Andrea Lee: Balancing career and family, she has achieved success in construction law

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GTA Construction Report special feature

Beginning with inspiration from two generations of engineers, and following her own path into architecture, Andrea Lee pursued an interest in the profession’s legal aspects. She is now a partner with Glaholt LLP Construction Lawyers.

“When applying to law firms for my first summer job, I focused on firms that had a construction law practice,” she said. “I was aware of Glaholt LLP’s reputation as being a top boutique construction litigation firm, and after reading and being impressed by various articles and books published by lawyers at the firm, I decided to apply,” she said.

She has been with the firm ever since. Called to the Ontario Bar in 2006, she became one of five partners in 2010. Since then a sixth partner was added but Lee remains the only female.

Lee says despite being the only woman partner at her firm, she is seeing more female construction lawyers now than 10 years ago, and more diversity in their age, race, and backgrounds. The experience of women in the profession can differ from that of their male counterparts, she says, because construction industry clients may be more familiar with interacting with male counsel.

“However I believe that women can bring a different perspective to the table, based on our experiences.”

Lee has been a regular contributor to the Construction Law Letter and has contributed to books such as Halsbury’s Laws of Canada, Construction, and Review of Construction Law: Recent Developments.

Lee says construction law, particularly litigation, is exciting. “There are opportunities to analyze, discuss and debate ways to creatively resolve clients’ problems. On large files, we have collaborated with other firms, making the discussion even more interesting.”

Her career takes her to court to argue matters before judges and masters, to arbitrations involving major commercial parties, to mediations to resolve disputes before trial, and to meetings with international client representatives.

Her biggest career challenge to date has not been professional but personal: the decision to have a baby. “The firm had never had a female partner before, and as such, never encountered a partner who would take maternity leave.”

Balancing the firm’s needs with her family’s, Lee says she took a shorter maternity leave, enjoying three months at home with her daughter and then easing back into work by going to the office every other day for another month.

“My files were monitored by myself from home and by my other partners, while the day-to-day carriage of files went to our associates. It was a great, successful team effort.”

When her second daughter was born in a few years later, the team pulled together once again to help and Lee again took a shorter leave. “It is a struggle to balance work and being a mother to two active little girls, but I sleep when I can and now get flu shots every year.”

Lee says she would recommend her career to other women but understands she has been lucky to be at a firm that offers flexibility and what she finds to be a good work-life balance.

“In terms of advice to young women, I would say that they should not be intimidated to enter a field where most of the senior practitioners or client representatives are male or where long days may be expected on occasion. Women can offer a different perspective on issues based on their life experiences, and can bring a balanced approach to cases in conjunction with their male counterparts.”

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