A big part of our dream for TAP comes from a desire to encourage, inspire, and celebrate people and organizations who are tapping into their potential. We decided to create the TAP Spotlight, a monthly focus on individuals or companies that are using their gifts, talents, and resources to make a difference.
Michelle, the spotlight’s on you!
“I have always considered myself an athlete. Not that I'm an elite athlete, but I enjoy lots of different sports, and they've always been an enormous part of my life. One of the many reasons I love sports is I'm inspired by athletes who overcome adversity. You never know what life will throw at you, so you have to prepare, react and change course as necessary.
This resiliency mindset has permeated every aspect of my life.
After high school, I wasn't sure what my next step should be. I excelled academically but was given little guidance about what a person could actually do with skills like mine. I didn't have a good sense of how to make the most of them.
For example, I got 98% on my biology diploma exam: I thought perhaps med school would be a good choice, but I lacked confidence. I worried I wouldn't be able to keep up in what I discovered to be was the most competitive field.
Looking back, I needed a coach. I still believe young people need better access to honest, practical guidance about their future. Since then, I've invested significant time and energy into cultivating my mentoring skills, like those who have since helped guide me. At 18, though, I didn't have this support system.
I decided to pursue a teaching degree. I liked school, and I was good at it, so teaching made sense.
I loved my students and enjoyed being a mentor, but the job wasn't what I expected in many ways. In Alberta at that time, it was incredibly challenging to secure a full-time job. I was married with a mortgage and wanted to have kids. I needed more secure employment. After working contract-to-contract for 5years, I realized I needed to change course.
I privately thought about becoming a lawyer – and seriously began to think about it after I left my teaching position in 2016. I decided to take the last LSAT being offered that year. To my own surprise, I aced it. A law career had always appealed to me, but now I was beginning to see my potential and developing the confidence I needed to train seriously to go after my dream.
It was daunting to take out student loans and go back to school and I knew my classmates would likely be much younger than me.
Those fears were put aside almost as soon as I started law school. I knew immediately I was in the right place. I loved my courses and my classmates. Like a player preparing for a championship game, I knew my dream was within reach, and it was up to me to go after it.
Soon though, my training had a new obstacle.
A Baby Lawyer With a Baby
After my first year of law school, I learned I was pregnant with my oldest son, Layne. While my (now ex) husband and I were excited, the conservative nature of my soon-to-be new profession seemed to imply my law career might be over before it began. I really hoped that was not the case.
I had a plan that made perfect sense to me - I was due in the summer, so why couldn't I have my baby over the summer break, come back for the fall semester, and still graduate on time?! I had won the Dean Percy Award for Student Excellence in my second year; I knew that if anyone could juggle a newborn and law school, I could. I overloaded my second year with additional classes (before the Faculty put a limit on that!),with plans to take night courses in my third year to complete my degree. Off I went into third year. I had a lot of support of my classmates, who would cuddle baby Laynie in the student lounge while I attended class or meetings.
However, after second year, I did wonder what I'd gotten myself into when I began interviewing for an articling position. Articling is an 8–12 month position where aspiring lawyers work alongside a more experienced lawyer to get the practical experience they need. In Alberta, you need to complete the articling term to become a lawyer.
I was visibly pregnant, but I was interviewing well before the articling term began. To me it didn’t matter that I was pregnant: My baby would be born and happily enjoying daycare by the time I was expected to start the job. I made sure to let the hiring committees know my pregnancy had no bearing on my ability to meet the expectations of the job. In fact, I thought it was a benefit -look at me! I’ll already have had a baby by the time I start working for you, so I won’t be taking maternity leave right away!
I was absolutely devastated on Hiring Day when I was unsuccessful for a couple of articling positions I really thought would pan out. Of course, I couldn't help but wonder if the firms would have extended an offer were I not expecting a baby.
None of the hiring firms seemed concerned about whether my male counterparts would have a new baby at home during their articling term. I wasn't asking for special treatment; I was just asking for a chance.
Believing in Myself
It would have been so easy to quit right then. I could go back to teaching, where long summer vacations are the norm, and I could substitute if my pregnancy made it challenging to get a full-time job. I knew I could handle a newborn and a new law career at the same time. I just needed to find a firm that agreed.
I was thrilled when one of the big firms saw my potential and offered me a position. It's probably a good thing Layne was my first baby because I would have been much more apprehensive about my plan to begin motherhood and law career at the same time.
But Layne and I made it work. Not only did I complete my articling term, but I was also offered an associate position and went on to work for the firm for a total of 7 years. I have since moved on to McAllister LLP, where I practice as a Litigation Partner (under my profession name, Michelle Andresen).
Tackling Obstacles My Way
One aspect of sports that is particularly inspiring to me is athletes who come back from injury. This is something I've experienced firsthand when I got a severe concussion in a rec league soccer game. Unfortunately, it was serious enough that my doctors told me I couldn't play anymore. I had to dedicate myself to healing my brain.
Healing from a head injury is excruciating. I wasn't allowed to read, watch screens or do much of anything. Like most people with serious head injuries, I became depressed.
There was no doubt the head injury had changed me. I always had an exceptional memory; my friends even described it as a photographic memory. Following my concussion I noticed a significant lag in those abilities and my word finding – another thing I used to excel at. It was devastating to realize that I needed to spend weeks or even months healing my brain.
Many of my sports heroes had come back from catastrophic injuries. I knew I could too. The lack of confidence that plagued me in my early twenties, when I doubted whether med school or law school was possible for me, had subsided. My head injuries were far from the last obstacles I would need to overcome. I went through a painful divorce, and I confronted trauma from my past. I met the love of my life, and we planned our dream wedding in wine country, but then my mom broke her leg the night before and had to attend via FaceTime from her hospital. Like everyone, my life has been full of ups and downs, such as the global pandemic that seems never ending.
I know now that I can always draw on the resilience mindset I've cultivated through overcoming obstacles. I train hard, and I seek out coaches in the form of mentors who can guide me. I surround myself with the support system of my amazing family and my close friends. Most of all, I draw on my own hard-earned confidence. It has taken me a while, but I know now that asking for help is the most important life skill for success.”
- Michelle Andresen | Partner | McAllister LLP Barristers ∙ Solicitors
Michelle is mom to one Husky dog daughter and two beautiful, entertaining boys and lucky to be married to her best friend. She is a soccer mom, basketball cheerleader, kid taxi driver and a partner at McAllister LLP in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a proud army brat, having grown up across Canada and one posting overseas. Very involved in volunteering, she provides free legal advice to those in need through various social programs in Edmonton. She enjoys mentoring young lawyers and helping them fulfill their potential.