Q&A: Silvana Lovera Herra, young lawyer

When Silvana Lovera Herra walked across the UBC stage in 2013 to receive her law degree, it was a very special moment for her.

It marked the end of seven years of rigorous academia, with no break in between.

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One year later, at just 25 years old, the Burnaby native was called to the bar. She worked at a national law firm before joining boutique personal injury firm Simpson, Thomas & Associates less than eight months ago. The firm specializes in dealing with motor vehicle accident claims.

Her career accomplishments make her the first lawyer in her Italian family, who originally came to Canada in the late '50s.

The NOW caught up with Lovera Herra, now 27, to ask questions about what it was like entering law at such a young age and why she chose the path she did.

Tell us a little bit about your family. Why did they decide to come to Canada in the late 50s?

Following the Second World War, there wasn’t any work in Italy, according to my grandfather. I know there was some sort of program where by the Canadian government sponsored or made it easier for Italian immigrants to come to Canada. One of my grandfather’s came to B.C. and he went to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). I know he worked in the logging camp there and he may have done some work on the trains. My other grandfather went to Thunder Bay and then to Toronto. My mom was a chartered accountant; now, she’s not working anymore, she retired. My dad is a commercial mortgage broker. They were both East Van Italians who eventually moved to North Burnaby.

Why did you want to go into law?

I always wanted to help people and find a profession where I could do that and make a decent wage. When I was in high school, one of my counsellors would always go head-to-head if I wanted to switch a class. He would just say to me, ‘Oh, Lovera, why don’t you become a lawyer, join the debate team?’ So I’ve always been OK with confrontation. I like debating and that sort of thing, and I thought maybe law would be an interesting career to pursue.

You were called to the bar when you were only 25. How did you feel at the time?

I kind of just felt like go, go, go, go. I graduated high school and then for the summer had some fun, went straight into McGill University. As I’m finishing my third year, taking the LSAT, going straight to law school, I didn’t really know that there were other options. I sort of had a goal, had to get to it. I considered taking a year off, but my parents were like, ‘No, you’ll get sidetracked, just keep going.’ When you’re caught up in that whole experience of trying to get into law school, then trying to get good enough marks to get a job, then finally getting your articling position, then worrying about getting hired back by the firm, you don’t take too much time to stop and reflect and go, ‘Oh, I’m 25 now and I’m a lawyer.’ You don’t really realize it, that accomplishment. People have to remind you, strangers have to remind you because you’re surrounded by people doing the same thing as you.

What motivated you to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time?

I’m not very good at sitting still and waiting around for things. I wanted to be a lawyer, so I thought I might as well just do that. I set timelines for myself. In the past year, I switched jobs, bought a condo, got married and then got a dog. I like my spare time, but once I set my mind on something, it’s hard for me to kind of slow down. And once you’re in law school, there’s a lot of pressure to keep going. I thought if I’m here, I’m going to give everything to it.

Does being so young ever catch your colleagues or clients off guard?

I think so. I know people at my old firm used to make fun of me as being the baby, in a nice way (laughs). I’ve had clients ask if I was an intern or a legal secretary because they didn’t think I would be the age that I am. I haven’t found any issue with clients, really. Most of the time, clients are surprised to see how young I look. They’re usually impressed when I tell them.

What attracted you to personal injury law?

At my old firm, I was doing a lot of ICBC defence work, which basically means I learned the other side of an ICBC file. I would be against personal injury lawyers, defending ICBC claims, and I got a real sense for how that practice worked, and I really liked it. The one thing that made me really want to be a plaintiff personal injury lawyer was that I got to represent regular people. At my old firm, I had a high billing rate so I could never offer my services to my friends or my family, or anyone I’d meet. I don’t even know if I could have afforded it myself. The way that plaintiff personal injury works, especially for motor vehicle accidents, is anyone can have a personal injury lawyer and then we don’t charge them until the end of their file. So that completely changes who your clientele is. Now, I’m in a position where all my clients are individual people. They range. I have some professionals, I have some people who are housewives, I have some people who are retired, infants, teenagers, students.

You must deal with some traumatic files. How has that affected you?

It can be hard, especially some of our more severe files where you’re dealing with people who have traumatic brain injuries, or people who’ve lost their loved ones in accidents. Emotionally, it is difficult. I think over time, you sort of learn how to best deal with people going through that, and that’s something I’m still working on learning. Sometimes it’s hard to leave that at work when you go home, if you’ve been in a meeting where people are crying or visited a client in the hospital. But I still would rather be on that side of it.

Do you think you’ll explore any other areas of law down the road?

I really like this area of law, so unless I had to, I wouldn’t. I really like the firm that I’m at. I feel like I’ve found a good groove here.

What are you hoping people take away from your story?

When you’re blessed to have the opportunity to be challenged by work and make something of yourself, take it. Know that it won’t be easy and work hard.  It will not always be glamorous, just like I’m sure it was not glamorous for our grandparents to be working jobs in the logging camp, laying bricks etc., over 50 years ago. But the opportunity to work and do something that you enjoy is a privilege that should not be taken for granted.

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