RL 103: Gina Alexandris — Legal Education and How to Manage Transition Out of Law
Release Date: 10/08/2018
In this episode, I am excited to have Gina Alexandris on to talk about life in and beyond law practice and managing transitions.
For over 20 years, Gina has been inspiring and supporting individuals and organizations to strategically define their hopes and achieve their goals. She is an adult educator, coach, public speaker, life-long learner, law school administrator, and former practicing lawyer. Gina is passionate about personal and professional development, diversity and inclusion, and developing strong relationships and networks. She is a proud Greek-Canadian soccer mom living with her family in Toronto.
- What the legal education life looks like (even beyond the law practice), how she discovered that litigation wasn't right for her, and what about it wasn't suited to whom she is.
- Dealing with an identity crisis in law, managing transitions at any point in your career, and what that journey looked like for her.
- What to do with that nagging feeling we can feel when we are pulled in different directions.
- Emotional intelligence for lawyers, and how we sometimes need to back away from our logic-thinking brain to listen to our inner voice.
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Gina Alexandris: [00:00:06] I think being open and and seeing where things leads you right. So you go down one or it might not be the exact door but another one might have opened during that conversation that you want to explore.
Intro: [00:00:18] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:00:40] Hello my friends thanks for being with me for another episode of The Resilient Lawyer podcast, I am so glad to have you here. In this episode I am so happy to have Gina Alexandris. She has been inspiring and supporting individuals and organizations to strategically define their hopes and achieve their goals.
She is an adult educator coach public speaker a lifelong learner law school administrator and former practicing lawyer Jeena as passionate about personal and professional development diversity and inclusion in developing strong relationships and networks. She is a proud Greek Canadian soccer mom living with her family in Toronto. And in this episode we're going to Chad about law practice and beyond law practice and that she had a little bit about managing transitions I know a lot of Jeena. There have been sending e-mails about managing and changing careers and different you know changes that we go through and especially as we kind of shift from summer to fall I think it's a lovely time to kind of take a pause and reflect on your life and consider all of these big or small transitions. So I'm thrilled to have Jeena before we get into the interview if you haven't listened to the last bonus episode go back and check it out. I shared a 6 minute guided meditation practice to let go of stress and anxiety. It's a preview for my course mindful pause so often I hear from lawyers that they know they should practice my Pilas but they just don't have the time. And I always tell lawyers start with just six minutes or point one hour of all the hours she'd dedicate to your client's work and others don't you deserve to have at least point one hour to yourself mindful pauses designed for lawyers like you to fit into your head schedule. Think of it like taking your daily vitamins to boost your well-being. Head on over to Jeena Cho dot com to learn more or check it out and the shell notes. And with that here's Gina. Gina, welcome to the show.
Gina Alexandris: [00:02:38] Thank you Jeena. It is a delight to be here. I love the the mindful pause and the concept of taking just to point one out of your day for yourself. Well-deserved so thank you very much for having me.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:48] Thank you. So let's start by having you give us this 30 second introduction of who you are and what you deal.
Gina Alexandris: [00:02:54] Absolutely absolutely. And so what I wanted to say to that is that I started off in the practice of law and I did civil litigation and family law for about four years and then realized during that time that something about that just wasn't what I was hoping it would be. And I was looking for other options. And before law school I'd always thought I would go into teaching. What I found as a possibility was to set up are my alma maters Osgoode Hall Law School here in Canada. Career Development Office and so I transition from the practice of law to moving into the law school setting didn't know how long I would be there for. But over the last several years I have been at Osgoode as the starting person for career services. I worked with students Asma as the assistant dean of student services. I've transitioned to one of the other law schools in Toronto the youth of where we had an internationally trained Boyer's program that I began and after some time transition to the Ryerson University where I'm at now where we had a new program that again that I helped to develop Karbalaa practice program. And so I've been in legal education for a lot longer than I was in practice for a buddy here I worked in government again doing the education for lawyers so I've I've certainly been on the side of a practice in various ways for a long time now.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:20] So you know it's something that you said is something that I often hear as you know you start your law practice and you have a certain idea of what it's going to be like. And I think it's really hard to know especially doing something like litigation what it's actually like to do litigation day in and day out without actually having done it. And law school is often up or preparatory Skoff actually every year the ins and outs of what that's actually like. So when you said you know just something about litigation wasn't right for me. Can you talk a little bit more about that. How did you know that it wasn't right for you and what about who was just not suited to who you are.
Gina Alexandris: [00:05:01] Great question. And I get that over the years by many students and even junior lawyers new lawyers who are finding themselves sort that kind of question. And it's it's also one of the reasons why I think I love the fact that we're starting this new law school here in Rodgerson because trying to get that experience in early on is important. But you don't know until you do it. And I think that's that's really critical too to know. I went to law school and I hear this all the time I read it in personal statements for applicants to law schools. I went into law school. So I wanted to help people. I wanted to help people solve their problem the solutions. And I've been involved in my parents. I'm a child of immigrants and they've been involved in a litigation matter and I didn't like how they experience that process. And that was the resolve for me that I was going to go to law school and do something about that so that others like my parents would never have to deal with that again. So those are the transition from thinking I'd go into teaching to going into law and in practice I really loved meeting with the kid with the. So
[00:06:03] I really loved listening to them and hearing what their problems were and trying to find the legal solutions to it. I'm a natural talker and so I enjoyed the preparation for court and you know appearing in court and actually making arguments in favor of my client. The part that I didn't like and it sort of yes it's part of civil litigation and family for sure is that conflict. And while there are a host of lawyers who are practicing who are trying to build their practices and family law and in civil litigation in a less confrontational way nevertheless our current system still still requires that. And for me it just wasn't part of how I wanted to be as a as a person. And I found myself at odds with that. So you know what I thought OK what if I transition to something more solicitor based. I really like the concept of litigation. And for me I don't think I'd want to do more solicitor based work whether it's contract drafting or Wills and the statesetc. and I just found that when I was able to find something within legal Ed it was really I had those aha moments right this is where I really belong. I was able to marry what I really had a passion for with the substance and the materials that I had spent you know learning in law school.
Jeena Cho: [00:07:28] You know it is so once you sort of realize hey you know I sort of ended up on a path that isn't suited for me. I know for myself and also just having worked with lawyers over the years that that often comes with a tremendous sense of guilt or even some sort of feeling of failure or you know this feeling like oh I don't know what to do now. You know like the wind that I had so much time preparing or is just not right for me.
[00:07:59] So what do I do. They go through cause I think as lawyers we identify so much of who we are what we do. So we as kind of go through some sort of an identity crisis. She goes through with that. And if he did how did you manage it.
Gina Alexandris: [00:08:13] Oh boy did I ever. And you know it's interesting because you seek out so and as I said before a child of immigrants I didn't have a lot of role models if any in the legal profession to start with right so that itself is something that I always try and give back to people as much as possible. But nevertheless for me when I decide to go to law school I can tell you the family was proud. Right. They were having a daughter not only go to university but off to law school and then become a lawyer and people whether you know what a lawyer does or not you have this idea that you know what a lawyer does.
[00:08:47] Right. And so for me that identity was very strong and very much a part of who I was. And so I spent about four years in practice and of course early on I would hear my supervisors or my senior lawyers saying it's all part of a learning curve. You just have to get over those first four or five years. And I thought OK. So if something miraculously changed after four or five years I wasn't feeling like there was a change. And so in my fourth year I did seek the support of a career counselor a career coach. And I remember her saying at one point when we were chatting and she said something about oh well do you have fun in your work. And I paused. I gave her a strange look and she said to me what's wrong I said Do you remember what I said that I do actually I'm a lawyer and she said yes.
And if you can't have fun being a lawyer then maybe we need to look at something else. And so that sort of moment was was a turning point for me. I realized I wanted to find something that I really truly enjoyed doing and if not 70s you know not all the time and then the most part of my working days. And for me I have to tell you when I made the decision and found an opportunity to leave the practice and go into the legal education area the biggest my biggest worry and a huge huge huge weight on my shoulders was how do I tell my father. Here is a man who had you know third grade education back in Greece came to Canada. Building a life for his family so proud of his daughter that you know was a lawyer. How am I going to tell him for me. That conversation was one that I was so nervous about having and Jeena. I remember having him over to the house for dinner and after dinner anxiously cussing said Daddy not that I want to tell you about. I'm going to change jobs new looked and said OK and he said and I said I'm not going to be a lawyer anymore and that those words just saying those words were excruciating to me and he looked at me and he paused and he said are you going to be happy.
[00:10:55] And I kind of went I think so it's a good. I hope you are in and tell me about where you're going to work. And I thought well what I worry about all this time around ain't no. But yet it was that identity and that sense of oh I have to keep doing this because everybody thinks I should and I'm carrying it for whoever else you know I'm carrying for was a huge weight. And over the years I realize nobody really is going to. That doesn't matter. That doesn't matter.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:22] Right. And even if even if for some reason Ito they were to have some sort of negative reaction. It's also sort of like well that's their reaction and you can't be responsible for other people's reactions. Absolutely.
Gina Alexandris: [00:11:36] No absolutely. And reminding myself of that was critical as well.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:40] Yeah yeah well yeah I mean it's so funny listening to your story is so much like mine. And when I told my parents are not going well I mean I still practice a little bit but you know and I basically said I have a law is no longer going to be my primary focus and I'm going to teach mindfulness meditation to other lawyers. They just look at me like it's not a race because it's also sort of like a made up job in a way.
Gina Alexandris: [00:12:08] Well think about it back then this was over 20 years ago the career development office where I started the creative element opposite our law school and so our colleagues and friends in theU.S. men are you know appreciate that but we didn't have career officers career services offices in Canada back in back about 20 years ago and so I was set to start that. And so figuring out how to describe what I do to people you know my colleagues my friends what's a career development officer career services person what do they do every day. You know over the years I've just found ways to explain what I do and if I have to say I'm a lawyer that's not practicing I do that too right.
Jeena Cho: [00:12:47] Yeah. Yeah. And like not having that hail of being a lawyer is surprisingly high. It's one of sort of like the big hurdles that I often have to work with my coaching clients. It's like well like I just like having that title it's need it's clear people understand what that means. It's not like you know if say like oh I help people do at her know I guess career transition or career coach isn't such an unusual job title anymore.
[00:13:15] But yet you know. So I think it's it's kind of fine to not have sort of a traditional job title anymore I can put an interesting spin on it. So it's going to go back to your story. How did you go from that sort of recognizing that OK I'm not going to be a lawyer anymore. Finding your way into what you're doing now. What was that journey like.
Gina Alexandris: [00:13:38] Oh wow. I find it in retrospect. There are so many similarities. And you know when you look back you can see oh yeah that's not that much of a surprise in fact. So as I said earlier I had always had an interest in teaching. I didn't know what that meant if it was going to be in primary school. High school university but but in education some way shape or form. So when the first opportunity to start the career office came I thought great because I'll be able to help people. And remember that's why I kind of wanted to go to law school. I liked what my career coach had done and I think being able to help guide people in that context was was important and it was in an educational environment again. And my alma mater where I felt really comfortable and and happy to be back. So that was for a couple of years and then at that point the role of Assistant Dean of Student Services came up.
We'd had a bit of transition at the school there had been three different people in four years in that role and I thought you know the next person who gets that role might be there for a long time. So I even though I was only in the career office for a couple of years I thought let me put my hat in the ring. Who knows. I'm taking a chance at this point and I did and I got the role. And I was thrilled. And in fact I was the one who was in the role for the next nine years. It was really incredible. It stretched me because I had never really before dealt with administrative work from from a schools perspective. So dealing with the admissions dealing with programs and records dealing with the career office and our financial aid it was it was incredible. And when people would say OK but you're dealing with the same issues year in year out my comment would be twofold. First of all schools make changes regularly. And secondly every year you've got a new group of students with their new with their own interests passions goals challenges. And so it was it was not boring at all being in that kind of environment for those years. But at some point I thought what happens next. Where do I. What do I do next. I was sort of itching for some kind of change in talking about transitions right. There was an opportunity at our at another school in Toronto to start a program for internationally trained lawyers to help them develop skills and build networks. When they're new to the province into the country and wanted to transition to be lawyers in the country and for me that was important for a number of reasons primarily.
Again the immigrant experience from my parents perspective is one that I carry with me Jeena and I don't know if you know you or other members of the audience can appreciate it but knowing what my parents have gone through are not necessarily in a context of a professional degree accreditation but just that immigrant experience that as different as it is for people it's also very similar. And I wanted to be able to build something to help support at least a member of some members of that community. Those who were who had legal backgrounds. But what I found was I also liked the entrepreneurial spirit and what I mean by that is you know I kind of like starting things from scratch. I started the career office I started that and I realized by the time I came here to Ryerson that I really do like and I think I'm pretty decent at starting you know looking at the needs looking at the program development requirements and then putting together a team putting together the resources putting together the program and being able to then deliver for a group of people. There's a third role that I had that I have right now is a new program here at Ryerson that well I guess we're five years in I'll still say do that again we started with two people you know four people sharing two offices very little in terms of you know phone space and whatnot and have a great project that's and beneficial to over a thousand you know new or almost new lawyers in the province. And so and we're working on sort of a new law school here at the at the university so that new the ability to create something always within the context for me at least for now in law has been really really invigorating.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:12] And so I want to switch gears just a little bit. Kind of staying with that whole career transition and maybe you can offer some tips or suggestions or advice for the listeners out there that are perhaps also struggling with that feeling of like this past this area that I've been to hanging by this thing that I've been doing for such a long time. I went to law school for and now I have student loan data. And on and on and on is no longer right for me and I think once you start to kind of tune in to that voice inside it doesn't just vanish.
Gina Alexandris: [00:18:45] Louder.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:46] Yeah that's right. I thought oh no we're not having this conversation. And I told myself I was being on grateful that you know I should be happy doing exactly what I wanted to do that I was spoiled. And how dare I not enjoy this. I work so hard to do it. So when someone starts to hear that voice you know what let's say the next three steps that they should consider taking so let's start with the very first step what's that. The first thing is you start to do if they start to get that nagging feeling inside.
Gina Alexandris: [00:19:19] Well I think you hit on when you said pause and honor the voice it's telling you something. And and I think we need to spend spend some time and be able to actually give that voice. And I think what holds us back from doing so is fear. What if I really don't like this and I have to make a change. And you know all those other sabotage you know saboteur kind of thinking that you just mentioned the guilt the failure the whether it's embarrassment or the debt that you've got. So we don't want to take that you know take the cap off the box because who knows what will come from it. And I think if it's there it's unlikely to go away just to take some time to honor it doesn't mean they have to go one way or the other. But just let it let it play out the end here. The second thing that I would say is then to really do some reflection on values what's important and I think when I started doing that for myself and when I do that with students or others that I come in contact with who have that voice in them think about what's important to you.
[00:20:34] Now why are you doing this. I said earlier and I think I've set a all times I want to help people. Now is a value that was important to me the immigrant experience diversity. Those are things that are really important to me and what you start looking at is you know are you able to honor those values in the place that you are now. And sometimes a shift as simple as perhaps it's another employer perhaps it's an area of law. Perhaps it's the type of organization that you're working in but still practicing the same thing. Those might be the types of changes that are relevant for an individual. And other times it might be leaving the practice right. It doesn't have to be all of that. It could be any part of that as you're thinking about what changes might be more reflective of the values that you bring a third element I think is when you're listening and I'm torn between two third options so might be a third it's either what it could do to the third the one element is don't be afraid to talk to people. I think we sometimes are too much in our heads. Yeah and lawyers have that uncanny ability to try and analyze everything and solve every problem on their own. Their mind where it louder and louder and louder right at the end.
[00:22:11] And sometimes that can be really that alone can can be anxiety provoking and you start questioning and doubting everything. So talking to somebody find a trusted person that you can just chat with you don't have to tell the world you know. But if you want tweeted out and get some feedback that works for people for others just being able to find a trusted whether it's a friend a mentor a supervisor a coach you know an advisor in any way just to talk through that. I think that's really important because sometimes in our own heads and our own minds the issue becomes greater than what it might be. But at other times we just want another perspective. Right. So.
[00:22:56] So that would be one and I think the fourth I want to say is I don't know about you but when I started thinking about this and talking about things all of a sudden we're almost like you know the phrase I don't remember who initiated it and who said it first but once you start asking about some of the world's big Sakti of the universe speaks about you guys. And then opportunities started you know coming up that I had never even heard about. I've never even considered before because you're open and I think being open to it as scary as change can be. Being open to those possibilities is very important because then you seem to notice them even more so around Jeena raid ha.
Jeena Cho: [00:23:43] And you know the other thing I think I love that point about talking to other people because often I do find that lawyers want to sort of figure out which they should do next in their own head but without gathering data. Right. And it makes its make a life change like Akridge Idzik. You need a lot of data like what.
[00:24:02] You know if you're thinking like OK maybe I want to shift to being on HRT purchase and well what does that world look like on a day to day basis. You're not going to be able to figure that out in your head without gathering data. But because say find out lawyers are sort of hesitant because they think well what if I do talk to this person that's in a charro maybe even you know talk to someone that loves law to move into a china and find out that's not right for me and I'm like That's great.
Gina Alexandris: [00:24:27] If they start eliminating.
Jeena Cho: [00:24:30] They think of getting out of bad binary way of thinking as you know seeing everything as success or failure and seeing things as gathering data and that you know eliminating things and adding things and playing around and only seeing your life as a collaborator away you could run different experiments and see what works and really getting out of that you know that that world of failure which I think is so ingrained then says lawyers.
Gina Alexandris: [00:24:57] You know it's interesting because one of the things that both for this program and as a as we're sort of moving forward with with a future law school I also wanted to see what is out there currently in legal education that includes creativity and its title. And I have to tell you I did some research and I didn't come up with a whole law so it made me realize when we talk about lawyers and I just said we're data driven. It's important to us but we're also solving problems and to be able to solve problems. And this is where you know the resiliency that you talk about so often is so critical when you're looking to solve problems and come up with creative solutions and understand deeply and deeper what is happening around you. Tippett We need to use the creative parts of your mind and we don't explore that as much and tap into that as much thriftily education and sometimes in practice you know creativity is what you do when you go to an art night or when you're dancing or when you're whatever else. That's also what we do when we come up with solutions for our clients on a day to day basis.
Jeena Cho: [00:26:05] Yeah yeah I think it's her nurturing it and that side of you. And I had the exact same experience I used it I started working with a career coach and the first thing she asked me was like What do you do for fun. What do you do that as no other function except to give you that sense of joy. And I looked at her like what he says like fine.
[00:26:27] I don't even understand that word like a bad TV. As a girl why would I do that. Like why would I create art. It has nothing to do with my work. It doesn't help me write motions issues like oh but it does it help your brain to wire and think in a different way and if you think about it like we often get our best idea is doing something completely unrelated and sitting there staring at our screen trying to figure things out. Now you have those aha moments when you're going on a long walk or when you're painting or when you're just lost and doing some other activity that you hinted at isn't like. Let me sit down and get this out.
Gina Alexandris: [00:27:05] Absolutely. No it's silvery tunes so that's why I think you know that creative and part of gathering information is and is being creative about you know who are you going to speak with so you don't necessarily I often push people and say all right who would be the person that you never thought you would need to thought or would be able to reach out to. How can you actually tap in and speak to them and learn what they have to say or how about if you find somebody that's doing something really you know sort of out of the ordinary in your mind and ask them about it ask them how they got there what they're doing. And it it really throws people out of their comfort zone sometimes. And that's exactly why I encourage them to keep doing that. Get out of your comfort zone meet with people who are in real different areas potentially as well as people who are close to what you do. But don't you know don't limit yourself to the information to the data that you have because I think if we do limit ourselves and to some degree that that might be what we're doing you know through our three years of university of law school we sort of limit who we talk to and what options we consider for a variety of reasons. And then we get out there we think Oh now it's Friday. Keep that broad perspective.
Jeena Cho: [00:28:23] Yeah. Yeah it reminds me of Kalimba who said one of those like Zen Masters said. He said that in the beginner's mind that there. There are endless possibilities but in the mind of an expert there if you say think when it comes to something like career transition I almost feel like you just sort of lost everything that you think you know about career transition and really have a Pucho with that sense of almost like childlike curiosity because you're sort of like starting from scratch in many ways and you want to sort of explore all the different opportunities and possibilities and you can't do that if you're going into it with like the mind of the expert.
Gina Alexandris: [00:29:07] Absolutely. Now I think being open and and seeing where things leads you right. So you go down one or it might not be the exact door but another one might have opened during that conversation that you want to explore. And and again not being afraid to explore those doors sometimes we fear or what if I really really like it and and and then what do I leave this comfort that I have right now for that discomfort of something brand new not in my you know when I thing I would never be able to go into rocket science right or into so many other things. But that I would at least want to find out what they do. There might be something related to it. Never would I have thought here's an example. When I was at that the first at Osgoode in my first trial there were no programs for internationally educated lawyers. Each school had a small element or component but never during those years would I have thought that there'd be an opportunity to start a program for specifically for internationally educated lawyers. And in addition if you had asked me or anybody else several years back I'm in the city of Toronto if I wanted to be in legal education. There were two schools that I would be working at as either at or that whole school year diversity or at the University of Toronto. But lo and behold within a period of you know five to 10 years the third University in Toronto Ryerson University has all this changed its well and is looking very much of interest to the legal community and is doing something that wasn't there several years back. Technology is giving us that as well. Things that you haven't dissipated might be possible now become possible so limiting ourselves I think is and that's one of the I think of those four things that we talked about being open listening to what others say exploring really really listening to your own voice and your own values I think is critical. And just taking some chances sometimes too.
Jeena Cho: [00:31:12] Hmm well I think that's a perfect place to wrap things out. Jeena before I let you go I have one final question for you. The name of this podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be The Resilient Lawyer to you.
Gina Alexandris: [00:31:25] I think being a resilient lawyer would include being kind to ourselves being compassionate and knowing that we'll be able to bounce back and that things have a way of working out as long as we're kind and caring to ourselves first and foremost.
Jeena Cho: [00:31:44] Jeena thank you so much for your time and for sharing your wisdom with the audience I really appreciate it.
Gina Alexandris: [00:31:50] It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much and my regards to all who are listening. Thank you.
Closing: [00:31:58] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you've enjoyed the show please tell a friend. It's really the best way to grow the show to leave us a review on iTunes. Search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that. So we really appreciate it. As always we'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at smile at the anxious lawyer dot com. Thanks and look forward to seeing you next week.