YOUNG LAWYERS: Navigating the ideal career path

Allow your internal passion and conviction to drive you towards your goals, says Pamela Shin

YOUNG LAWYERS: Navigating the ideal career path
Pamela Shin

Pamela Shin always felt compelled to work in a profession that allowed her to help less fortunate people, so when she had an opportunity to leave private practice just three years after being called to the bar to take an in-house role at a charity, she jumped at the chance.

“I remember growing up being really compelled by stories of people most in need and people suffering social injustices,” says Shin, who worked as legal counsel at World Vision Canada for six years. “I felt that a legal career working in-house at a charity would be very much in line with my own personal values and convictions.” The move to follow her passion was not without challenges as Shin had to adjust to working with only one other lawyer, after being in a team of 30 in private practice, and she also took a pay cut for the move.

“It was scary losing that support network and a multitude of clients to focus on just one client, but I loved my time at World Vision,” says Shin. “It takes some courage to step outside of that box that so many colleagues are drawn toward, and see what other ways exist for practicing law.”

Shin had to make another big decision when the opportunity arose to join Mastercard Foundation as the charity’s first in-house counsel in November 2017. “I felt I had outgrown my role at World Vision, and I needed to stretch myself,” says Shin, who has held four progressive roles at Mastercard Foundation and is now head of legal and compliance. Building a new legal function in an environment where there had previously been no in-house lawyers was a steep learning curve for Shin.

“Most people don’t want to have lawyers at the table when they are used to talking freely without any filters, so it does add a different dynamic,” says Shin. “I knew it would be a real challenge and it was a big risk but there have been tons of rewards on the other side.” As the charity’s first in-house counsel, Shin was able to shape the legal practice to suit her vision. She advises other young lawyers not to be limited by their external environment when making career moves.

“Allow your internal passion and conviction to drive you towards your goals and the outcomes you see for your career trajectory,” she says. “We often forget that careers are built day by day, not overnight. It comes from what’s inside you. Not from external sources.”

Leading Mastercard Foundation’s legal function, Shin ensures that legal and regulatory considerations are met, not just in Canada but also in the foundation’s branches across Africa. The Toronto-headquartered charity focuses on supporting disadvantaged young people in Africa, so there are many legal considerations in terms of how funds from Canada are regulated and spent overseas, in addition to standard cornerstone issues such as privacy, governance and IP.

As the youngest member of the senior leadership team, Shin has worked hard to build her reputation.

“Sometimes as a woman and a person of colour and a younger lawyer, you have to work a little bit harder and keep at it, so you inspire confidence and trust in business partners. Gaining that respect despite systemic barriers is very much possible,” she says.

Throughout her career, Shin has benefitted from formal and informal mentoring from leaders inside and outside of her workplace, and she has even found mentors through LinkedIn. Now she mentors her five direct reports. As Shin looks to expand her team this year by hiring more people in Africa, she hopes to build a community of “one-ness.”

“I would like to onboard three or four new colleagues in Africa and for the teams to really gel across both continents and learn how to work well together,” she says. “With the different time-zones and cultural nuances and different life experiences, it can be a tough thing to build that community of oneness. That’s what we’re really focused on as a foundation.”

Hear more from Pamela Shin at Canadian Lawyer’s Young Lawyers Summit in Toronto on June 11:

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