When Judith Potter '89 says, "I really like what I do," you believe her. That is because Potter is doing exactly the kind of community-focused legal work she set out to do 23 years ago when she entered Windsor Law in her late 40s.
"It was different," admits Potter, referring to her law student days as one of the only first-year students with grown children. "But it was an adventure."
Before law school, Potter did a lot of volunteer work with women's shelters. She considered a degree in social work, but was drawn to the unique mission of Windsor Law.
"I applied to Windsor because I was very taken with its strong feminist women's caucus and the access to justice theme," says Potter, who joined a small feminist law firm in London after graduation before striking out on her own as a sole practitioner.
Potter's focus was family law, with a special emphasis on battered and abused women. Potter's entire office staff consisted of two people and that is exactly how she liked it. She knew that her clients were dealing with difficult issues that demanded a personal, hands-on approach.
"In big firms, you have articling students or very junior associates running off and filing the motions, then the senior lawyer kind of steps in at trial," explains Potter. "I never felt that this was a very good way to deal with family law clients."
In 1999, Potter was elected as a bencher with the Law Society of Upper Canada, the oldest law society in North America. The law society, which ensures that Ontario citizens have equal access to ethical and professional lawyers, is governed by 50 benchers who serve on committees and vote on regulatory matters.
Potter is now in her fourth term as a bencher. She counts among her many accomplishments a measure to improve the professional lives of "smalls and soles" like herself. Many small firms and sole practitioners struggle against tremendous odds to stay afloat, particularly in far-flung rural locations.
Potter formed a task force at the law society and hired independent researchers to assemble focus groups.
"This was the first empirical study that had ever been done with that particular group of practitioners," says Potter. The result was an influential report leading to vast improvements in the resources available to smalls and soles, starting with the law society's own website.
"Now we have a wonderful tool chest available for that group of lawyers," she says proudly.
In addition to her law society work, Potter is a member of the Consent and Capacity Board, an independent tribunal that evaluates cases of involuntary institutionalization in psychiatric facilities. And somehow, in addition to that, she serves as a judge in small claims court.
"I'm in a unique situation," laughs Potter. Some things have not changed since law school.
"I'm not trying to build a forty-year career. I want time to enjoy my grandchildren and the other things that I'm interested in. I've worked hard at achieving a very nice balance in my life and still being able to contribute with my legal expertise. I really like what I do."
You can say that again.