“If I can help one person reach his or her goals, then it’s worth it.”
For someone who’s only been in Calgary long enough to put two Stampedes under her trés chic belt, Evelyn Ackah hasn’t wasted a moment in making a professional and personal mark on her new hometown.
Ackah has built an impeccable reputation in the field of business immigration law. And if her name sounds familiar, it may just be you’ve seen her interviewed on TV or radio, giving her take on human resource trends relating to Canadian and U.S. immigration laws and foreign worker laws.
Ackah moved to Calgary from Toronto in June 2008 to assume the position of partner with Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. Impressed by Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit, and identifying a market opportunity for specialized HR legal services, she started talking with like-minded professionals about launching a boutique firm.
Last February, despite the rough economy, Ackah launched Spectrum HR Law LLP, and was honoured to find that most of her former clients came with her. In keeping with its pledge to “practice HR law differently,” Ackah’s firm offers clients complementary services and customized payment schedules, as well as fixed-fee services, all without the overhead of a large firm, and the firm grants its lawyers more flexible work arrangements.
During its first six months in business, Spectrum has grown from 12 to 20 employees, and has opened an office in Vancouver. “We planned for strategic growth, but not quite at this pace,” Ackah laughs. “It’s a great problem to have.”
Ackah’s achievements fly in the face of the legal profession’s cautionary tales about gender and racial barriers to success, so she’s a big believer in helping other women and visible minorities reach their full potential.
“I was one of five black law students in a class of 550,” she says of her graduating class at UBC in 1997. “I was mentored by some amazing people early in my career, and now I’m a mentor with the Black Law Students’ Association. If I can help one person reach his or her goals, then it’s worth it.”
Ackah brings a similar spirit to the leadership role she plays in the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s campaign, Women Moving Women. The campaign seeks to raise 2,500 Canadian women and children out of poverty by helping to underwrite their training in economically rewarding fields like trades and technology.
“Giving another woman an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and turn her life around is an amazing feeling,” says Ackah.
Why she’s the top: Regarded as one of the top immigration lawyers in Canada, Ackah recently took a leap from being a partner at a big firm to being the founder of a boutique firm specializing in human resources law. In between representing multi-national companies with immigration issues and running a thriving business, Ackah devotes 25-plus hours a month to mentoring black law students and helping low-income women out of poverty.
The key to her success: “Never, ever give up. Face challenges with confidence and courage; they may loom large, but if you continue to chip away at them, you’ll see that anything is possible.”