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Women in law

Women in law

Three leading Bahamian lawyers reflect on their success

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
December 8, 2010
December 8, 2010
Catherine Boal

The Bahamas’ financial services industry is second only to tourism in terms of the contribution it makes to the country’s gross domestic product. It is not surprising then that the sector has attracted a number of highly trained professionals from the legal field. The Bahamas Investor talks to three of Nassau’s top female lawyers about the challenges involved in working in such a fast-paced and dynamic environment.

Melinda Bacchus-Maynard, Glinton, Sweeting & O’Brien
Melinda Bacchus-Maynard, an associate at Nassau law firm Glinton, Sweeting & O’Brien, specializes in commercial and corporate law, financial services and investment.

Born in Nassau to a Russian mother and Guyanese father, Bacchus-Maynard grew up in a professional household. “My mother was a dentist and my father a doctor, so I was always exposed to the medical profession. Law was another profession I was interested in, but did not know anything about, since we had no lawyers in the family. I thought it was fascinating.”

Despite being drawn to law, Bacchus-Maynard was still uncertain of what she wanted to do after leaving boarding school in Toronto. Looking for a degree that would be attractive to prospective employers and not exclude her from studying law at a later stage, she chose to study psychology, with a minor in marketing and sociology, at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. It was while she was working through a business law module on her marketing course that she became committed to building a career in the legal field.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Bacchus-Maynard spent three years in the UK, firstly at Leeds University and then moving to London to complete her bar examination. After qualifying, the lawyer- to-be decided it was time to return to where she was raised.

“Once you have been away, you have a new appreciation for home and you are more recognized and respected there,” she says.

Other factors were also pulling her back. While completing her law degree, the ambitious student worked during the summers at Bahamian law firm Higgs and Johnson, which offered her a pupillage once her studies were completed.

From Higgs and Johnson, Bacchus-Maynard moved to Lennox Paton where she met fellow lawyer Brian Glinton, whom she now describes as her “mentor.” When Glinton left Lennox Paton four years later to form his own company, his apprentice was only too happy to follow him. “I have worked closely with him for my entire professional life. It was natural to move with him,” she says.

Bacchus-Maynard has now been with Glinton, Sweeting & O’Brien for over four years.

“It is important that I am doing really good quality work and being satisfied with what I produce. It is about making every client feel like they are the only, and the most important, client.”

But work isn’t everything and one of her biggest motivations is “providing for my family.” Family is very important to the hard-working wife and mother. “You work hard and you play hard,” she explains–and with a two-year-old daughter at home, there are plenty of opportunities for play. Bacchus-Maynard’s husband is civil litigation lawyer Peter Maynard, but she says the two rarely talk shop at home and spend their free time taking frequent trips to Eleuthera to visit family.

At work, Bacchus-Maynard relishes the opportunity to develop her skills and experience different facets of the job. Glinton, Sweeting & O’Brien has been advising the Albany development partners since the development began and Bacchus-Maynard is proud of her involvement with the $1.3-billion project.

“Working on Albany showed all the different phases and areas of law involved in getting a development up and running, from forming the company to dealing with the approvals process,” she says.

Albany may have been one of the highlights of her career so far, but Bacchus-Maynard has no intention of slowing down. “I want to continue climbing the corporate ladder and stay on top of any legislative or government changes in my field.

“I love to be busy,” she laughs, “but it is about balancing work and family time. As my father always says ‘steady as she goes.’”

Pamela Klonaris, Klonaris & Co
Pamela Klonaris, a partner at Klonaris & Co, is another of Nassau’s lawyers who likes to be busy.

The mother of two, who describes herself as “very ambitious,” serves on a number of committees, as well as working full-time at the Lyford Cay firm. She is a former chairperson of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), as well as a past director of the Bahamas Financial Services Board (BFSB).

“As the old saying goes ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person,’” she says. “My experience has been that the busier you are, the more you get done, because you become very economical with your time.

“I am very organized and used to working long hours. If I take on something I give it 100 per cent.”

This attitude clearly paid off when the Long Island native decided, at the age of 16, that she wanted to study law.

“My parents had sent me to Nassau to live with an aunt and spend two years at secretarial school. From there I got my first job at Wells Campbell, just before my sixteenth birthday. I was accompanying one of the lawyers to the court, when I realized that was what I wanted to do.

“It was just the atmosphere of being in court. That experience gave me the idea that it was a challenging job and something I would like,” she recalls.

For the next two years Klonaris continued her day job as a secretary while completing an A-Level correspondence course in her free time–a period she describes as being “very hard work.”

The hard work didn’t end there, as she spent a further two years at the University of the West Indies getting her undergraduate degree before heading to the London School of Economics to complete her studies. It was while studying in London that Klonaris landed her first job in The Bahamas. She saw an advertisement for a position with Ansbacher bank in Nassau in The London Times, immediately applied and was accepted.

“I started in a bank on the advice of my school advisor,” she explains. “I wanted to do that before a law placement, so I could learn it from the inside out.”

Klonaris spent six years at the bank, steadily moving up the ranks from trust officer to manager of corporate services and, finally, to in-house counsel. In 1994 “the timing was right to join a law firm” and she made the leap to respected Nassau firm Callenders & Co to complete her legal pupillage.

“What I learned from the partners at Callenders was invaluable. It is crucial to work with attorneys who have the wealth of experience and knowledge that they have,” says Klonaris.

Klonaris was lured to Klonaris & Co in September 2001, just a few months after the firm was created, and now works with her brother-in-law and company founder Anthony, and nephew Mike. She continues to specialize in corporate and securities law, developing innovative investment vehicles, such as the SMART?fund model, including the 006 model for which she won the BFSB’s 2010 Development and Promotion Award.

“I am asked to serve on various committees and I hope that in the future people will continue to value my opinion. I hope I have the opportunity to influence legislative change. That will always be one of my goals.”

Klonaris believes lawyers entering the profession now also have a part to play in shaping the sector. “Young members of the bar should become members of organizations such as STEP and BFSB. Through that you learn what is going on.”

G Diane Stewart, McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes
G Diane Stewart, partner at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, agrees with Klonaris and she should know, being closely involved in teaching the next generation of Bahamian lawyers. The experienced litigator began her career in teaching before moving on to law, and found a way to incorporate both disciplines in her career, until recently tutoring students at the Eugene Dupuch Law School and providing mentorships.

“My father wanted me to be a lawyer and, true to most young people, I was stubborn and decided I was not going to do that, so I trained as a teacher,” she laughs. “I am still a teacher at heart. It is demanding, but I love it. The interaction with the students keeps me on my toes.”

Stewart taught at R M Bailey Senior High School in Nassau for five years before deciding to take her father’s advice and play to her strengths.

“My father recognized that I had certain traits useful for a lawyer. I love to read and I will argue strongly for what I believe. I am not easily persuaded otherwise.”

When Stewart, whose uncle is former Governor General Sir Orville Turnquest, made the switch to law she trained under the articleship system, which has now been replaced by the pupillage route. Under articleship, trainee lawyers became apprenticed to a “master,” who serves as a mentor and shows them the ropes.

While completing an articleship, participants work on cases, whilst studying for their bar exams. After four years of intense training under her mentor Winston Saunders, Stewart was called to the bar and joined McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes where she has remained ever since specializing in civil and commercial litigation, representing banks, insurance companies and private clients.

“I love this firm,” she says simply.

Aside from her daily workload at McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, the mother of two is also a member of the firm’s executive committee, has an extensive family law practice and is a director of FirstCaribbean International Bank (Bahamas). She recently announced her retirement from the staff at the Eugene Dupuch Law School, where she was a lecturer for almost ten years.

“I enjoy what I do and I like the challenge,” she explains. “Someone once said I’m like the Energizer bunny–I just keep going!

“As a female attorney it is a challenge where you have to learn to juggle and, if you are committed to your profession and committed to your family, then you learn to work more than 24 hours a day.”

In balancing her workload, Stewart says her priority is her client.

“It does not matter to me how big the case is, what matters is whether or not the client is satisfied with my efforts at the end of the day.

“We deal with law firms from all over the world on a daily basis and have many foreign clients, so you have to be on your game. You need to make them feel comfortable,” she says.

With such a high pressure environment at work, Stewart, who recently returned from a trip to China, says her favourite way to relax is to travel. “I love to travel and see other cultures. My friends and I have a pact to see every Family Island. Before you see other cultures, you should learn something of your own.”

Another way of escaping the pressures of work is music. A keen pianist, Stewart is the organist and choir director at her church and says enthusiastically “music is food for my soul.”

Despite having a long and successful career behind her, the teacher-turned-lawyer says she is still learning when it comes to her profession. “In law, everybody learns every day,” she says. Still ambitious, she has set her sights on achieving an even higher goal–to join the ranks of the Bahamian judiciary and sit on the bench.

“It is the pinnacle of the practice of law. I love people, so it is a way to interact with people and to still engage in the practice and pursuit of law.”

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