Susannah S. Alleyne

Bio:  Susannah S. Alleyne is a Mediator & Family Lawyer at Matkovic Allan LLP in Calgary, Alberta. She graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2013 and was called to the Ontario Bar and the Alberta Bar in 2014.  She is an active volunteer within the Calgary Bar and the broader Calgary community. She has a passion for anti-racism work and hopes to continue to shed light on issues of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Susannah has appeared on Global News to discuss issues of racism and policing and access to justice. Susannah is also a mentor with various Black legal & professional organizations in Calgary and is currently working hard to establish the first Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL).

Name: Susannah S. Alleyne

Education: Juris Doctor 2013 (Osgoode Hall Law School); Honours Diploma 2010 (Humber College); Honours B.A. with distinction 2009 (University of Toronto)

Profession: Mediator and Barrister & Solicitor

Years of Experience: 7

When you were a child, did you envision becoming what you are now?

Absolutely not! I really thought I was going to be a neurosurgeon – despite being quite scornful and easily “grossed out”.

Can you please tell us about your journey? When did you first think to yourself, “I made it”?

My journey, like most people I think, has been a combination of some good decisions, some not-so-great decisions, some rejection and much good fortune. After graduating from the University of Toronto, I wanted to do a joint program between two law schools in different countries, one of them being Osgoode Hall Law School. You had to be accepted by both law schools independently to be admitted. I applied but was rejected by the other law school. So, I went to College for a year and completed a law-related diploma that allowed me practical work experience as a legal assistant at a national law firm. During that time, I reapplied to attend Osgoode and was accepted. During law school, I worked hard but was not at all, like many of my peers, focused on landing summer jobs. Instead I choose to travel, participate in exchanges in Israel and Australia and to spend time with my friends and family while also enjoying my love of soca and carnival. I also spent a lot of time volunteering during law school and giving back to the local community. When I graduated from law school, I was ecstatic to be done but I was also looking for a job. I was really fortunate through a family connection to secure an interview with a firm in Calgary, Alberta and after writing the Ontario Barrister & Solicitor exams, I moved to Calgary in August 2013. I articled for a year at a small family law firm before being called to the Bar in Ontario and Alberta. I remained at that firm until 2016 when I moved to my current firm, Matkovic Allan LLP.

I don’t know that I have ever thought to myself “I made it”. However, I am proud of the milestones I achieved in graduating from 3 post-secondary education institutions and I consider myself fortunate to have a rewarding professional and personal life. I am still actively building my career into what I think I want it to look like, so ask me again in 10 years!

Did you face any challenges on your journey to get where you are?

Of course. Nothing rewarding is without risk and hard times. There’s the exorbitant cost of tertiary education, worry about being employed in your field, being employed and needing a change but not knowing how to transition, dealing with gender, race and class-based discrimination and the long, hard grind that is the business of studying and practicing law.

Do you currently face any challenges?

Yes. I am blessed to have rarely to faced “overt” gender and race-based discrimination in my day-to-day practice. But I definitely deal with microaggressions and ignorance, often in the form of people being “surprised” or uncomfortable with the space I take up as a Black, West Indian, professional and outspoken woman. There are also, of course, the challenges that come with being in a profession that has often been described as a “jealous mistress” that “requires long and constant courtship”. Carving out time for the people you love and for your passions outside of the law is a job in and of itself and one that I take very seriously. I am fortunate to love what I do, but it is not my only love and I have to constantly work at making sure that is a reality. It is very easy to “work all the time” if you don’t set boundaries with clients and colleagues.

What skills do you believe a person needs to succeed in your profession?

The concept of success can be fairly subjective so I think each lawyer has to figure out what that looks like to them and execute a plan to help them achieve those goals. As a lawyer in general, I think tenacity and good judgment are key to firmly grasping the law’s application to what you’re working on and making sensible calls in each matter you’re dealing with.

As a family lawyer, we primarily deal with divorce and separation – usually the worst and most emotional time in your clients’ lives. It’s imperative to have a support and vent system set up. You are going to come across scenarios and people that make you want to scream expletives at the top of your lungs or that may even be traumatizing – have a safe place to do that venting and a soft place to land when you’re feeling overwhelmed. I would also say a good network of mentors and colleagues that you can ask questions of and that understand the legal and personal issues that come with a family law file will be invaluable. Continuing education is also essential – make sure you’re connected to the resources that update you on the latest legislation and caselaw.

What advice would you give to others who aspire to be where you are?

Talk to lawyers. Law school gives you an amazing set of analytical skills and you will forever be changed in how you think about and approach problems. Currently, it does not prepare you for the day-to-day rigours of practice. Lawyers love to talk and are happy to buy you coffee. Pick their brains, ask them what their day looks like and of course, stay in touch because you are always building your professional network. At the same time, have friends and family outside of the law. They may not understand your daily tasks but they bring a fresh perspective that is not available in the tunnel vision that can sometimes set in when you’re practicing and they know you as a human first, not as a lawyer – and that is important.

Can you please share one goal you achieved that you are extremely proud of?

I would have to say that the goal I am most proud of achieving is really more of an ongoing journey for me. I am most proud of the kind of human being that I am and continuing to become that honours the intersection of all of my identities – Black, woman, West Indian, lawyer & mediator, fiancée, aunt, ally, mentor, daughter, activist, etc. I am proud that I am creating a life that allows me the opportunity to express each of these identities throughout my personal and professional life.