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Shuber marks two decades of giving clients a voice

This month, Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Samara Shuber, celebrates her 20th anniversary of being called to the bar.

While she jokes about the milestone in a light-hearted post to her blog, Toronto Family Law Blog, it did make her reflect.

“Twenty years in, I realized that I love what I do,” says Shuber, a lawyer with the family law group at Beard Winter LLP, where she focusses on divorce proceedings and separation agreements. “There are always new things happening, new legislation, new clients, new stories.”

She has learned a lot from her clients in that time, too.

“People want to be heard. They want to be understood. They want someone to bear witness to their story. And then they can break it down,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. "As much as this work is about numbers and property, it’s really about people.”

The anniversary is even more significant because law was a path Shuber nearly abandoned before her career had even begun. Unhappy at law school, her social-justice aims at odds with a class full of students with Bay Street ambitions, she planned to write her final exams and not return.

But a meeting with her civil procedure professor set her on course.

“She made the mistake of asking me how I liked law school. I started to cry and I said, ‘I hate it, and I’m leaving,’” she says.  

Passing Shuber a cup of tea and a tissue, her prof mentioned a new program combining a master's of social work and a law degree.

“It was a saviour to me for a number of reasons,” Shuber says, not least that she found a new cadre of like-minded classmates who shared her interest in social justice, and a productive path for her “rescuer complex.”

“I have a passion for this area of the law because it affects everyone,” Shuber says. “Everyone has intimate relationships. One hopes they go well, but there are legal implications regardless of whether they are going well or not. Family law work touches on everyone whether they want it to or not.”

Through the social work component of the program, she learned about custody and access assessment, marriage counselling, and how to empathetically deal with highly charged situations without becoming embroiled in the emotions. Her legal training gave her the knowledge to guide families through the complications of the legal system.

“They’re already stressed out, they’re already emotional,” she says. “The legal process shouldn’t be something that makes it worse.”

Cutting through the minutiae, she translates dense legalese into real-life terms. Custody, for instance, is basically about two things, she tells her clients: how much time the child spends with you and who can make decisions about the child.

Shuber’s approachability comes through in conversation and on her blog, where she writes with a casual candour that is a humorous departure from the formal tone associated with much of the legal profession, as in her recent post, “Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Have to Suck.”

“That’s just who I am as a person,” she says. “I think lawyers do themselves a disservice when they act in a way they are not.”

Shuber joined Beard Winter in 2016, after a decade as a partner at Basman Smith LLP.

Her experience includes high-conflict and complex custody and access matters, and she also represents children at the centre of contested custody and access cases.

She has a long string of letters after her name, denoting various professional designations, including a law degree and master’s in social work from the University of Toronto, certification by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Family Law; and accreditation as a Comprehensive Family Mediator by the Ontario Association for Family Mediators.

For clients, this means that she has a range of options to help them pursue a good life post-divorce.

“In my mind, litigation is the process of last resort,” Shuber says. Costly, confrontational, and polarizing, she typically first explores other options — mediation, arbitration, and plain old negotiation. Sometimes, though, litigation is necessary, and Shuber has appeared at all levels of court in Ontario, including the Court of Appeal.

Whatever approach an individual case requires, she tries to invest each client with a sense of agency.

“Many of them have said to me that their main concern is that they feel they don’t have any control over their life anymore,” she says. “I see my job as empowering and enabling clients to make the decisions I need them to make.

“It’s giving them back the reins to make the best decisions.”

To Read More Jennifer Samara Shuber Posts Click Here
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