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Law alum creates award so students like the one he once was can realize their dreams

Posted: January 25, 2024

By: Mark Campbell

A headshot of a man wearing a black suit and blue and purple striped tie Nathaniel Marshall (BA'09, JD'13)

A graduate of Schulich Law’s Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative (IB&M), Nathaniel Marshall (BA’09 JD’13) dreamed of becoming a lawyer so he could give back to his community. Now, he has a Toronto-based practice specializing in workplace issues including anti-Black racism. With the Keith & Gail Marshall IB&M Award, Marshall is helping current students realize their dreams.

The decision to bet on yourself is a huge one, says Nathaniel Marshall (BA’09, JD’13). But this two-time Dal alum doubled down when he traded the security of employment to launch his own Toronto-based labour and employment law firm in 2022.

Marshall says the motivation to strike out on his own was fueled in part by a demand for firms that could bring an equity lens to workplace investigations. “I had a lot of clients and potential clients coming to me as a racialized lawyer, specifically a Black lawyer, looking to have that lens applied in workplace investigations,” he says. “I realized there was a need for a firm that offered more diversity and thought I could help address that.”

Exceeding expectations

Two years later, Marshall’s firm, Marshall Workplace Law, has not only helped to meet that need, but also thrived as a result. The firm’s revenues are 10 times what he projected for his first year. He’s hired four associates and a legal assistant to serve his growing client base. And he’s being invited to speak to law societies, universities, and human resource associations. That’s a far cry from his original goal of merely holding onto clients.

“Sometimes, you wonder if you’re smart enough to see it through, but I’ve been lucky,” says Marshall. “I have a great team that offers exceptional service to our clients, and I think that’s been a key to our success.”

A strong foundation

There is another factor that Marshall credits for his success: Schulich Law’s Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq (IB&M) Initiative. The program provides scholarships and mentorship to help Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq students like him pursue careers in law.

Marshall says it was the program and its goals that were a key factor in his decision to study law at Dalhousie. “It’s really hard to measure the value of financial support that removes the barrier between you and a program that can make your dreams come true,” he says. “But IB&M also connected me to a community of support that believed in me. I can’t really put into words everything the program gave me, but it is the foundation for everything I do now.”

A group of three people with two at the back and one in front standing in a lobby Nathaniel Marshall (pictured top left)

Supporting the next generation

Now, Marshall is giving back to help a new generation of students succeed. In 2023, Marshall created the Keith & Gail Marshall Award, named for his parents, who are also Dal alumni. The award will provide a bursary to every IB&M student during their final semester.

“I wanted students to feel like they’re worth it, so I didn’t want there to be any screening,” Marshall explains. “It’s a way to say, ‘You’re here, you deserve to be here, and here’s something to show for all your hard work.’”

More than validation, Marshall says he hopes the award will give students a solid financial foundation both to transition from their studies into articling and to think about what comes after that.

“I want to encourage them to build the future they want, like starting their own firm, and not only expedite that, but also do it better than me,” he says.

Looking forward, giving back

Doing better than Marshall may take some effort. His goal now is to make Marshall Workplace Law Canada’s leading labour and employment law firm. But Marshall continues to find ways to give back. He is an advisor to Black HR Professionals of Canada, which connects Black HR professionals and supports them in working on practices to combat anti-Black racism. He is also motivating and sharing his knowledge with alternative dispute resolution and first-year human rights students at Schulich Law.

“I hope I am encouraging them to be the best possible version of themselves and to be unwavering in their pursuit of the career they want, whatever that may be,” he says.