Kelly Campagnola

Assistant Manager of External Legal Services (Environmental Studies, BA)

Kelly Campagnola, TD Bank

  • 2011, Honours Bachelor of Arts, Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University.
  • 2014, Juris Doctor, University of Ottawa.

Kelly shares her personal story of her career journey to find purpose and meaning. Perseverance and determination has helped her move towards her goal of becoming a lawyer.

Growing up in the northern Ontario community of South Porcupine, Ontario, Kelly was witness to ongoing subtle instances of discrimination that greatly impacted her emotional wellbeing. By the end of high school she observed and experienced overt discrimination, which was the catalyst for her decision to go to law school and work towards making changes for the Indigenous community and increasing awareness worldwide.

Law school is an ambitious goal, and Kelly states that the most important piece of advice she could give to applicants is to take the initiative to obtain valuable experiences. Kelly suggests shadowing people working in the field of law, so you can be sure it is something you really want to do. If you are sure you want to practice law, take the opportunity to try to learn more about the communities you want to serve in a legal capacity before you get to law school. She exerted herself as much as possible to become involved with the Indigenous community during her undergraduate degree. For instance, Kelly was able to attend one of the largest healing ceremonies in Alberta by obtaining funding from Goldcorp. There are also many writing, scholarship, and bursary opportunities geared to Indigenous students which you can learn about at the Indigenous Student Centre. As an avid writer she constantly applied for essay competitions, and in her fourth year of studies, she won a national essay contest held by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) (now known as Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada). She had an amazing opportunity to meet Peter Kent and present her essay about Indigenous entrepreneurs and why the government should continue to provide funding for Indigenous businesses.

Many successful individuals often credit their mentors as playing an important role in their career journey as they often are key supporters and motivators. For Kelly, mentors played an important role in helping her succeed in her education. She attributes the quality of professors at Laurier, specifically, Jody Decker, whose eagerness to help students individually motivated her to attend class and actively participate. Decker showed her why it was so important to advocate for Indigenous groups in Canada and taught her the plight of First Nations and other Indigenous groups in Canada. She was inspired to strive for more and wanted to change people’s views. Another of Kelly's mentors was Melissa Ireland, the student support coordinator at the Indigenous Student Centre’s Waterloo campus, who supported Kelly through university and offered Kelly letters of recommendation to law school. Melissa Ireland welcomed Kelly into the Indigenous Resource Centre with open arms. She helped her realize that the fact that she didn’t look Indigenous didn’t matter, and that she would still be accepted at the Resource Centre and within the Indigenous community. Kelly states that Melissa Ireland is an incredible woman, the work that she does is so valuable and that she is so grateful for her mentorship. Her acceptance meant the world to her at a time in her life when she wasn’t sure where she belonged. She encourages all students of Indigenous decent, whether or not you have gone through the process of obtaining recognition from your Nation, to seek out Melissa and attend the Indigenous Resource Centre so you can learn more about your heritage and to connect with students who are going through the same thing.

Kelly recommends looking through different law schools at ouac.on.ca/olsas to find more information about programs of interest to choose one that is best suited to you and your interests. Although she was accepted on her first round of applications perhaps the most important thing Kelly says to keep in mind is to not get discouraged if you don’t succeed on the first try. The average age of admittance to law school is 27 years old and many only receive an acceptance on their second or third attempt.

Kelly warns that it is very important to develop good time-management skills while still an undergraduate student because it is crucial to attend every lecture and do the assigned readings if you want to succeed. She recommends using Learning Services to help develop time-management skills if you need advice to help improve your studies. The first year of law school has a substantial learning curve and it can make you doubt yourself, so building a reliable support system of friends and family to depend on, including using the Indigenous Resource Centre at your campus is helpful. During her undergraduate years, Kelly was just coming into her identity, and the Indigenous Resource Centre at Laurier gave her a place to be herself and be open. Kelly further cautions that law school is a highly competitive environment, which can be overwhelming at times, but Kelly really enjoyed learning something new every day and learning about captivating law cases.

Kelly feels that one of the best things she has learned during law school is personal growth, and she has emerged from the experience as a completely different person. Originally, she was interested in Indigenous law, however, her career path has now shifted as she has discovered Indigenous law was too personal for her currently. As she develops more experience and emotional strength, she says that she may enter that field in the future. The great thing about being a lawyer, Kelly states, is that you are not pigeonholed once you graduate; there are multitudes of opportunities in a variety of areas. There are constant learning opportunities and chances to advocate on behalf of something you believe in.

Kelly completed her articling at TD Bank in Toronto. After being so focused on Indigenous law and Indigenous rights, she feels that it was a welcomed opportunity to gain exposure to many other different areas of law. Kelly is now working as the assistant manager of external legal services at TD Bank. Despite the fact that she is not practicing Indigenous law, she is still connected to Indigenous issues in a financial context because many bands are investing and placing money in trusts. She reached out to the Indigenous hiring coordinator, James McKay, which provided her with an advantage during the application process as the organisation is committed to increasing diversity representation of their workforce as an equal opportunity employer. Many larger companies have human resource roles heavily involved in the Indigenous community to attract and retain Indigenous employees. In the future, Kelly’s aspiration is to become a vice-president at a legal department at a Fortune 500 company. She believes that it is important to remember that most people will not have their dream career from the beginning. There will be hard times and perseverance before you will find success and you will have to work hard to reach your goals.

Kelly’s final piece of advice is that anything worth having is going to be hard work. But when you feel committed to your goal and it is truly in your heart, you mustn’t let the ‘little things’ trip you up. When you have a goal, you must try and try again and recognize that there will be challenges along the way. Embrace the challenges and recognize the unforeseen opportunities that may be contained within.