes me unique and it makes me give the
ability to be able to work with individual clients on the planning
side, because I’ve done all of that work and the experience I
already have, but it also gives me the insight to which I advise
financial institutions on their products and operational risks and
things like that. So that to me is what’s unique about me and
we all have to have your why. Even when you go to a client and say,
hire me, you have to give them why you over somebody else.

Phedely: I think it’s really rewarding for us to hear just
about all of your experiences and your background, but what
I’ve noticed at times and I’ve spoken with friends and
colleagues about this, is we don’t always have time to
acknowledge the barriers that we’re facing, or even the
obstacles. We’re so focused on the path ahead that we don’t
take the time to acknowledge just what we’re facing. Are there
any barriers or obstacles that you can recognize now, taking a
moment to look back?

Raphael: It’s one of the various highlight is I think people
are too careful not to be perceived, especially when you are a
Black face in that space that’s not really reflective of you, I
don’t think it’s intended to be hurtful to us, or to you,
but it can have the effect of doing that. Most people don’t
give you the honest feedback. People don’t sometimes, I
don’t know if it’s fear that you’re going to react
badly or I’m going to look like I don’t like you, and your
the only Black lawyer in my office. I want to make sure that we
have a good experience. But the benefit of not giving me that is
that I can’t say something that’s wrong.

Phedely: Yeah.

Raphael: That to me is the biggest thing. It’s really
finding an environment where you have one or two people that can
give you the benefit of the insight and not just you should do
this, or you’re great at this. You did this, you didn’t
find work you should figure out how to fix it.

Phedely: I resonate a lot with what you’re saying, Raphael.
That’s the way to get better. That honest conversation and
dialogue you have with your supervising lawyers.

Raphael: Yeah, then the other piece is this profession is an
apprenticeship. So the traditional path of law you start off as an
apprentice to somebody. What that means, I think that’s still
true today, is to succeed in this profession you need somebody to
hold your hand at the beginning, to be able to say this is how you
do this. This is how you do that. This is how you move this file
across. You have a chance how to do it. That’s related to the
honest feedback piece but it is really, to me, the benefit of that
was meeting Carmen in 2011 when I met her because I used to go home
and joke with my girlfriend at the time that I work all day and I
stressed basically months to get good work on top of a piece of
paper. When I got that extra … I … and it was because I would
receive honest feedback about everything I drafted, everything I
said, every meeting I was in I got feedback on it. Some of it
great. Some of it not great but always helping me to improve. What
that did was also showing me the ropes. How do you build a practice
like this? How do you get clients engaged with you? There
couldn’t be a lot of great lawyers that do what you do and what
I do. There’s really well trained lawyers out there. The
difference is how do you get clients to pick you? That’s an
important piece. What I realized was through that experience I was
learning that. That’s the greatest gift that I received. It was
how do you work in a way that allows, whether you’re in-house
it’s your business clients and your business partners, to want
to work with you? In private practice it’s your clients to pick
you and referrals is for other lawyers who … Gladys instead of
Raphael. It is not for people like us who can’t always rely on
likeness to be the attraction. You have to think of how do I
attract that work? Or how do I present my work and myself in a way
that attracts that piece? To me, some people call that sponsorship.
It is how you get somebody to be interested in you to send you
work. To be interested in you to put you in front of their client.
To be interested in you to refer somebody, a client, that they
value to you. It is that piece and that is hard for all of us to
find because, again, a lot of this gets worked through, you remind
me of me 10 years ago. I’m going to take you and I’m going
to make sure you are the best lawyer in this space you can be. But
when you can’t rely on that you need, and the benefit I think I
received, was you need to understand how you attract that to

Gladys: You’ve talked to me personally, and in this podcast,
about people that have championed you and you’ve referred to
them as sponsors, more specifically, and I’m wondering whether
you can expand a little bit more about all these champions and what
that has meant for you now, and what it’s meant for your
career. It sounds like it’s had a huge impact on the person and
the career that you have now.

Raphael: I think champions have been fantastic. Champions are
the people that speak about you when you’re not in the room and
who advocate for you when you can’t advocate for yourself
because sometimes you’re not even aware of the opportunity. It
is sometimes the relationships you form allows somebody to advocate
for you in a way that you can see and you can be there for. People
call it reputation. I think it’s different from reputation. It
is, I have a notable … reputations but that doesn’t mean
I’m going to say, hey, you should pick that person over that.

Gladys: Right.

Raphael: It is really being intentional about how do I form
relationships and how do I attract people that are going to speak
on my behalf in spaces that I either don’t know exist or
can’t be there. We can’t be everywhere at the same time. To
me that’s the value of having champions and sponsors. The
challenge with that is in the spaces that we are in, sometimes
champions come from likeness bias and all those … It’s harder
for us to attract those things. We have to be intentional about
that and we have to sometimes let our work speak for it, or we have
to let other things that we care about that are interesting about
us speak for that, but it’s a struggle that we face and we
should just, to me, I acknowledge that that’s the case. Not
everyone I meet is going to be immediately, Raphael’s a good
guy, let’s do work with him.

Gladys: Right.

Raphael: But once I identified those champions, I invest in
them. I think of, what do I need to do to make sure that they keep
being interested in me? What if I have somebody that I, since I met
her, I remember her birthday every year and I’m going to work
for her for 10 years. I sent her an email note, nothing special,
just an email to say Happy Birthday! Thinking of you. Hope you have
a good day, because I know for the most part that if my name comes
up that person has something positive to say about me. I have
worked with general counsels where I know they invested, put my
name forward for things that they didn’t claim credit for. The
ones I know that what I say is, what can I do to amplify what they
are trying to achieve. So that they know that by investing in me
it’s a benefit to them. Sometimes people don’t want
anything from you and sometimes you can’t give them anything.
By just being intentional and thoughtful about that piece. By
thinking about it from, what can you do for me? How can you mentor
me but how I can do something, in whatever capacity I can, however
little it is, to amplify you so that you’re investment in me is
paying off for you?

Gladys: I’ve actually never heard that perspective of like
looping it back. You’ve really distinguished the difference
between mentorship and sponsorship in a way that I think we’re
hearing a lot about nowadays. Mentorship has kind of like that
guidance aspect, advice based on the experience and sponsorship is
really like what are they saying when you’re not in the room.
Kind of that active type of promotion of your career and helping
you out in that way, but what I didn’t consider is what the
role of the person being championed, or in other words the
protegee, can do which is like that amplification that you were
talking about. Sometimes I think it’s hard for people to
receive mentorship or sponsorship because they want to repay you in
some way and they don’t know how. I think you’ve given some
really good examples on how to kind of keep the person in mind and
show gratitude by amplifying them. I think that’s really

Phedely: I really resonate with those concepts of sponsorship
and just being championed. I remember when I was articling, I was
having lunch with a partner from the advocacy department, and he
shared a lot of interesting advice with me and a lot of pieces of
wisdom. But something that he said to me, which always stuck with
me even to this day, he said, Phedely, during your career
you’ll meet a lot of people who have a lot of things to share
with you but you really have to cater to and look for the people
who care about your career. Those who are personally invested in
you, in your development and your growth. You’re right,
Raphael. Sometimes it’s that we may connect on certain issues,
or we may have certain hobbies or interests in common, but
sometimes it’s just the fact that that person wants to see you
do well and you understand that that sometimes comes with honest
and difficult conversations about the areas of improvement. But as
long as they’re invested in you, you can also be invested in
them in return.

Raphael: Yeah. I think it’s two things. The first thing is
one of the things that we all have to be good at, and I have to be
better at it, is when a door opens for me ask how it was opened.
Sometimes you’re pushing the door, you don’t quite know
there’s someone behind it that will turn the knob for you, and
if that person lets you in the question is, why? I try to do that.
I didn’t show up at Gowling by accident. There’s a series
of events that happened that landed me here. That involves other
people. So just being more intentional about why things happen and
not just saying, the door is opened so I walked through it. Great.
That’s good for me. Yes, we want to see the tale of our best
friend pass it back. We’ve earned it. We have a right to it but
it doesn’t always mean that that seat is given. So when that
seat shows up you need to understand better what happened. To me, I
think we all are human. We all open in all of those spaces. You
need to understand that piece. You need to understand how things
get done. We’re not operating in a colourful world and so we
need to be intentional about understanding how things work and also
giving back in recognition of the people that are in our corner,
said to your point.

Gladys: That’s very good advice. I think people don’t
really know to ask that question and I think you’ve helped a
lot in kind of getting some clarification on how you got there so
that you can, looping back to what you said, amplify the people who
helped you turn that door. So yeah, I think we’re nearing the
end of the podcast. So, Phedely, I think you have the final
question you wanted to ask.

Phedely: We’ve got so many questions for you but we
appreciate that you’ve obviously got a lot to do so we
don’t want to take too, too much of your time. Gladys and I
were just thinking to ourselves, and even in conversations with
other people, just how much the legal profession might have changed
over the years. I think as a final question I’m curious to know
what advice would you give to your younger self entering the
profession in 2022?

Raphael: I think what I would and try tell myself to be a little
bit more confident in claiming my space. But that’s easier said
than done. I understand that but I think sometimes people saw
things in me that I didn’t always see. So really just saying
that you have an equal right to be at the tables that you’re
at, that you earned those spots, and you should really work hard to
claim them and to insist on them. That’s one. Two is really
taking the time to appreciate the moments. At the beginning your
struggling. Everything feels like a struggle and so you don’t
always say, I am a kid from Ghana whose dad is living on a farm and
whose mom barely speaks English, and I am now working in a big
corporate firm in downtown Toronto and looking all fancy. I
didn’t quite spend enough time taking that in because I was way
more worried about …, …, …. that fire, right? It is
appreciating the journey. That journey, it’s a challenging
journey that has lots of highs. I look back and I was telling this
to …, I’ve never felt, historically the hindsight was
I’ve never been so important to anybody that I’m doing OCI.
The interim interview pieces where you’re going to dinner …
and I never really took that in at the time to be, again you know,
all I knew I was fufu and put on that suit. I don’t know. Fancy
restaurant eating some food that I barely know how to

Gladys: … got to have some fufu though.

Phedely: Always.

Raphael: Always.

Phedely: Always.

Raphael: I’m not knocking fufu. I love my food. Well,
actually, now I can’t eat too much of it. I’m getting too
big. But what I meant was the experience, the uniqueness of the
experience I was having. How different it was from somebody, my
reality and my context. Now when I’ve come back to Vancouver
and one of the first lunches I had with a friend, he invited me to
the Vancouver Club which is a private club here, as I was walking
through the door I was like, the 13 year old Raphael, the 15 year
old, even the 20 year old Raphael, never would have seen this space
as a space I just walk into. Just taking those moments, I
appreciate it. It doesn’t mean that’s my everyday spot but
what I mean is that it allows me to take into context the
challenges that come along the way. In the grand scheme of things,
this has been a great journey. It continues to be a fantastic
journey and those moments of struggle are worth it and it’s
just all past. It’s just that I’ve just never been, I think
a lot of us that end up in this profession, we’re not good at
backwards. We’re focused on what’s next, what’s next?
Or that I haven’t slept for 16 hours and I have a deal closing.
You see what I’m doing?

Gladys: Yeah.

Raphael: You need to kind of sometimes appreciate the journey
that we’re on.

Gladys: I agree with you wholeheartedly. It’s important that
we take a moment sometimes to appreciate the journey, how far
we’ve come. I think overall just appreciating the beauty in the
struggle, sometimes. I really want to thank you for sitting with us
today and for this rewarding conversation. I wish we could continue
talking for hours because I know I’ve learned a tremendous
amount just in the hour that we’ve had to speak with you. The
importance of these discussions, it’s to advance the dialogue
on important issues and, to me, to also highlight certain aspects
that are often omitted from the record. We often focus on the
awards and the recognition and an individual station in life, but
perhaps what is worth focusing on sometimes are all of the right
choices that you made to be where you are today. So, for our
listeners, if you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for
topics and guests, please look us up at
www.gowlingwlg.com/diversonomics and get in touch with us. We would
love to hear from you.

Gladys: Also, make sure to check out the show notes for this
episode of diversonomics.com. Thank you for listening and make sure
to rate and review this podcast on Apple podcast or Spotify and
subscribe so that you never have to miss an episode.

Raphael: Thank you so much for having me, guys. This was
awesome. I hope to be hearing about your journeys along the way
because I think you guys are on a great path and incredible
success. Thank you so much for having me.

Gladys: I’m sure you will be part of that journey, Raphael.
We’ll make sure.

Raphael: I look forward to being a spectator and cheering you
guys on but I’m very happy to support anyway I can.

Phedely: Thank you.

Read the original article on

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *