Successful construction lawyer mentors, networks and leads with respect, fact and knowledge
Ontario Construction Report staff writer
Sharon Vogel always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. When she began articling for Borden Ladner Gervais (then Borden and Elliott) in 1991, exposure to the firm’s construction group opened her eyes to the specialty she would later choose. She is now regional leader of the firm’s International Construction Projects Group and a partner in the Toronto office.
In the beginning, she says, she would be the only female, both among her colleagues and clients. “As a young associate that was intimidating,” she said. “It takes time to gain knowledge and find your voice to ensure what you say is based on fact and knowledge but as the only woman in a room, there is an added challenge.”
Over her career, she has developed her knowledge and expertise on projects ranging from highways, railways, tunnels, pipelines and hospitals. She has appeared at all court levels, including the Ontario Superior Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
She says over her 20 year career she has seen changes, with an increasing number of women lawyers. “There are differences in the way women work together,” she said. “There is a great collaborative effort that is unique.”
Vogal says she enjoys her clients and colleagues. She appreciates that people value their personal time. “A day of golf may be great but that may also mean someone has to work late or on a weekend and miss family time. I try to find events that are of value, that don’t take up too much time, or sometimes, that can involve a partner or family.”
Part of Vogel’s job is helping clients stay abreast of the industry and that means staying ahead of changes both in Canada and abroad. That isn’t her greatest challenge, however.
“The pace of practicing law has changed. It used to be we would communicate by phone and fax but now it is smart phone and email. There is a demand for instant and constant communication that makes managing client demands and achieving a work and life balance challenging,” she said.
While her own children were young, Vogel says she made a conscious decision and was fortunate to have her firm accommodate a part-time schedule. When she decided to return full-time, she had her spouse’s support.
“Many of us, men and women, have to make choices at different times in our lives and put family – whether that be children or aging parents – first,” she said. “Practicing law is a full-time commitment and one I wouldn’t be able to give without the support of my husband.”
Vogel has mentored and spoken to many women about construction law careers. She says she loves the intellectual challenge, her involvement with a variety of projects, the complexity of issues and the ability to shadow a project from its contract negotiation through final construction. “Construction law is more interesting and complex than many people assume,” she said.
She says says mentoring is important for women. Then, as their careers progress, they should return the favour and mentor younger lawyers.
Vogel is an executive member of the Ontario and Canadian Bar Associations’ construction law sections and a member of the International Bar Association and the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC).