Spotlight Series: Bindu Cudjoe

On October 27th, 2016, a few students from the Diversity and Law Society (DLS) at the University of Calgary travelled to Toronto to attend FACL Ontario’s 10th Annual Conference and Gala. During the gala, each student had the opportunity to interview an inspiring Asian Canadian trailblazer within the legal community on behalf of FACL Western.

I had the privilege to interview Bindu Cudjoe. Bindu graduated from the University of Calgary with a Commerce Degree. Afterwards, she studied law at the University of Toronto. She articled and became an associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP before becoming a Partner at McMillan LLP . Today, Bindu is the Deputy General Counsel & Chief Administrative Officer at BMO Financial Group. 

Q. Sometimes in film or television, lawyers are portrayed to look or speak a certain way. Do you find that this kind of portrayal creates difficulties for lawyers who do not fit this image? If so, what are some ways someone can overcome this difficulty?

I don’t think I am a “conventional” lawyer and have had to challengethose preconceptions my entire career. First, own the fact that you’re different. Stereotypes are natural and can be helpful – they can help people classify the world. However, don’t pay too much attention tothem and never let them hold you back. The best way to overcome this difficulty is to never compromise yourself. The only thing you have in this profession is your reputation. You should never compromise who you are, or your beliefs to “fit in.” So it is important to know who you are and what your values are.

Q. Students are sometimes told it is very difficulty to have a work life balance, especially when they're first entering the profession. Has this been true in your experience?

When I began my career, it was easier to put up boundaries between my work life and my life outside of work. However, with the development in technology, it is not as easy to put up these boundaries since, for example, you can check your work email on your phone at any time. There is no perfect equation or formula to balancing between life and work, and it won’t always be in perfect harmony. However, life and work should not be pitted against each other. The legal profession is not the typical 8 to 5, Monday through Friday kind of career, so you have to take it day by day.  And balance may not happen over a day – think differently about your timeframes for balance – it might be balance over a week, or a month.

Q. What are some skills that you learned in law school that helped you transition into working at a law firm?

First and foremost, do not lose your curiosity. Your curiosity brought you to where you are today. It also most likely helped bring you to law school. This curiosity will help you transition into working at a law firm. Also have perseverance. School teaches you the study of law. During law school, you’ll have the opportunity to work in legal clinics and volunteer with student government. However, the practice of law can be very different. The actual practice of law can be messy, and there are areas that can be quite grey. You have to stick with it, even when the learning curve is very steep, and uneven, and even when you are trying to juggle competing demands.

Q. What advice would you give to students who are uncertain as to the area of law they would like to work in?

When you’re first starting out, where your career begins is often driven by opportunity and the economy. Certain things are out of your control.

However, a good place to start is to figure out the way you want to work. If you are uncertain as to the area of law you would like to work in, think about how you want to practice law. Do you like the idea of researching and writing long memos? Do you like going to court? Do you like meeting clients? Do you feel most comfortable in an office setting?  Does working in a high-rise appeal to you? Think about how you want to practice law, and ask yourself “what does success look like to me?” – the answer to this question is different for each person. It takes different kinds of people to do different kinds of work. Lastly, when deciding the area of law you would like to work in, approach it with an open and curious mind.

Photo credits: Marcia Cho

This is the second of three installments of stories, stay tuned for the last one!