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Resilient • Tenacious • Grateful

Her Story

Shonagh Pickens

Lawyer - S.K. Pickens Law

Shonagh's Story :

I have never thought of myself as an inspiration. Being called that has, at times, made me feel uncomfortable. In my mind, I’m just “doing my thing like everyone else.” In fact, it feels at times like my
life has been a series of back-up plans. Some people have plan “A” or plan “B”. I feel like I’m on something like plan “G” or “H” by now.

I am legally blind. I have about 5 percent vision in one eye and an artificial eye in the left eye – believe me, that makes great party tricks. I was raised by a single dad who taught me that if I wanted to do something, whatever it was, I could figure out a way to accomplish it. I mean, I was realistic – I didn’t see myself giving patients needles or doing brain surgery, but my dad taught me to find my own ways of doing things.

When I graduated from high school, I went to university for 2 years because that’s what I thought was expected. I hated it. I took a year off and worked in a bank and hated that too. It inspired me to go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree.

For about 4 years after that, I worked at another bank. I lived with a guy and we had a future planned. Kids, banking, marriage – it all seemed like the next natural phase. The thing is, neither of us really wanted that. We broke up. I think I’m at plan C now.

I began to think about law school. I went back to school to do some upgrading. During that time, I had three eye surgeries in two years, thought about doing a Masters in Social Work or Criminology, but ultimately applied for law school. I was accepted everywhere I applied and chose what was then called the University of Western Ontario.

I didn’t really know what kind of law I wanted to practice so I didn’t specialize like some students did. I knew I liked criminal law. I volunteered at the Community Legal Services clinic and those were the files that interested me the most. But I was an average student and that meant that articling positions were a bit harder to come by. I could also always tell when an employer was skeptical about what I could do because of my limited vision. I secured a position at the Crown Law Office-Criminal in Toronto, assisting on appeals. After a year of that, I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than criminal law, but I thought appellate work was what I wanted. There weren’t many opportunities to stay on there, so I began the process of applying to jobs at Crown Attorneys’ Office across the province. I was prepared to move anywhere to start my career. I started with a four-month contract in London, then to Lindsay for ten months and then to Peterborough for a much lengthier stay.

I prosecuted everything in Peterborough from thefts of chocolate bars to homicide and I enjoyed it all. I loved being in court. I loved trial work. I really liked working with the police, helping victims and serving the community. My time in Peterborough was a mix of highs and lows. During that time, I had my eye removed, dealt with depression, but also made wonderful, supportive friends. I am fortunate to have had the time in Peterborough.

There came a time where that office was no longer a good fit for me. I moved back to the Lindsay Crown’s Office. Plan D? In 2018, I fell down three stairs in a restaurant and ended up with a concussion with symptoms that had me off work for eight months. During that time away from the Crown’s office, I started to really think about what I wanted for the rest of my life. I was burning out on criminal law and the politics involved in working for the government. I was 46 years old. What could I do at that point? I had never practiced in any area of law except criminal. I wanted to work. I thought about opening my own practice, but I had no business experience. My math skills were notoriously horrendous, so I doubted my ability to manage the financial aspect of running a business. Coincidentally, I had a very close friend who was ready for a change in her employment. She was an administrative genius and I thought, “I could really do this if she comes with me.” We talked about my idea and then, there was no turning back. When my brain healed, I started focusing on learning new areas of law. I took courses, I read law, and I began planning to open my practice.

In January 2019, I opened my business. It has been challenging. It has been a steep learning curve, but I love the challenge and the learning. My friend and I work hard together but we laugh every day. Many times I have wondered “what have I done?”. Here I am at plan E or F and it’s a struggle. But it’s also the best thing I could have done. I love working for my clients. I love helping them plan for their future, helping them move forward. I have hired a law clerk and I’m enjoying teaching him and learning with him. I know that in this job, I will never stop learning. I will never stop adapting to new situations. I will never stop growing ad I am so grateful for that.