- BUILDING A FOUNDATION, BDC PARTNER MIREILLE FONTAINE
SUCCESS, STRUGGLES AND LIFE LESSONS
Woman on top, Me. Fontaine shows that hard work, dedication and passion are still at the forefront especially when tackling a law bull.
She was charming, with a motherly reassurance yet intimidating confidence of a woman who leads. Powerful in all her presence, a perfectly coiffed bob shaped her face, with a tenure that didn’t showcase four girls (out of which two were twins! Her eyes sparkled when she smiled. That was Me. Mireille Fontaine, partner at BCF one of the largest executive law firms in the city.
Tell me about your upbringing.
I was born and raised in Montréal. The third of four children but being the “middle girl” is probably an important factor in whom I have become: independent. My parents believed an all around education was essential so I was raised with sports, music, lots of reading, dance, and so many wonderful experiences. We were raised to work hard and education was a priority. Not going to university was not an option. We had to choose and follow through. Our parents took care of the tuition fees, we needed to work hard, do our best and make sure we landed jobs. Something worth mentioning is that my parents were visionaries in making sure I was raised in French and in English. They have sent us to the best schools and summer camps as well as letting us try out new sports and hobbies so we could expand our horizons. However, as a rule, when we started something, we needed to finish it and give it our best.
Did you always know you would become a corporate lawyer?
I actually loved music (piano) and singing. I have studied music for more than 15 years, even taught it for about 10 years. However, I was aware that making a living out of it would be difficult. Science was always also very interesting to me and my father being a doctor, I thought of following in his footsteps, in psychiatry, for many years. Around the age of 18, I did realize I loved people, and that being able to do different things to challenge my intellect and keep me out of my comfort zone was where I excelled. I saw my older brother go through law school so, at 19, I gave it a shot, got accepted at the Université de Montréal and followed my path. Commercial law, more specifically transactional law, was what I loved. Reading, drafting and negotiating came as easy to me as breathing. Twenty-six years later...
What significant moment in your career changed your life?
Life happened. I had my daughters. First, Monica-Ann was born almost 21 years ago when I was still an associate and then my twins Gabrielle and Florence (almost 18 years old), when I was just named partner. I was confronted each time with a difficult choice: leave the “transactional” life and go in-house, choose another less demanding path in terms of hours and lack of a regular schedule, which we all know is part of being a mother. I chose to pursue my passion as a transactional lawyer and became a master in time management. My daughters changed my life but also made me become a more efficient, organized, multi-tasked lawyer. I understood where my priorities were and how to manage family life, work, clients, travel, conferences and so on. Thus, I run my deals as such and this has earned me a great reputation as a solution driven, efficient and business savvy transactional lawyer.
How has the law changed over the course of your career for the good? What foreseeable changes do you predict will occur in the near future?
The law is ever changing. Has it changed for the better? Sometimes but not always. Having to be at “the end of our phones” 24/7 for our clients is obviously different from when I started in 1993. Technology is wonderful as it enables remote work and gives lawyers flexibility, namely for parents but on the opposite, on many occasions I feel like we don’t have time to think anymore.
I try to follow my personal rule “LLA”: listen, lay back and answer later. In a world where things are moving so fast mainly driven by technology improvements, reflection, introspection and even consultation are beneficial but we lack time! With AI coming into law practices in many different forms, I foresee the pace will pick up even more and although I welcome the new technologies enabling us to produce the same work faster but still of high quality. However, I do feel it is important to continue, as humans, to take a moment to reflect on what will be the best decisions to make for all the parties involved.
What advice would you give young women who want to start their career in the law industry?
I believe that everything comes at the right time. Follow your instincts know that law is vast; you could learn all your life and never be done. Therefore, I would absolutely recommend learning from other colleagues and building on strong foundations before starting on your own. If possible, join forces with those who have a different skill set. It is important to always want to learn and better oneself. Law is a long river, paddle through it and learn, breathe and take it all in.
Looking back now what advice would you give yourself at age 25?
“Control your emotions”. At age 25, I had three years of law practice, the same fire inhabited me but I lacked self-control. Once, my mentor advised me to choose my battles. I would also say that it is always important to understand one’s road, to keep your eye on the ball and to be able to use your judgment. Sometimes, you have to take a step back in order to keep your energy, your passion and your emotions for more important issues. It took me at least 15 years to understand this and apply it day-to-day. I have gained a firm control and I have had mentors who were able to bring the calm out of the storm and I made it a mission to try to give back and teach the same lesson to our younger lawyers.
What do you credit to your success?
This is a really difficult question. Many people have helped me along the way. There is also luck, being at the right place at the right time and, of course, the upbringing and education that my parents have given me as well as their constant support, which gave me confidence. That being said, without a doubt, my success stems from: The support of my family and my husband, François Jarry. I would not be where I am today without their trust, support and understanding; Hard work, every day, year after year. Consistently and humbly, thriving to improve and working towards specific goals; Resilience and determination. For each trial, bump, chaos, problem, I have stepped back, found a solution and worked toward it, never giving up; Faith. I believe in God and pray he guides me to do well and be the best person I can be.
What are your future plans/projects with BCF?
Seize the moment, define the future! Such is our motto.
I hope I can continue to evolve as a lawyer, mentor, manager and board member. I want to continue to help others grow. I hope to be instrumental in the change of generation which BCF is embarking on. I hope to pave the way and, most of all, I hope I can make a real change in someone’s professional life in particular women in law. I need and want to make a difference and give back. May I be inspired to inspire as others have for me. At 49, it is time to really give back and prepare BCF’s next generation for the challenges that lie ahead.
What is BCF’s positioning and vision in terms of valuing and promoting women especially in strategic leadership roles?
Fostering retention, advancement and success of women is a priority for BCF. We strongly believe that the greater the diversity among our members, the better the decision-making for our clients and our firm. We have made a lot of progress over the past few years towards advancing women’s equality. Though we still have a long way to go as a law firm, and more broadly as a society, we are working hard towards diversity, gender parity and inclusion, three of our core values and critical priorities. Investing in women’s leadership development is crucial. We live in an era where women need to seize opportunities to advance their careers and define the future they deserve, especially in the legal industry where they now represent 62% of young lawyers. The shift has already begun and tomorrow looks bright!
What does success represent to you?
This is a question I have often asked myself as it is for me at least, something that has been in constant evolution during my life/career. At this point in my life, success means stability and peace at all levels. At home with my husband and daughters, and also with my friends and family. At work this would mean more new challenges but ones embraced with knowledge and maturity using the wisdom of lessons learned throughout the years and also to focus on the next generation of lawyers and helping them as much as I possibly can.
Mireille sits on BCF’s Board of Directors and co-chairs the Foreign Investment and International Growth group. Her expertise is recognized in numerous prestigious national and international legal publications, such as the Best Lawyers in Canada, Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory, Lawyers World Wide magazine, Who’s Who Legal, Who’s Who International, Lawyer 100 Canada and the Expert Guides.
For more information on BCF visit bcf.com