Skip to Content

Trained for success

Former Olympic swimmer Sandrine Mainville uses all the lessons she learned as a top-flight athlete to propel her success as a lawyer.

Sandrine Mainville
Photo: Pierre Charbonneau

In 2012, swimmer Sandrine Mainville did not make Canada's Olympic team, but she didn't let that setback stop her from doing everything she could, including moving from Montreal to Toronto, to realize her dream. She went on to win two medals, including gold, at the 2015 Pan Am Games and bronze for the 4 x 100 m freestyle relay at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

Not making it to the London games in 2012, coupled with other triumphs and challenges, including a shoulder injury, taught Mainville lessons and gave her the confidence and maturity she says have carried through to her legal career. 

"When I was an athlete, the reason why I was not that nervous in competition is because every time I showed up in front of the diving blocks, I said I couldn't have done anything better. I did the training. I slept well. I ate well. So if it goes wrong, it's just bad luck, or it's just a bad day, but I cannot change anything," says the 31-year-old Mainville. "This applies the same way when I have a mandate. I want to deliver something knowing that I did everything I could to deliver the best product." 

Mainville, now an associate in the labour and employment group at Borden Ladner Gervais' Montreal office, says her experiences as an athlete shaped her in a way beneficial to her legal career. At the same time, she says studying law while also training at the highest levels helped keep her balanced. She says she realized during the year she took off to focus only on swimming that she needed to do something else "because if I put everything in the same basket and if swimming doesn't go well, then I don't have anything else to rely on." 

Studies have shown that women who have participated in sports often rise to become business leaders. In a 2020 report from EY, 74% of executive women said a sports background can help accelerate a woman's career because they see projects through, motivate others, and build strong teams. It also showed that 94% of women in the C-suite played sports. 

A life in law was the post-competition life choice for several other Olympians, including swimmer Mike Brown, a business lawyer at Cunningham Swan in Kingston; rower Patricia Smith, who is also currently the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee; kayaker Jillian D'Alessio, who practises insurance defence at McInnes Cooper in Halifax; and skater Alexandra Paul, a Barrie lawyer who died tragically in a car accident near last August. 

Mainville had focussed on science at Cegep but decided it wasn't for her. Law made sense and fit her personality because "I'm very practical and analytical. I have a logical mind." She says she likes to prove her point but is also a good listener. "I think that's a good thing for a lawyer." 

She began law school at Université de Montréal in 2013, while focusing on her Olympic goals in the pool. The dean allowed her to go at her own pace (law school took her five instead of the usual three years). 

"I took my time, but I just kept enough classes to keep me balanced and to have a good routine," she says. "I was going to training in the morning, then I would go to school, then I would have enough time to come back and relax and get ready for my second practice at night. I thought this was really perfect for me." 

Fellow students were very supportive, she says, including recording classes to watch later that she had to miss if she was in Florida as part of her training. 

While in law school, Mainville wanted to be a litigator, possibly in criminal or family law because she liked the "emotional aspect of it." But once she dipped her toe into labour and employment law, she knew it was for her. She says she cour and employment group and, knowing in her mind that at some point she wanted to do "sports law," that the two would fit together because of many similarities. 

She points out that few major law firms specialize in sports law. However, her labour and employment practice, coupled with her role on the board of the Fédération de natation du Québec, her athletic journey, her podcast, and her involvement in the BLG team's review of the governance of Hockey Canada, are all shaping the foundation for that next career goal, she explains.

"Being an ex-athlete and realizing everything that needs to be improved in the sports community, talking about harassment for example," she says. "It's improving right now, but it's still not perfect. I realized that I wanted to help, I wanted to talk about it, to eventually change the legal support system."  

Her involvement with the Hockey Canada case has whet her appetite for participating in the larger discussion about the future of sports in this country. And while she isn't yet involved in the government's recently announced Future of Sport in Canada Commission over abuse and harassment in sport, Mainville said she's reached out and welcomes any chance to participate. 

In the last year, to expand her sports knowledge, Mainville also launched a French podcast, Point.01, in which she talks to different people in the world of sport, such as Andréanne Morin, the ombudsman for the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Though she was an athlete she says she still has a lot to learn about sports, so the podcast is a way for to connect with interesting people and raise awareness about sport-related issues. It's a savvy branding move fully supported by BLG. 

In the four years Mainville's been practising law, she's already gained the recognition of peers. In December, she was one of nine lawyers of the Young Bar of Montreal awarded a "Lawyer of the Year Award" for distinguishing herself in the field of labour and employment law.