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Lifetime of advocacy prepares Clarke for family law

Long before her call to the bar, Toronto family lawyer Deborah Clarke was already an advocate.

Clarke, a lawyer with Stanchieri Family Law, feels as though she was destined for the profession, tracing her desire to be a lawyer all the way back to her arrival in Canada at the age of nine, when she moved with her parents from Jamaica.

“During our first few years in Canada, my parents had a hard time navigating the system here, so I was always the person jumping in and trying to help them figure things out,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “I would advocate for them when they were dealing with government departments and agencies and other day-to-day issues.

“I knew that this was something I was interested in doing for other people too,” Clarke adds.

However, her route to the bar was not a straightforward journey, with life events forcing further education to take a back seat to paid work.

“This is a second career for me,” says Clarke, who started out in public service, and ended up working as a law clerk for Ontario’s Family Responsibility Office (FRO), where she was able to continue pursuing her passion for assisting individuals and families in difficult situations. While there, she attended York University part time, before she was admitted to Osgoode Hall Law School in 2010.

Her work at the FRO helped set her on course to practise family law. In addition to enforcement, she worked with Ontario’s central authority under the Hague Convention, aiding parents whose children were wrongfully removed to other jurisdictions, as well as helping them secure rights of access.

However, Clarke has broadened the scope of her work since her call to the bar. After articling at the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Crown Law Office civil division to boost her litigation experience, she began pursuing family law opportunities and worked at a boutique firm dealing with high-conflict divorce cases.

At Stanchieri, she represents clients in a wide range of family law matters, including disputes over support, financial matters, equalization and custody and access.  

Clarke says her tough path to practice and her previous working life give her a unique perspective on family law.

“It’s demanding, but I love the challenges involved,” she says.

Clarke’s wealth of experience also informs her approach to clients.

“I’m very calm and collected. In a high-emotion practice like family law, you need to keep a level head,” she says. “People can become overwhelmed when you start speaking in legalese, so I try to explain things as simply as I can.

“Clients want someone who can empathize with their situation,” Clarke adds.

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