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Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP celebrates its employees at a Long Service Luncheon.Provided

As a law student at the University of Ottawa, Kiran Uppal was introduced to Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP during her first year of study. The firm sponsors a moot, a competition where students act as counsel arguing a case before a court of appeal, and Uppal was an enthusiastic participant.

From there, she took a summer job with Nelligan, which proved to be a rewarding experience. “When you’re a student, you’re trying not to pigeonhole yourself,” says Uppal, now an associate in the firm’s family law group. “You want to keep an open mind and be exposed to different areas of the law. Nelligan’s student program offered exposure to employment litigation, real estate, corporate, intellectual property and family law.”

Uppal says she has always been attracted to family law and, after articling and being called to the bar, she found a supportive home in Nelligan’s family law group. “What stands out to me, because I am a junior lawyer, is the mentorship that the firm provides,” says Uppal. “It’s a core value of the firm. As soon as you start as an associate, you get paired with a senior associate, usually from a different group.”

She also has a mentor within her group. “I’m constantly being mentored by our senior lawyers,” she adds. “Nelligan really invests in its lawyers.”

Nelligan supports its lawyers, as well as its staff, in other ways. “We really care about our employees,” says Pamela El-Feghaly, people and culture manager. “We try to put them first. Our approach to our people is to say, how can we make your experience better?”

El-Feghaly joined Nelligan in the spring of 2023, and she promptly booked one-on-one meetings to solicit staff members’ views on how the culture of the firm could best serve their interests. “Some wanted more support around mental health, others wanted more equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives,” she says. “We are bringing into the culture whatever the staff wanted.”

Nelligan also impresses upon team members the importance of work-life balance. “We want to be the firm that really encourages you to do your best work, but also live your best life,” says El-Feghaly. “We talk to our students and our staff about that.”

As a mid-sized firm, Nelligan organizes social events throughout the year to encourage collegiality. “There are always different types of events that allow you to connect with colleagues outside your group,” says Uppal. “Sometimes, we have cultural lunches. We’ve had a Brazilian lunch, a Chinese lunch and other types of lunches organized by members of the firm who were of that culture.”

El-Feghaly adds: “We bring people together to socialize, to have conversations and to celebrate their accomplishments. We recently had a baby shower for one of our colleagues. In January, we had a firmwide lunch to welcome in the new year.”

An additional benefit, says Uppal, is the financial support that lawyers receive when they’re starting out and on an ongoing basis. The firm covers the cost of bar exams and the robes that lawyers wear when appearing in court. It also covers annual fees to the Law Society of Ontario and the cost of meeting the LSO’s mandated 12 hours of yearly continuing professional development.

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