Attorney recognized as ‘Change Agent’ for interpreting complex law

Attorney recognized as ‘Change Agent’ for interpreting complex law

The province’s Consumer Protection Act is very complex and complicated. Just ask Toronto lawyer, Suhuyini Abudulai.

A few years ago, a lawyer in Quebec asked her a question pertaining to the Ontario Act and suggested she refer to the law’s annotated version.

Consumer protection law often deals with several overlapping legal disciplines and jurisdictions.

“It’s not very straightforward and in some instances, you tend to have to dig deep and maybe, on occasion, look at case law,” said Abudulai who is an associate at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP. “Sometimes you are trying to do something and when you go to the section, it tells you this is the answer, but you need to review this other section. When you go there, you are directed to yet another section. It’s circular and not the easiest Act to navigate.”

Not knowing anything about an annotated version, Abudulai made a call to her firm’s law library and was informed it was not part of their collection.

With the support of LexisNexis, which is a leading global provider of information and technology solutions that enable professionals in legal, corporate, tax, government, academic and non-profit organizations to make informed decisions and achieve better business outcomes, she authored the first version of “The Annotated Protection Act” in 2014.

“I am constantly updating it,” said Abudulai who will release the third version next year. “It’s an interesting area of law and there are a lot of developments.”

Called to the Bar seven years ago, the young lawyer was recently included in Canadian Business magazine’s inaugural list of 38 Change Agents for making a complex area of law easier to understand. The honour comes just five months after she was the recipient of a Precedent Setter Award presented annually to six Ontario lawyers for displaying leadership and excellence in the profession.

While developing an interest in law in Grade 11 in Nova Scotia, Abudulai said her passion for the legal profession emerged out of her advocating for the voiceless and disenfranchised while residing in Wolfville, which is about 100 kilometres northwest of Halifax.

“Because of the racism I was exposed to, I became involved with organizations like the Black Educators Association and the Kings County Committee for Equal Education,” she said. “My advocacy work was related to employment and education which are issues that are important to me.”

Leaving Ghana – her birth country – at a very young age, Abudulai spent eight years in Swaziland before relocating to Guelph with her family in 1989. She followed her parents to Nova Scotia and completed high school and undergraduate studies at Dalhousie University before coming back to Ontario.

“Nova Scotia is a beautiful province, but Ontario is where I wanted to be in terms of pursuing opportunities and a career,” she said. “I just wanted to stay in Nova Scotia after high school to be close to my family.”

After graduating with a law degree in 2007 from the University of Windsor where she was an intern in the Freedom of Information and Privacy Office and the Intellectual Property Legal Information Network, Abudulai articled at Cassels, Brock & Blackwell for 11 months before joining the legal firm in September 2009 as a banking and lending lawyer.

Her practice focuses on commercial lending transactions, representing lenders and borrowers in domestic and multi-jurisdictional financial transactions and advising on regulatory compliance matters in financial services and the payment industry, including compliance with consumer protection laws.

“This is an area that I enjoy and is constantly evolving, especially with the way technology is shaping the path that money moves,” she said. “Developing the niche was helpful and it’s something that I am still building expertise in.”

While enjoying her time now at one of Canada’s largest business law practices, Abudulai said the early years were frustrating.

“I faced some unique challenges in the first few years that led to a feeling of dejection and not feeling being valued,” she said. “Basically, I had checked out. I however think a lot of how I was feeling had to do with attitude. There are many things in life that you can’t control. What you however could control is how you respond to them. We can control our attitude and that makes a world of difference.”

Blessed with remarkable marketing skills, Abudulai was out most evenings attending legal events. Unfortunately, the out-of-office socializing and networking didn’t result in work opportunities for the junior associate.

Alison Manzer, a senior partner in the firm’s financial services group, stepped in with some useful advice that turned things around for Abudulai. She told her to be more strategic in choosing the events she attends, win files from partners and develop a speciality.

Abudulai complied and is forever grateful for the advice.

“Alison has played a pivotal role in where I am,” she said. “She has been an incredible mentor and her support was very helpful. It is very important to have that, especially for some of us who are underrepresented in the profession.”

Despite a hectic workload, Abudulai – who will be the keynote speaker at the Black Law Students Association of Canada 26th annual national conference in Windsor next February – finds time to voluntarily contribute to several legal organizations.

She co-founded her firm’s diversity and inclusion committee, chairs their Black affinity group, is an American Bar Association diversity & inclusion committee content director and a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and two Black Female Lawyers Network committees.

When at home, Abudulai loves to cook.

“I enjoy doing that and food,” she said. “My partner often says that if I am not eating food, I am thinking about it. That’s so true.”

She met financial planner, Brock Wilimek, on eHarmony – an online dating website – in the summer of 2012 and they spend most Friday nights making the signature dishes and drinks of countries around the world.

“We have busy work schedules, so Friday is our standing ‘date night’,” she said. “That could mean we are cooking or just sitting on the couch looking at TV or staring at the walls. That is our time together and we value it.”

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