Melissa Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year USA Hornik 8
Carmen Tax Law Firm & Civil Law Lawyer of the Year Switzerland 16 Kiavila
Women Law AWARDS 2 0 2 3 Welcome to the 2023 Women in Law Awards, presented by Lawyer Monthly. As we turn the pages of this year’s publication, we celebrate the exceptional achievements and dedication of female legal professionals who have not only excelled in their respective fields but also paved the way for the next generation of women in law. Gracing our main cover is Melissa Hornik of Kurgis & Associates from the USA, whose remarkable legal acumen and client advocacy have set the bar for excellence in the legal community. Alongside her, our cover listing highlights Jennifer Donovan of the J. Donovan Law Group, also from the USA, a testament to her unwavering commitment to justice and her significant contributions to the legal field. This year’s roll call of honour includes an impressive array of talent, starting with Carmen Kiavila of Kiavila Avocats, who brings a touch of Swiss legal prowess to our lineup. From Canada, Jessica Kearsey represents Deloitte Legal, showcasing the dynamic intersection of legal expertise and business acumen. In the USA, Kristy Serviss from KPMG exemplifies the impact of strong dispute guidance in the corporate world, while Sylvia Grace Acosta from Trujillo Acosta stands out for her innovative approach to legal strategy and client representation. Crossing the Atlantic to the UK, Aleksandra Kowalik of Kowalik Adwokacka Law Firm demonstrates the global reach and influence of women in law, bringing her exceptional knowledge and dedication to our distinguished list of honourees. These women, among others featured in our awards, embody the spirit of innovation, leadership, and excellence that the Women in Law Awards aim to recognize. Each has made a significant impact not only in their areas of practice but in the communities they serve, inspiring future generations of young women to pursue the path of law with passion and purpose. Join us in honouring their achievements and in celebrating the strides being made for women in the legal profession. Let’s delve into their stories, their challenges, their victories, and the lessons they impart to all aspiring legal minds.
Featured Winners Melissa Hornik Kurgis & Associates Jessica Kearsey Deloitte Legal Carmen Kiavila KIAVILA AVOCATS Sylvia Grace Acosta TRUJILLO|ACOSTA Jennifer L. Donovan J. Donovan Law Group Aleksandra Kowalik Kowalik Law Firm Christine Dunn Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP Nicole Sodano, Esq. Sodano Law 8 16 22 30 28 34 36 38
9 www.lawyer-monthly.com Melissa, first of all, congratulations on winning the Lawyer Monthly Women in Law award. Can you briefly describe your initial journey into the field of law? Thank you, I am honored to receive this recognition. The journey that led me to the world of law was a mix of personal experiences and a strong drive to stand up for what’s right. Back in law school, I got really interested in labor and employment law because of a personal event that hit close to home – the passing of my father due to a workplace injury during my last year in school. It made me realize just how much the law affects people’s lives, and I wanted to make a positive impact. When I started working in the field, I found myself drawn to worker’s compensation cases. The fast pace and higher volume suited me perfectly. I have a thing for meeting new people and being there for them, especially when they feel like no one else is listening. One time, at a firm I was working for, I came across a bunch of cases that were kind of left in the corner, gathering dust. Some had probate issues or we just couldn’t find the clients. So, I struck a deal to take on these cases and give them the attention they deserved. I rolled up my sleeves and went above and beyond to get these cases back on track. It was pretty wild – I’d even visit clients in prison, if that’s where they were, just to make sure their voices were heard. And for the clients we couldn’t find, I’d dig up old connections, like neighbors and family, to track them down. Some cases turned out to be inactive because, sadly, the clients had passed away. But that didn’t stop me. I was determined to bring closure to their stories. Melissa Hornik 100 S 4th Street, Suite 340, Columbus, OH 43215 Tel: 614-464-1610 | Mob: 614/325-5945 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.kevinkurgis.com @shesthepeopleslawyer @shesthepeopleslaw @ShesThePeoplesLawyer @KurgisLaw Managing Partner Kurgis & Associates USA Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year In today’s conversation, we sit down with Melissa Hornik, an attorney whose genuine commitment to her clients and the legal profession shines through in her work. With years of experience under her belt, Melissa offers a grounded perspective on the realities of practicing law. As we chat, we’ll get a closer look into her day-to-day, the challenges she faces, and the simple joys that keep her motivated in her field.
10 www.lawyer-monthly.com Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year There was this amazing resource that came to my rescue – the “duty desk” at the probate court. This was a gamechanger. I’d show up every week with a handful of cases, and the magistrates there would guide me on how to navigate the probate issues. It was this support that gave me the push to go solo and start my own practice. The whole experience empowered me to take a leap and set up my own gig. It wasn’t just about the legal side of things; it was about connecting with people on a personal level and showing them that their stories mattered. And that’s how I got to where I am today – recognized by the Lawyer Monthly Women in Law award. This award isn’t just a personal achievement; it’s a symbol of the impact we can make when we approach law with empathy and determination. Looking back, I’m grateful for the twists and turns that led me here. My journey is a blend of passion, the desire to help, and a bit of fate. Each case I’ve taken on has been a chance to make a difference, to bring justice where it’s needed most. This award is more than an honor; it’s a reminder that every step I’ve taken was worth it. And if my story can inspire others to stand up for what they believe in and use the law to create positive change, then I consider that a wonderful bonus. What or who inspired you to pursue a career in law, and were there any female role models in particular who influenced your decision? After finishing my undergrad, I was honestly at a bit of a crossroads. I was juggling jobs as a server and a nanny, just trying to make ends meet while navigating my uncertain future. Those gigs helped pay the bills, but they weren’t exactly lighting a fire in me. What really got me going were those college classes where we’d sit down and talk openly about ideas. You know, the ones that felt more like conversations than lectures. The technical stuff and science labs weren’t really my jam. I wanted something that let me engage, discuss, and explore, and that’s where law school came into the picture. I guess you could say my path to law was less of a straight line and more of a collection of dots that connected over time. The idea that law could be this platform for meaningful conversations and advocating for what’s right just made sense to me. It was like finding that missing puzzle piece that suddenly made the whole picture make sense. Oh, let me tell you – women inspire me in so many ways, it’s almost hard to put into words. It’s like a daily dose of empowerment that keeps me going. I’m a bit of a documentary and biography buff, when you dive into the lives of successful women, it’s like stepping into a world of awe and wonder. What I’ve noticed is that these women, they share this common thread of determination. They aren’t afraid of failing because they know it’s just another step towards success. And what’s even more incredible is that they don’t waste time on excuses. They face challenges head-on, roll up their sleeves, and get things done. That’s the kind of spirit I want to embody every single day. It’s not about being perfect or having all the answers – it’s about pushing forward, learning from mistakes, and standing up for what you believe in. The strength and grace that women bring to the table is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m just grateful to be part of that tribe. So, whether it’s the daily grind or those big decisions, I look to these women who’ve blazed trails and left their mark. They remind me that anything is possible when you’re driven, fearless, and committed to making a difference. And that’s exactly the kind of person I strive to be, both in and out of the legal world. “It’s not about being perfect or having all the answers – it’s about pushing forward, learning from mistakes, and standing up for what you believe in.”
11 www.lawyer-monthly.com USA Given your expertise in probate matters, was there a specific incident or motivation that drew you to specialize in this area? My journey in the legal world has been this beautifully organic process, a chain reaction of relationships and experiences that have seamlessly led me from one chapter to the next. It’s like connecting dots on a canvas, each one giving life and direction to the next. You see, I started by diving headfirst into what intrigued me most, and with each step, I discovered what truly resonated with me within the realm of worker’s compensation. As I delved into the intricacies of worker’s compensation, I found myself gravitating towards certain aspects while realizing that some parts just didn’t quite align with my passion. It’s funny how sometimes what we don’t enjoy can be just as informative as what we do. This realization led me to take on those challenging files – the ones that seemed like puzzles waiting to be solved. I took it upon myself to untangle the complexities and find resolutions. And in those moments of deciphering, I found a unique satisfaction that only comes when you’re diving deep into the heart of an issue. One thing led to another, and that journey propelled me to send out those letters to fellow attorneys in my vicinity and beyond. It was a leap of faith, a way to offer my expertise in client location and probate services. And you know what? It worked. Those letters opened doors, and the work started flowing in. It was like a ripple effect, where the value I brought to the table caught the attention of my peers, and they saw me as an asset, someone they could rely on. The beauty of these relationships is that they’re a two-way street. The attorneys I worked with began to share my name with others who were dealing with similar piles of challenging cases. It was like the legal community was passing around this beacon of support, connecting dots just as I had been doing all along. Before I knew it, I had more clients than I could count, and my journey took yet another turn. In those initial years, my car became something of a second office. I’d spend hours on the road, but it wasn’t wasted time. It was my opportunity to reach out and personally connect with each client. A phone call isn’t just a formality – it’s a chance to understand their needs, their concerns, and their stories. And as my workload grew, I realized I couldn’t do it all alone.
12 www.lawyer-monthly.com Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year That’s when I made the leap and brought in help. It was a pivotal moment, one where I had to ensure that the level of service I had been giving as a one-woman show didn’t diminish. Each client deserved the same accessibility and attention they had always received. It was a challenge, a juggling act, but it was a commitment I was willing to make. In essence, my journey has been this intricate dance of stepping into what I love, navigating challenges, and building connections that foster growth. It’s about seeing the potential in every interaction, every file, and every relationship. And as I reflect on the road I’ve traveled, I can’t help but be grateful for the twists, turns, and connections that have made it all possible. Each chapter is a testament to the power of organic progression, embracing the unknown with open arms, and crafting a meaningful career out of what started as just a spark of curiosity. Throughout your career, what have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the legal field, and how have you overcome them? You know, if I’m being honest, there’s been this constant feeling of playing catch-up, like I’m always a step behind where I think I should be. But here’s the thing – now that I’m in my mid-forties, I’ve come to realize that life has its own timeline. It’s like I needed all those years for everything to click into place, for the dots to connect in just the right way. It’s funny how time can be this patient teacher. The more I’ve immersed myself in my practice and poured my heart into it, the more I’ve seen it grow. It’s almost like this reassuring rhythm, a reminder that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. With every challenge and every victory, I’ve been inching closer to finding my stride. I used to think I was racing against some invisible clock, trying to keep up with where I thought I should be. But that mindset only brought unnecessary stress. Now, I’ve come to understand that growth and success aren’t dictated by a certain age or a set timetable. They’re born out of dedication, passion, and the willingness to put in the effort day after day. So, yeah, my main challenge has been this sense of being “behind.” But you know what? It’s not about being behind; it’s about being exactly where I need to be. And as long as I keep pouring my energy into my practice, keep learning, and keep evolving, I have this deep conviction that everything will continue falling into place. It’s a journey that’s uniquely mine, and age is just a number in this grand symphony of growth. Can you recall a particular experience where your perspective as a woman provided a unique or advantageous approach to a case or situation? Oh, you know, my practice has had this unique flavor to it, particularly over the past couple of years. I’ve spent a good chunk of my journey tackling probate matters, mostly tied to personal injury cases that other attorneys bring to the table. It’s this intricate dance of unraveling legal threads and finding resolutions, all while trying to guide my clients through a process they didn’t expect. A lot of my clients come from fellow attorneys, and interestingly enough, most of them have been men. It’s like this blend of experiences where I’m working in a field that often deals with men while bringing my own perspective to the table. When you break it down, it’s not just about solving legal puzzles; it’s about navigating emotions and providing reassurance when things aren’t going as planned. Picture this – you’re sitting across from a client, and you’ve got to break the news that there’s another hurdle to cross, something called probate. It’s not exactly music to their ears, and it’s completely understandable. These folks have been through the wringer with their cases, and the last thing they want is another complication. But here’s where that compassion and care come in. I’ve been told that the way I handle these conversations is a bit different. “It took me a while to realize that not everyone’s going to have my exact work ethic, and that’s okay.”
13 www.lawyer-monthly.com USA Even though my clients might have been dealing with attorneys for months or even years, they find my communication style refreshingly approachable. It’s like opening a door to a conversation where they feel heard, understood, and not just like another case number. And you know what? I truly believe that this approach is instinctively female. There’s something about the way women naturally nurture connections and show empathy that can be a game-changer, especially in the legal world. It’s not about one-upping anyone or proving a point. It’s about creating an environment where clients feel comfortable sharing their concerns, even when those concerns are tied to complex legal matters. My practice isn’t just about resolving probate matters or juggling cases. It’s about making a difference in the lives of these clients who are navigating unfamiliar terrain. And if my natural inclination towards compassion and care, something that feels innately female, can be a guiding light in their journey, then that’s a win in my book. It’s about bringing a different flavor to the legal table, one that’s grounded in understanding, patience, and the desire to make a challenging process just a little bit easier. Managing your own firm for over 17 years is no small feat. What inspired you to take that entrepreneurial leap, and what advice do you have for other women aspiring to start their own firms? You know, my inspiration kind of snuck up on me. I looked around at the legal landscape and thought, “Hey, I could do this in a way that’s even better.” It’s this ongoing journey of learning and adapting, a reminder that what works today might not cut it tomorrow. So, staying open, staying curious, and being ready to roll with change – that’s been my mantra. I’ve got this hunger for knowledge that keeps me going. Seminars, podcasts, books – you name it, I’m in. Because here’s the thing: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to running a successful practice. It’s a canvas waiting to be painted with your unique touch. And if I could offer advice to other women thinking of starting their own firms, I’d say stay true to yourself. Your firm should mirror your vision, and your vibe. If sneakers feel more “you” than suits, go for it. If you want an all-female team, make it happen. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating a space that resonates with you. Now, managing people – that’s a whole different ballgame. I started small, and looking back, that was the best thing I could’ve done. It gave me the space to develop my own practices and procedures. You know, those little life hacks that help you tackle the day with more efficiency. There’s this one trick I use – I tackle the thing I dread the most as the first task of the day. It’s like getting the hard stuff out of the way and starting the day with a clean slate. But managing a team that’s been a journey in itself. When I first had assistants, I expected them to dive in with the same fervor I have. I thought they’d take the reins and run. But reality hit – their work styles were different. It took me a while to realize that not everyone’s going to have my exact work ethic, and that’s okay. As an employer, my focus shifted. It became about finding people who aligned with my core values when it came to clients and the firm. Then came the real magic – identifying each employee’s talents and skills. It’s like uncovering hidden gems. Once you know what they’re great at, you can create an environment that lets them shine. It’s a two-way street – they bring their strengths to the table, and in return, I get to see my team thrive. So, there you have it, the nitty-gritty of my journey. It’s about embracing change, creating a practice that’s an extension of yourself, and learning to lead in a way that lets your team flourish. It’s not always smooth sailing, but that’s what makes it an adventure worth taking. “This award is more than an honor; it’s a reminder that every step I’ve taken was worth it.”
14 www.lawyer-monthly.com Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year How did your experiences running your own firm prepare you for your role as the managing partner at Kurgis & Associates? You know, law school taught me a lot, but one of the most important lessons it handed me was the reminder to always stay true to who I am. Even as I’ve transitioned into a partnership, my firm is an extension of me. My values, my work ethic – they’re the beating heart of what we do. It’s like a constant thread that runs through every interaction, every case we handle. It’s been quite the journey – moving from servicing a few hundred clients a year to handling three to four times that. But here’s the magic – despite the growth, despite the scale, my clients still get the same level of care. It’s like I’ve managed to hold on to that personal touch even as the numbers expand. They’ve got my cell phone number, just like before. And they still get to meet and speak with me on a regular basis. It’s not about losing that connection as things get bigger; it’s about finding ways to maintain it. The core of my practice is rooted in that genuine connection, and no matter how much we grow, it’s something I’m not willing to compromise on. So, as I navigate this partnership and continue to build my practice, I carry with me the reminder to be true to myself. It’s what sets us apart, what keeps our clients coming back, and what makes this journey more than just a legal endeavor – it’s a personal commitment to each and every person we serve. How have you seen the role and influence of women in law evolve since you began your career in 2007? Looking back to when I began my career in 2007, I must admit that I haven’t witnessed significant shifts in the role and influence of women in the field of law. While my personal experiences might not fully encapsulate the broader landscape, it seems that the progress has been somewhat limited in this regard. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that the coming years will bring about more transformative changes, enabling women to play increasingly dynamic and impactful roles within the legal profession.
15 www.lawyer-monthly.com USA As a recognized leader in your field, what advice would you give to young women just starting out in law, especially those interested in probate and personal injury matters? If there’s one piece of advice I could give aspiring lawyers, it’s this: • Don’t hesitate to take the plunge and start your own firm. One of the incredible things about being an attorney is that you have the power to open your own practice in a matter of minutes. It’s a liberating feeling to chart your course, define your practice, and create a space that’s uniquely yours. • Building a robust professional network can be a gamechanger. Even if you lean towards the introverted side, there are ample opportunities to get involved – from committees to boards. And here’s the good news: many of these interactions are happening online nowadays. So, you can be a part of impactful conversations and connections without stepping out of your comfort zone. • Seeking out a mentor can be a turning point in your journey. For me, it was the “duty desk” that became my guide. Their insights and advice proved invaluable in shaping my practice. Now, it’s true that finding a mentor might not always be a straightforward path. Rejections can sting, but they don’t define your journey. • One of the most empowering things we can do is support and uplift our fellow women in law. We face unique challenges that only we truly understand. Empowering each other is like creating a safety net that helps us navigate the ups and downs. When one of us rises, we all do, and that sense of camaraderie can be a force to be reckoned with. • Take the time to discover who you are at your core. If you’re unsure, try out those popular personality tests online – they’re surprisingly insightful. The more self-aware you become, the better equipped you’ll be to handle challenges. It’s like having this internal compass that guides you through the uncertainties. • Handling criticism constructively is a superpower. Feedback, even when it stings, is like a blueprint for growth. It’s an opportunity to refine your skills and evolve. So, when you receive feedback, embrace it as a chance to level up and become an even better version of yourself. In this ever-evolving journey, these pieces of advice have proven to be my guiding lights. They’ve shaped my path, empowered me, and helped me weather the storms. Remember, the legal world is waiting for you to make your mark. So, step forward with confidence, connect with others, embrace challenges, and never underestimate the power of your voice. Looking back, what do you hope your legacy will be in the world of law, especially as a woman who has broken barriers and achieved significant milestones? Reflecting on my journey, particularly as a woman who has broken barriers and reached significant milestones in the legal field, I aspire for my legacy to be a testament to possibility, resilience, and the power of authenticity. In a profession where women’s voices have sometimes been muted, I hope my story serves as a reminder that breaking barriers isn’t just about shattering glass ceilings; it’s about creating new paths for those who come after. I want my legacy to embody the idea that success isn’t confined by preconceived notions or societal expectations. It’s about embracing your unique strengths, harnessing your passions, and daring to venture into uncharted territories. If I could distill my legacy into a few words, it would be about empowerment. I want to be remembered as someone who encouraged others, especially women, to embrace their voices and perspectives. By standing up for justice, empathizing with clients, and crafting a practice rooted in compassion, I hope to have inspired a shift in the way legal professionals approach their work. I believe that success in law should be defined not only by legal acumen, but also by the ability to connect, understand, and uplift those we serve. As I’ve reached milestones and surpassed barriers, I want my legacy to underscore the importance of authenticity. Your journey in law, or any field, should reflect who you are at your core. I hope that my path serves as a reminder that success comes not from emulating others, but from embracing your individuality. Whether it’s through nurturing relationships, navigating challenges, or simply being unapologetically yourself, authenticity is what will set you apart and leave a lasting impact. Ultimately, my hope is that my legacy in the world of law becomes a beacon of inspiration for women who stand at the crossroads of doubt and determination. I want them to know that with passion, perseverance, and a commitment to staying true to themselves, they can pave their own way. My journey has been about more than just personal achievements; it’s been about opening doors, leaving footprints, and creating a space where other women can find their own paths illuminated by the light of possibility.
17 www.lawyer-monthly.com Carmen, you founded Kiavila Avocats in 2020 as a multidisciplinary law firm. Can you please provide an overview of your firm’s legal services and the sectors it specialises in? I started working as a freelance legal adviser in Geneva in 2019 and began building my client base in 2019. A combination of fortunate circumstances led me to open my law firm in 2020, sooner than expected. In 2019, I was only working with companies and in 2020, I added individual clients. Our practice consists mainly of tax law for individuals, companies, and business law in a Franco-Swiss context. In fact, although our offices are in Bern, we work throughout Switzerland, France and the African continent, especially in the Ivory Coast and Senegal. Intellectual property is becoming a cornerstone for many businesses. How does corporate law intersect with IP rights, and what should companies know and do to protect their assets? It is crucial to systematically question the resilience of what a company wants to protect - some elements are not protectable, or others can be protected in a roundabout way, like a recipe with patents - this is how we approach cases - in a systematic and in-depth way. Carmen Kiavila Kramgasse 57, 3011 Bern Email: email@example.com www.kiavila-avocats.com Equity Partner Kiavila Avocats Switzerland Tax Law Firm & Civil Law Lawyer of the Year In today’s legal landscape, the need for multidisciplinary expertise and cross-border capabilities has never been more crucial. Carmen Kiavila, founder of Kiavila Avocats, embodies these necessities with her distinct blend of legal, financial, and consultative skills. Established in 2020, Kiavila Avocats specializes in tax law and business law within a Franco-Swiss context, serving both individual and corporate clients across Switzerland, France, and the African continent. With an educational background that transcends the traditional boundaries of law, and professional experience that includes auditing and financial consultancy, Carmen brings a holistic approach to legal services. Her journey is a testament to the evolving role of lawyers as strategic advisors in today’s interconnected and complex world. Join us as we explore Carmen’s unique career path, the challenges and triumphs she’s encountered, and her forward-looking plans for Kiavila Avocats.
18 www.lawyer-monthly.com involve clients expressing their vulnerabilities, and in some cases, this can be very personal. In this sense, our professional ethics mean that we are not just like other service providers; we take an oath and are governed by bar associations. I would like to share the case of the acquisition of a Swiss family business. I was on the buying side. The emotional aspect of this kind of business transaction is never sufficiently appreciated. In this case, the selling company, which had been prospering for decades, wanted to hand over the business, but right up until the closing, we were not sure whether the deal would go through. I was unaware of this emotional aspect of the seller, and I did not realise how important the emotional side of the transaction could be on the seller’s side. An aspect that could have led to the transaction not going through. Since then, I have ensured that both parties communicate as much as possible beforehand. How does Kiavila Avocats stay at the forefront of adapting to changes in legal regulations in Switzerland? Through continuing education we are both consumers of continuing education and providers of it. We want to go even further by providing more on-site legal training in Bern and e-learning. We already train our clients on-demand, but we want to take it to the next level. As a female legal professional, could you share some of the obstacles you’ve encountered and describe how you’ve successfully manoeuvre through them? I will not share one obstacle because there are too many, especially when I was starting out. I have had a couple of unsympathetic comments from people who did not believe in me. This lack of belief stemmed from their own anxieties, which are not mine, and I consciously decided to rise above this type of behaviour. I just decided at some point not to be afraid of displeasing people and to assert myself. The first few years of a business are always a little fragile, which is why such questions are so important. What unique or distinctive approach does Kiavila Avocats bring to its clients and their legal needs? My career path is unusual for a lawyer. I completed a full course in law, with a few optional courses in management, economics and accounting when I was at university, before going on to do a Master of Science in financial economics at one of the world’s top business schools in the world, HEC Paris. I started out in Switzerland as an auditor in a Big Four company and then as a consultant in the financial services sector. It’s clear that these experiences completely changed my vision of law. Therefore, we use audit tools, particularly in the context of due diligence and consultancy tools, in our work. Is there a challenging case or client situation that resulted in a significant learning experience or triumph for you and your team? All the cases we encounter are challenging because they Tax Law Firm & Civil Law Lawyer of the Year “The first few years of a business are always a little fragile, which is why such questions are so important.”
19 www.lawyer-monthly.com Switzerland What are individuals’ or businesses’ most frequent misconceptions about Swiss tax law? We work on tax cross-border issues between Switzerland and France. When setting up projects, clients often think that it’s possible to copy a French model onto the Swiss model, mainly because both countries share the French language. Still, the two countries are very different, and it’s sometimes necessary to point this out. I’ve been a panellist for over three years now on an event called “Welcome to Switzerland” in partnership with the French-Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Zurich, and newcomers are often surprised or even overwhelmed by the three-layer Swiss tax system - municipal, cantonal and federal or by the fact that there is wealth tax in Switzerland. How do international tax treaties influence domestic tax law, if at all? International tax treaties influence law in many aspects, such as inheritance law, labour law, real estate law, and family law, but I’m going to focus here on the issue of real estate because I will be giving a conference in a few days on the taxation of Franco-Swiss real estate in Zurich. Indeed, many Swiss taxpayers who have decided to buy a second home in France hold shares in a real estate company. Until a recent ruling by the Swiss Federal Court, it was unclear whether these shares should be treated in Switzerland as real estate or as securities. Could you share some of your future goals or plans for Kiavila Avocats to expand your firm’s impact and reach? We would like to expand more in several countries abroad, including those in the African continent. I have just been recruited as an arbitrator by the CIAM arbitration centre in Lome Togo, specialising in maritime and financial law, which I am super excited about. I would like to have more people in my firm, too and not only lawyers. How do you envision the future of women in the legal field, and what role do you hope to play in shaping this future? A promising future. I see some female colleagues in the media, on social networks, especially on Instagram, doing very interesting things. We also have a presence there, but to a lesser extent, and we intend to develop this further. We are thinking big, and we intend to keep growing and moving towards greater and greater complexity. I would like to be a leading expert in my field. “All the cases we encounter are challenging because they involve clients expressing their vulnerabilities, and in some cases, this can be very personal.” “We are thinking big, and we intend to keep growing and moving towards greater and greater complexity.”
20 www.lawyer-monthly.com The planned rate is 15%, but the effective rate of corporation tax in Switzerland is, most of the time, less than 15%. This principle of taxation was the subject of a popular vote on 18 June 2023, and Swiss citizens approved the implementation of this taxation. I believe that this taxation will have an impact on companies of a certain size, and we wonder what will happen to competition in terms of tax rates between the different Swiss cantons. Finally, how do you approach advising clients who have operations in multiple jurisdictions, given the varying tax laws? Happily, because I’m always attracted by complexity, here, the complexity is compounded by the fact that I work in a country where the tax system is not the same from one canton to another, nor are the languages. Fortunately, federal law unifies many points, but for certain taxes, the cantons remain totally free to set their own rates. On 13 December 2022, the Federal Court clarified the issue of taxation of shares in a French real estate company held by Swiss taxpayers. The Federal Court examined Swiss domestic law and found that shares in a real estate company are securities taxable at the shareholder’s place of residence. This case has consequences in terms of the attractiveness of the real estate company, which became a tool for organising assets, but above all, in terms of the taxation of wealth in Switzerland. Are there any recent amendments or changes in tax law that you believe will significantly impact individuals or businesses? Some of my clients are already beginning to wonder about the consequences of global taxation. In this context, the OECD countries have reached a consensus on the possibility of taxing companies at a minimum rate worldwide. Tax Law Firm & Civil Law Lawyer of the Year “I’m always attracted by complexity, here, the complexity is compounded by the fact that I work in a country where the tax system is not the same from one canton to another, nor are the languages.” Carmen Kiavila Equity Partner, Kiavila Avocats Kramgasse 57, 3011 Bern Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.kiavila-avocats.com
21 www.lawyer-monthly.com Switzerland
In the landscape of the Canadian legal profession, as in other jurisdictions, it’s no secret that women may face certain unique challenges. Could you share some of your experiences related to these challenges and how you have navigated them throughout your career? One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a woman in the legal profession is juggling motherhood while running my firm and practicing every day. I have three young sons, 5, 3 and 2 years old. I have three office locations in NB and 22 staff members. I have hundreds of active files. I also volunteer and give back to my communities on a regular basis. When pregnant and facing the birth of each of my sons, there was pressure from clients, the Court, colleagues and my own team to still be available and excellent at delivering services. The demands on lawyers who are mothers are very high and unforgiving at times. I have sacrificed maternity leaves to be able to still run my firm and service my hundreds of clients. I adapted by taking my young babies with me to the office and establishing a home office where staff could come to me. I delegated court hearings and meetings to my team where I could and maintained the mindset at all times that I would triumph no matter what. I leaned on mentors who had children and still experienced great success as lawyers. Hearing about their experiences gave me comfort and confidence. My children see me work hard every day and my oldest understands what I do. They see me love my job! Jennifer L. Donovan 23 Avonlea Court, Professional Building, Fredericton, NB E3C 1N8 Office: (506) 406-8080 | Fax: (506) 406-6300 | Email: email@example.com www.jdonovanlaw.ca Founder and Partner J. Donovan Law Group In this interview, we speak with Jennifer L. Donovan of J. Donovan Law Group, who has seamlessly navigated the challenges of motherhood, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. With three young sons, multiple offices, and hundreds of active files, she proves that determination and adaptability can coexist with a full personal life. Starting her own law firm catalyzed not only her career but also unearthed a creative streak that has made her a force in and out of the courtroom. As a partner, mentor, and advocate for women in law, she shares her insights on everything from the complexities of family law to the evolution of her mediation practice. Her story is testament to what can be achieved when talent and determination meet. Family Law Litigation Lawyer of the Year 22 www.lawyer-monthly.com
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24 www.lawyer-monthly.com Becoming a partner at the age of 27 is an impressive achievement. Could you talk about the challenges and successes you encountered on this path? How did being a woman in the field impact this journey? Becoming a partner at the age of 27 was both terrifying and thrilling. I was so scared at first and yet I was so proud and excited to be the best partner and lawyer I could be. I was very eager to learn and excel. Right before my promotion, I had been given a 35 year law practice from a well-respected female lawyer who had been appointed to the bench. She now sits on the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick. A U-Haul filled with bankers boxes arrived and my office and the surrounding space were quickly consumed with new client files. I suddenly had a very busy calendar and many court hearings to prepare for while meeting my new clients and getting to know them. I basically lived at the office. I had no children then and my top responsibility was to familiarize myself with my suddenly very large and busy practice. I had only been a lawyer for 2 years at the time. I was so inexperienced but very confident that I would succeed. The first 6 months were tough. I had hundreds of new files to read and court documents to prepare. Court dates for most of the new files had already been set by the time I assumed the files leaving me with little time to spare. I did not ask for one adjournment. I met all the deadlines and did all work needing to be done. I did my best for each new client and had some really great days and some not so good ones. That was 16 years ago! The huge success I enjoy today started back then. That female lawyer who gave me her practice did so because I had worked for her during a summer while in law school and she wanted to help a fellow woman lawyer. I will never forget what she did for me and my career. Because of her and what she did for me, I am an advocate for helping other women lawyers excel in this profession; to reach their greatest goals and aspirations. I still often think about that early morning in April of 2007 when that lawyer called me and told me she was appointed to the bench and wanted to give me her practice. Me! A young woman from Miramichi, New Brunswick, who had only been in Fredericton for law school and knew very few heaving hitters in the city. Now, I am one of those heavy hitters and my name is well known for being an excellent lawyer. You’ve been recognized nationally as a trailblazer in your field. Can you share your feelings about this honor and your other honors and the impact you aim to have on aspiring female attorneys? Being recognized nationally as a trailblazer in my field is such an honor. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was in grade 7. At that time, I wanted to become a crown prosecutor and help fight crime. Then I discovered the show Matlock and quickly realized I wanted to be a lawyer who people could hire to help them with all kinds of legal problems. I am living that dream today. There are many days when I don’t feel like a trailblazer but more of a person who loves what she does so much that it isn’t work. I recognize as being a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and boss. Then, there are many days where I long to use this platform to do more, become more, achieve more; days where I am so hungry for bigger things that I worry about finding the time to do it all. Becoming a mother truly opened my eyes and soul to focusing on what makes me happy and how I could be a great role model for my sons. Time suddenly became so much more precious when I had children to raise. I find great joy in helping other women lawyers see a bigger picture, a picture where they can achieve whatever they want to. “One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a woman in the legal profession is juggling motherhood while running my firm and practicing every day.” Family Law Litigation Lawyer of the Year
25 www.lawyer-monthly.com Seeing no limits is the ultimate evolution for women in this profession. I am honored to be their compass, showing them through my life, that the only limits are the ones we place on ourselves. Whenever another lawyer shares how I have inspired her or made her feel empowered to do great things, I am truly satisfied; it is during those times when I feel fully accomplished. I am paying it forward. When that lawyer gave me her 35 year practice, I told her that I would not let her down and I hope that if she is following my career, she would readily agree that I have not let her down but have made her very proud of her decision to give ME a chance at success. It is a tall responsibility to be seen as a trailblazer; a responsibility that I had only once upon a time been able to dream of when I was in grade 7. You’ve been practicing family law litigation for 15 years now. How have you seen the landscape change for women in this specific area of law during this period? Over the last 18 years of my practice in family law litigation, I have seen more women lawyers enter the “ring” and promote themselves as “family law lawyers”. When I started practicing, there were about 5 strong female family law litigators in Fredericton; a handful of women I would typically have on the other side of a file or be up against in the courtroom. I admired them all and credit each of them for mentoring me into the litigator I am today. The last almost two decades have seen that number increase to about 20 strong female litigators – 4 of whom are my associates, trained by me. I have had the pleasure of watching each of them grow into strong family law litigators. I have also witnessed many female litigators take their skills into the boardroom and mediate family law disputes. I too have been trained as a mediator and have increased my mediation business by close to 50% since starting to mediate in 2019. I have also trained staff to be mediators as well. In 2019, you took the decision to start your own boutique law firm, J. Donovan Law Group. How has this journey been for you, especially as a female law firm owner? What inspired you to expand into criminal law defense? Deciding to start J. Donovan Law Group was a game changer for my career and personal and professional fulfillment. I had always loved my job and received great satisfaction from being a lawyer. I enjoyed practicing with my old colleagues and have memories with my old firm that I will cherish forever. I had known for a while that I wanted to have my own firm but was never motivated to take the leap until my first child was born. I had no idea what starting J. Donovan Law Group would spark inside me. I never saw myself as an entrepreneur and there are still days where I don’t see myself like that. I never fully appreciated how creative I am. Finding myself solely responsible for marketing and promoting my new firm unleashed a part of me, the very creative side, that I did not know existed. Now I receive so much joy from creating ads, coming up with marketing strategies, designing swag and working with designers to keep my brand prominent and well known. The last 4.5 years since opening J. Donovan Law Group has been simply amazing. I have achieved remarkable goals quicker than anticipated, discovered new personal talents, reached incredible heights with social media and our EPIC giveaway contests, been featured in a number of business and professional magazines, made strong professional connections throughout Canada and expanded my business interests to officiating weddings and event planning. All of this was possible by starting J. Donovan Law Group. One “Whenever another lawyer shares how I have inspired her or made her feel empowered to do great things, I am truly satisfied; it is during those times when I feel fully accomplished.” Canada
26 www.lawyer-monthly.com very important part of this journey has been the hiring of associates and other key team members who have been fundamental in helping me achieve big goals. We are truly a team. I expanded into criminal law defense because my senior associate had a desire to practice that area of law. I knew I could bring in the business but I didn’t want to practice it. She did. So together, we brought in the business and she serviced those clients. Today, she is still with me and her criminal defense practice is growing at a very steady pace and we have another associate who shares the same love for criminal defense and she too is building her practice under J. Donovan Law Group. Women lawyers helping women lawyers! My success is their success and their success is my success. Having recently expanded your legal toolkit to include mediation, how do you think your perspective as a woman in law enriches this practice and adds value to your clients’ experience and outcomes? My mediation practice has grown so much in the last 4.5 years. I attribute being a parent to the success of my growing mediation practice. Being a parent enriches my mediation practice by making me more patient and understanding, informed and experienced. It helps me to help my clients remain focused on their children if they have any. Letting my clients know that I too am a parent with young children makes me more relatable. Being relatable to the people I serve has been a critical contributor to my success. I am more than a lawyer/mediator; I am a parent who lives in the everyday of parenting challenges and triumphs. I know the stress of working parents. I have a firm handle on the expenses of raising children. Being a mediator who has children allows me to keep it real with my clients. Having children makes it very easy for me to keep the needs of the family first and foremost in the discussions we have around the mediation table. Success in any business requires clients to trust you but success in mediation requires clients to not only trust you but to know that you “get” them; that you understand their family dynamics because you have one too! And that when I am guiding them to resolving their own dispute, that I appreciate the ever-increasing demands of raising a family in today’s world. In addition to your legal practice, you have made significant contributions to local businesses, charities, and mentoring women. Could you share some insights on why giving back to the community is important to you and, in particular, how you help other professional women? Giving back to the community is something that I truly love to do and find immense joy in doing. The feeling that I am making a difference makes me so satisfied. We have so many people in need and being able to help some of them, even if only in small ways, is how I try to show my gratitude to those who have contributed to my mega success. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world forever. To experience so much loss around me while my business flourished, inspired me to try to give people hope again; to spread positivity and kindness; to share my blessings. I have been approached by strangers at Costco and at local events, who have thanked Family Law Litigation Lawyer of the Year “Deciding to start J. Donovan Law Group was a game changer for my career and personal and professional fulfillment. I had always loved my job and received great satisfaction from being a lawyer.”
27 www.lawyer-monthly.com me for “everything” I do for other people. Strangers have told me that I give them hope and inspire them to want to help others. When I share this with others, it makes me emotional because my efforts come from the purest parts of my soul and are shared with the greatest sincerity for doing good. I still often see myself as a girl from Miramichi who grew up in a working class family. I am the oldest of my three siblings. My dad was the only one who worked the majority of my childhood and supported our family of six on one income. My family lived very modestly and couldn’t afford many things. I didn’t fly on a plane until I was in third year of law school. I had never left Canada until then. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 27 years old. We had one tv in our home. I took VIA Rail from home to university in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a 6 hour commute, for school holidays as my family only had one vehicle and my dad had to work. My entire post-secondary education was funded by government student loans. My parents are hard working and honest people who are well respected in the community for being “good people”. They taught me the responsibility of being good to others; of being a good person! Giving back to the community comes naturally to me. I believe I help other professional women by leading by example; by doing rather than telling. I show them that it can be done. In my world, practicing law is not an old boys’ club. I am surrounded by successful women lawyers, some of whom are mothers too. I emphasize the importance of mentorship and offer that to both my team members and to those who work at other law firms. I still have mentors. I also counsel professional women from other fields who want to discuss success in business generally and marketing one’s brand. Social media is a powerful tool that enables me to reach many people and spread awareness of what I do and who I am. It allows me to showcase my relatability and for people to reach me. I can show both sides of my world – the personal and professional. It also enables me to learn from other professionals. I am still learning and will always be willing to learn more. I have been told that I “humanize” being a lawyer through my social media. I’ll take that as a big compliment! Being a mother while managing a growing legal practice must be demanding. How do you balance your personal and professional responsibilities? Do you have any advice for other women trying to balance similar demands? Being a mother while managing a growing legal practice is extremely demanding. It is very difficult to balance my personal and professional responsibilities. There are many days when there is a huge imbalance in favor of my work. I struggle with mom guilt often daily and strive very hard to compensate for loss of time at home. When I am with my children and in full mom mode, I stay present in the moment. I often turn off my phone completely in an effort to set boundaries and to not be distracted. I plan family events and activities for my sons in an effort to keep me balanced between home and work. Mindset is important too. I frequently affirm to myself that I am an excellent mom who provides well for her children and is doing the best I can. Showing my children strong work ethic is important to me too, so taking them to the office is a big way that I show them what I do and where I am when I am not at home. When they are older, I hope to be able to take them to court where they can watch me in action and more fully appreciate the other side of their hard-working mom. Being a mother and a successful lawyer are my two greatest loves. I am an “all in” person; everything I commit to gets the greatest part of me. It is who I am as a person. Being a working mom requires me to roll with the punches and try not to be too hard on myself. At least that is what I try to instill in other working mothers. Perhaps someday, I will be able to fully take my own advice! Canada