The Every Lawyer

Practicing North of 60

Episode Summary

North of 60: where the most interesting legal work is to be had while simultaneously answering the call of the wild. Julia welcomes northern practitioners, Paulina Ross, Eric Cheng, and Leeland Hawkings, for a conversation about what it takes to practice law in Canada's North.

Episode Notes

What is it like to fly in, perhaps even get briefly stranded, and then fly back out, all the while sharing some very close quarters with both the judge and opposing counsel?  

Very collegial.

Julia welcomes an ad hoc panel of pan northern practitioners and active CBA members to The Every Lawyer:

Leeland Hawkings was born and raised in Whitehorse, where he now works as legal counsel with the Yukon government; he is also the current vice president of the Yukon branch of the CBA.

Paulina Ross left her home in Yellowknife to do her JD and a Masters Degree in environmental science. She has now returned and is currently the only articling student in the Northwest Territories. 

Eric Cheng is our big city litigator who answered the call and is now with the Nunavut Prosecution Service, providing access to justice for people living in some of the most remote communities in the world.

It's no surprise to anyone that there is a shortage of skills in the North, but it may surprise you just how much opportunity there is for career growth for legal professionals. You may have to bring your own mason jars.

This conversation was recorded on May 30th, 2024.

Further listening:  The Place That Thaws - Podcast | APTN News

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Episode Transcription


[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

This is The Every Lawyer presented by the Canadian Bar Association

Julia Tétrault-

Provencher:      Hello. I'm Julia. Welcome to The Every Lawyer. Have you, like me, ever wondered what it might feel like to practise law in Canada’s Northern Territories? Well, let's find out. Please welcome our [unintelligible 00:00:28] panel of Pan-Northern practitioners and active CBA members. Leeland Hawkins was born and raised in Whitehorse where he now works as legal counsel with the Yukon government. He is also the current vice-president of the Yukon branch of the CBA.


Paulina Ross left her home in Yellowknife to do her JD and a master's degree in environmental science. She has now returned and is currently the only articling student in the Northwest Territory. Do you have any fellow articling students that are also based in Yellowknife?

Paulina Ross:    To my knowledge I'm the only one in the territory at the moment. I do know the last couple of articling students that have come through, they're also from Yellowknife and I went to high school with them. They're now post-call, but to my knowledge I'm the only one right now, and I believe there's somebody coming this summer as well to start, so there'll be two less for [unintelligible 00:01:32].

Julia:                 And, finally, Eric Cheng is our big city litigator, as we shall hear. Following some key work experience acquired through a placement in South Africa as part of the CBA’s Wildlife program and [unintelligible 00:01:49] the call and is now with the Nunavut Prosecution Service providing access to justice for people living in some of the most remote communities in the world.

Our conversation started, as so many conversations do north of 60, with climate change and the environment. With this year’s fires already burning, I asked Paulina if she was in Yellowknife last summer when it was evacuated?

Paulina:            I was lucky enough to miss the fires last summer. It was the first summer that I hadn't spent in Yellowknife in my life. I was doing the bar course, CPLED, in Alberta, so after I graduated from the University of Calgary I just stayed for the summer and did the accelerated course. But I did have a lot of my friends and family evacuate from Yellowknife and stay with me, stay with friends, so I was able to see them. But I, thankfully, missed the evacuation.

When I drove up back to Yellowknife in about October, all the fires were, you could still see the smouldering on the side of the road, lots of things burned down. Going through some of the communities that got ravaged was pretty eye-opening. And, again, as you said, there's smoke here today, you can smell it already. It seems way too early in the season for this, but here we are, unfortunately.

Julia:                 And, Lee, have you also witnessed those changes?


Hawkins:          Maybe not quite so newsworthy as the events in Yellowknife last summer, but lots of changes around here as well. Every spring there's been landslides that have shut down some of the major roads around Whitehorse just due to a higher than normal water table and more snow than usual. And just a few weeks ago there was fires down in Northern BC that actually knocked out all the telecommunication services for, I think, both NWT and Yukon for 36 hours, which was quite alarming. I guess everyone that doesn't have Starlink – so the Starlink people were just having internet parties at their house, which was kind of hilarious. And, yeah, just lots more flood events in various communities and some bad fire seasons as well, but Whitehorse has been, I think, relatively spared, but I think we're at similar risk from forest fires as places like Yellowknife and Fort McMurray, and so it's definitely top of mind for a lot of folks here.

Julia:                 So thank you very much to be here today, and also, I think to answer some of the questions or ideas that some people might have when it comes to working in the northern part of Canada. So first I would like – and you can decide whoever wants to start – if you could tell us about your professional journey?

Leeland:           Yeah. So like you said in the intro, I was born and raised in Whitehorse, and similar to Paulina I actually also studied environmental science after high school, although I didn't get a master's, just a mere bachelor’s degree. But after I finished university, my undergrad, I came back to Whitehorse and was working for an environmental consulting company as a fish and wildlife biologist. And so that was a really cool opportunity, especially in the north, because you get to travel to a lot of beautiful places and spend a lot of time outside.

So I did that for a couple of years, and it was interesting because while I was mostly practising science, a lot of that work ends up in these kind of environmental assessment processes, regulatory processes. A lot of touchpoints and visions into the legal system and also in relation to all the modern land claims agreements that are up here. So in Yukon there's 11 of the 14 what we call Yukon First Nations. There's also various transboundary Indigenous groups that have claims in Yukon, but 11 of the 14 have modern land claims agreements, and so there's systems of environmental assessment and kind of regulatory systems that are built on top of those.

And so while I was doing the science there was a lot of the legal implications of that on the assessment of these major projects that I was working on, so I got interested in some of the facts and land use planning and environmental assessment through that work. And I wanted to pursue that further through law, so that's when I made the decision to go back to school. I did my JD at UBC and worked for a national firm down there, down in Vancouver for that summer. Then after my degree I clerked at the BC Supreme Court where I got to work on some cool large Aboriginal law cases, my first professional experience in the area of Aboriginal law.

And then I went back to the firm I summered with and articled and practised briefly with them in their environmental and Aboriginal law groups before getting the job I currently work in now with the Yukon government with the Aboriginal Law Group here. So I'm still able to use a lot of the background I had in the sciences and the environmental field but in a very different context than my previous work.

Julia:                 I like that, it's a very non-classic path, so it's very interesting. And I think it also shows that it's useful to have, I think as a lawyer it's very useful to have those different also knowledge, and from my understanding there's a lot of intersection also between Aboriginal law and environmental law. Paulina, is it a bit the same with you, because now I understand that you also have this background in the environmental science, so did you also follow a bit of the same path?

Paulina:            Honestly, yeah, very much so. I remember that's kind of why I went to law school is [unintelligible 00:08:09] environmental science and Indigenous law and things like that. And so I also did an environmental regulatory job post doing my master's and I came back and saw a lot of ties with the law and thought that that'd be something interesting to do, and wrote the LSAC and then found myself at law school. I really wanted to do environmental law and then found out my second year that I really liked criminal law.

So then that really threw me and now I'm doing a rotation with wills and estates that I'm really liking. So I'm kind of all over the place, honestly. But, yeah, pretty much the same idea, and now we're here. So my next rotation is going to be with Legal Aid, so hoping to get a little bit of insight into that, and then we'll see what I do after this.

Julia:                 And can I ask you, what do you mean by rotations? When you do your bar you get to article in different places, is that how it works?

Paulina:            So I'm articling for the Government of the Northwest Territories, but because there's not many articling students here I had the opportunity to do three different rotations. The first rotation was with the civil groups who did Aboriginal environmental law, corporate commercial, all of the clients were the different departments. Then I moved to this private law firm, so I'm right now with Denroche & Associates and Michael Gannon Law, so doing wills and estates and real estate.

And then after this rotation I move to Legal Aid, which is also Government to the Northwest Territories, and then do some family and criminal. So it's a cool opportunity to really be able to get a taste of everything, which is really nice. So really opens my eyes, because I feel like law school’s very different than the actual practise of law, and so being able to see it on the ground and stuff like that is really interesting. So it's a cool opportunity. 

Julia:                 Yeah, it is very cool, actually. And that's something I wish I could have done because I think you get a chance to touch so many things. And maybe because we finish law school sometimes and we just end up having to decide sometimes, and nothing is easy when you haven't practised at all. 

Paulina:            Absolutely.

Julia:                 So that's maybe something to keep in mind for all law schools and from the articlings you did. No, but that's very great. Paulina and Lee, are you both working back in your communities now?

Paulina:            For me, I'm back in my community. I went to law school and came back. It's been great. It's nice to be close to friends and family, and the couple of other students that are not students now but are post-bar colleagues I know from high school, so it's nice to be able to chat to them about some of the issues and challenges that I'm facing. So it's nice to be back close to friends and family, for sure.

Leeland:           Yeah, same. I grew up in Whitehorse and work in Whitehorse now, so my parents still live in Whitehorse, which it's nice to have some family around. And lots of [unintelligible 00:11:04] and other friends and family from when I was growing up.

Julia:                 That's quite nice, actually, I'm very jealous of that. Being very far from my family, I feel like that's something I'd probably like to have. But that's very great. And you, Eric?

Eric Cheng:      Yeah. So how I got up to the north. At the time I was commercial and appellate litigator in downtown Toronto, so COVID happened – this is about three years ago – so COVID happened, all the courts shut down, and there was a call and I answered. At that point I'd been at my desk for a few years, but in my previous life I'd spent the better part of a decade in the human rights space, so I was kind of missing the kind of frontline work I was doing, especially with the CBA. So I'm sorry to have to plug this, but it actually was quite influential in my decision as in that job.

They were putting me in – they were very, very generous in giving me the exposure to work directly with communities, so they were dropping me onto beaches doing human rights inspections in South African migrant detention centres. I was taken in [unintelligible 00:12:09] max prison, for example, so I miss those days where the best preparation you could have was just having a clipboard and a good pair of boots.

Julia:                 So you wanted to go back to that?

Eric:                  Yes. And to a certain extent my job has delivered, so I'm very happy where I am, yeah.

Julia:                 And can you tell us a bit more what is your job right now?

Eric:                  So like I said, I'm just your neighbourhood federal land prosecutor. I'm part of team of about 20-ish lawyers and we serve 25 fly-in communities across the territory. So these are geographically isolated communities ranging from three digits to a few thousand. I am based in Iqaluit, though, the capital.

Julia:                 You're in Iqaluit, okay. And out of curiosity how does it work when you say you are serving? So do you do mobile clinics or how do you get, just how the connection works?

Eric:                  So geographic isolation of some of these communities – I think some of my other colleagues here would have something to say about the other aspects they see – but the way it works is we call them fly-in communities because generally when we open court it's every few weeks to every few months for each community to have a week of court, usually, where you have a pre-arranged schedule for the year. And in one plane you usually get in with the Crown, the prosecution, the defence lawyers, all the court staff and the judges, on usually a single plane.

The lawyers get to work usually before the weekend or during the weekends before court starts on Monday, and then we do court for a few days. We set up in a community hall or perhaps a school gym, and we usually close court Thursday or Friday, and then we fly out again. So that's the kind of model of how the remote circuit works. And I understand that this is also a model that's adopted in other provinces and territories as well.

Paulina:            It's pretty much the same here in the territories as well. We do have a courthouse in Hay River as well, but most of the other communities are fly-in and do court in a school gym or the community hall, which is pretty unique and interesting to the north. Sort of excited for my rotation with them and hoping I can get out to some of the communities.

Leeland:           I know there's a similar set up in Yukon, although we only have one fly-in community and the rest of our communities are accessible by highway, but I believe there's still circuit court in most of the small communities. It's not a part of my practice, but certainly for the criminal bar and the family bar and the judges, it's definitely a part of the legal system up here.

Julia:                 And when we talk – going back to the question about climate change and the fires, does it affect those, for instance, the flights, or does it affect when a court can happen?

Eric:                  Well, sometimes we see extreme weather events, and if there's a blizzard event then either you're stranded in a community for a few extra days so you get to hang out with the people you've been crossing swords with all week, or you can't get into a community and you have to hold remote hearings. But sometimes because the internet connectivity is affected by icing or other types of weather conditions you just don't have the connection, so unfortunately there are still logistical problems of managing the docket. Sometimes we have to just forego a circuit and then come back to the community the next time around.

Julia:                 Something I've heard, friends who articled in the north, they were like, oh my God, we're very understaffed. There is a need, but there's just not enough people. Is that something that you've also noticed, and if so, have you noticed in some specific area of law, or you would say general, or it's not true? Any of you can jump in.

Eric:                  I think one of the big things is it's no surprise to anyone that there's a skill shortage in the north, that's already made the news in multiple jurisdictions. But what makes access to justice painful sometimes is having community level access to a lawyer. And I'm not just talking about having a criminal defence lawyer on call, but legal education is really important if you have every access to a stronger civil bar. So I think in Nunavut, for example, when I think back to my civil litigation days, my approach was always to do all the research, obviously, and figure out what the lay of the land is.

And then you present your client with options by educating them, saying, “Look you can make that choice, I need instructions now.” It's service industry, but with the shortage of civil lawyers in Nunavut, I just find that's difficult because how are you going to have access to multiple years of law school in a community unless you actually have your own lawyers come from that community and come back? That's a real challenge that we face.

Leeland:           Yeah, I would add I think it's a complicated issue in terms of, I think there's maybe two different questions, or maybe more than two, but I think there's a question around is there a shortage of lawyers in terms of are there vacant positions that are available to be filled and looking to hire? And I think that is sometimes the case, but I think the bigger issue is just the systemic access to justice issues where it's very difficult for the private bar to have a business model and a practice model that can actually serve rural communities.

It's interesting, because, at least in Whitehorse, and I imagine it's quite similar in the other territorial capitals, is there's an absolutely mind-boggling number of lawyers for the size of the jurisdiction, but that doesn't necessarily always equate to the kind of access to justice that Eric’s talking about, and I think it's similar here. You have many, many government lawyers. We have three or four levels of government, a lot independence boards and councils that all have legal council. There's private bar and other public institutions that serve predominantly people within Whitehorse, but there's certainly a large underserved population in terms of access to justice both in access to legal council and access to the other institutions of justice.

So that doesn't mean always that you can just get a job as soon as you want, but I think there's a – yeah. So I would say it's complicated and I wouldn't suggest that for any lawyer that wants to come practise in the north there's just a job waiting. I think it's challenging. But certainly there are also recruitment challenges as well. Especially for people with specialized expertise, it can be hard to recruit people like that to smaller communities.

Paulina:            I would definitely have to agree with what both of you are saying on the access to justice, a huge issue. I think in our capitals we're seeing a lot more lawyers than in the communities. There's tons of communities across my territory that don't have lawyers, and then with limited internet capabilities and trying to contact lawyers from elsewhere, there's tons of issues with access to justice and just trying to find legal, just serving legal needs in general.

I also think here, at least, we have a huge turnover, so although lots of people come up to the north, they don't always stay in the north, and that can be a really big issue. And I think that's also why it's important to recruit northerners who know the communities and who want to come back and who actually want to stay. But for me, at least, when I was looking for an articled position, there was pretty much one position available in the entire territory where I was looking, and there was one in Yellowknife.

And so it's, I think – I don't know if people are just having such a hard time recruiting that they don't put out job ads anymore or things like that, or there's not that many people wanting to come up. For me, at least, I know there's no one else in my age group or in my year who was from the north, and so I just think that not only are we struggling to get people to come up and practise up here, we're also struggling, at least in my territory, to recruit locals who want to go to law school and come back. And I'm not really sure what the solution is in that I just know that there's definitely a need for more northerners and those who want to come up and actually are committed to staying and practising in the north and servicing in the north.

Julia:                 Because you say – going back, I'm sorry for my ignorance here – but in terms of university, so is there a possibility to study law in the north? No?

Paulina:            No, not all. For us, the closest would've been the University of Alberta. And I went to University of Calgary, so it's a little bit further. But, no, there's no opportunity, you have to leave to be able to study law. And then you have to then decide to come back and not get recruited by a big law firm down south.

Julia:                 Yeah. I see Lee is smiling and nodding.

Leeland:           Yeah. There's definitely, I mean, in the Yukon we have Yukon University now, which is a first. It used to be Yukon College and it recently made the leap to becoming a university, but it doesn't, there's no law school or anything like that. So it's certainly you have to leave the territory and leave your home in order to study law. And so like Paulina says, there's obviously lots of opportunities in other parts of Canada, too, so it could be hard to – even if there are northerners that are interested in studying law, they don't always make their way home.

And sometimes it can be hard to get them back because of the challenges of articling and the somewhat limited, maybe just more effort needs to be put into creating those mentorship and training opportunities for northerners. But I totally agree with Paulina, I think that one of the long-term solutions here is developing grassroot, like local lawyers and solving that retention shortfall and building local capability.

So I think there's various models for doing that that I think are being proven out. I know, for example, at Lakehead in Thunder Bay, there's a rural and northern legal studies program, or a law JD program, I believe. I don't know much about it beyond that, but I think it's an interesting thing to look into, and maybe some day we'll have a law school in Canada north of 60, which I think would be very cool and should be a long-term goal.

Paulina:            I would agree with that, too. And I also know that the University of Saskatchewan holds, I think it's ten spots a year for those north of 60, as well, but I don't know if they're filling those or anything like that.

Eric:                  So Nunavut's been very lucky that we had a special partnership with the University of Saskatchewan that developed an intake for – the recent second cohort is now working their way through the legal training articling machine, so we're very pleased. There are a few of them in our office and elsewhere in the GN, the Government of Nunavut, and Legal Aid as well.

One of the visions of any kind of viable future should be intergenerational cultural continuity. So we're talking more about the Inuit population that we serve in Nunavut. Within that community if there are those skills, that will be a goal to aspire to. One of the issues that I think we're all circling around is that, yes, there's so to speak, foreign professionals coming in from outside the community coming to serve. We do a short time and then we lose that institutional knowledge to some loss to everybody, but there's also a question about the methodology itself, it's a bit problematic.

It's what I think Philip Osteen calls an extracted methodology that is endemic to some human rights work as well where you have well established professionals in a developed jurisdiction flying in, doing some work, and then just leaving. And unfortunately, geographically, that is the reality for Nunavut at some level, but we have to understand that this needs to be addressed.

Julia:                 Talking about challenges, maybe I don't only want to talk about challenges, I would like to talk about why you like to work in the northern territories, what it brings to you and why you like that?

Paulina:            I can go. I obviously love my home community, Yellowknife will forever be my home. It's great here, it's wonderful, you guys should definitely come check it out. Yeah, it's a great community. We're currently getting the midnight sun here very soon, and it's wonderful, the north is great. But for me it's just being close to my friends and family.

And then also in my current role where I'm working more with the community, it's really great seeing people that I know and helping them with just basically those services, real estate transactions like wills and estates, things like that. I feel like it's a bit, it just feels different when you know your clients a little bit more on a more small community fundamental level. And that for me has been really rewarding and really nice, being able to connect with people and also still provide them a really needed service. And so to me that's great, just being home in my community has been really fun.

Julia:                 I like that. And I like that you're so enthusiastic, like come to my place.

Paulina:            It's great up here.

Leeland:           I get a similar perspective in terms of it's great being back home with friends and family, but I think it's also just having grown up, up here, I always enjoy my time in cities, but I just find I'm not that much of a city person. I can entertain myself, but I also love having, like in Whitehorse we have awesome trail networks or mountain biking, skiing. So you get, and there's paddling, every outdoor pursuit you could possibly be interested in, is within 15 minutes of town, and just having access to all those opportunities.

And going hunting with your friends, that sort of thing, it's just you can't do that anywhere else, in my experience. But also in a town like Whitehorse, at least, there's still a lot of the amenities of a bigger centre. That might not be the same in all northern communities – well, it certainly isn't – but for me, at least, Whitehorse is the best of both worlds, I guess. And so I love it here and plan to stay.

Eric:                  So for me, I think it's really, really fulfilling professionally. To my knowledge the Nunavut Court of Justice has one of the highest volume dockets in the country, and so if you ever wanted frontline experience as a barrister they just throw you into – I was put on trials within my first month of going up there with almost no experience running these things.

It's very hands-on as well because sometimes the system doesn't always work in line with the scheduling, the administration for justice, so I find that as a Crown sometimes you have to reach out to the court administration, you have to cooperate with defence, you have to cooperate with the [feds? 00:28:53], you have to cooperate with corrections, with RCMP, with the Child Family Services, Community Justice, all these different non-typical justice actors. Sometimes it's you putting it together as well, much more so than some down south jurisdictions. So to me it's really meaningful to see this all come together.

Personally I grew up in Toronto so I'm not from the territory, but I just find that the north attracts a certain kind of person, that you're always interested. You're always interested with the way people see the world, just really, really interesting characters. And in the professional community we do look out for each other as well, so I do like that approach where it's a bit more personable, not like a city practice where after five or seven or eight or nine, as the case may be, you don't get in touch with anyone. During the dark seasons we do check in on each other, it's really great.

Julia:                 So were there any adjustments actually for you, when you came from Toronto to Iqaluit?

Eric:                  Well, I had no place to buy my Mason jars.

Julia:                 Oh, yeah. I know .

Eric:                  Everything, all the supplies are fly-in. I've been pretty used to working in the places that in some worlds they would call a hardship duty station, but I think the adjustment really is for people that don't leave the big city environment, the access to amenities. You might not have access to, for example, a Starbucks or a haircut for a few weeks at a time. During a circuit you might not have access to food in some communities, so you do have to bring things in and pack it in and pack it out. Every single supply from Post-its to paperclips you have to bring in yourself.

So these are some of the logistical things that you deal with. I think isolation-wise, it's also challenging. So for people that have families that they're used to seeing on a regular basis, that's difficult when you're in an isolated environment. It's fairly expensive to fly outside of the territory, so you kind of want to save up your vacation days and leave days to fly down if you're trying to meet up with people. So sometimes that gets to people.

Julia:                 I must say, when I went to Iqaluit I really fell in love. I had a friend who was working there and I was there for a month and I got to see the aurora boréalis in the sky, the beautiful Northern Lights. It was beautiful, I will say. But what I'm hearing from you three, I feel like it's also an interesting work-life balance or access to nature, access to family, friends, and then also work that you like.

So very inspiring, actually, and thank you for sharing. Maybe I'd like just to hear about your day-to-day cases. And I know all of you is different, but I think it would be interesting for our listeners also to have an idea, a bit of a day-to-day of a lawyer working in the north part of Canada. And I know it's a hard question. I hate that kind of question, but it's interesting.

Leeland:           I wouldn't want to say too much because a lot of about Yukon would be not public knowledge, but more generally a lot of the work I do as a Yukon government lawyer is advising the various government departments about their obligations to our treaty partners and our Indigenous groups. So it's advising in relation to that and supporting negotiation tables on a whole number of topics and advising on various decision-making functions in terms of the constitutional duty to consult and a lot of matters like that.

And especially on those decision-making functions around major projects, environmental assessments, there's certainly a lot of overlap for the expertise – well, relative expertise, I wouldn't call myself an expert at all – but having some scientific literacy certainly helps. But there's just, I think it also ties back to our discussion around developing capacity in the north and that sort of thing because there's so much that is, I think, unique to the place. And even hearing Eric and Paulina, I think, even each of the territories is very different from each other.

So you can't lump the experience of even someone in each of the territories together, but having some kind of baseline knowledge and cultural competency and just experience in the lay of the land, both the legal landscape and the cultural landscape, the political landscape, it all kind of comes together. And I think we were talking about earlier with just how it all, in the practise of law, all of your experience can become relevant and you don't really know when, so I think that's definitely a cool thing and definitely I'm able to draw in a lot of different experiences in my day-to-day.

Paulina:            I suppose my day-to-day was, in my last rotation, which was pretty much exactly what Lee explained, and it's definitely more I'm meeting with clients and more face-to-face kind of service level, which has been really fun. Again, being from the territory, it's really nice to be able to connect with lots of people that I know, or people that I know of or know the families of. Which is really nice, because I feel you can connect on a different level and provide really important services.

For most of the real estate in the communities, it all comes through this office. I'm pretty sure this office does 90 percent of residential real estate transactions in the territory, so no matter where you are, it's all coming through this office. Which is really interesting to see the process work not only in person but also to try to facilitate that across all the different communities, because there's kind of little nuances that each community has, so it's an interesting kind of thing to worry about that.

Same with wills and estates. I think most of the wills in the territory are done through us or Lawson Lundell, and so, again, you're servicing the entire territory through Yellowknife, so it's interesting having lots of Zoom meetings with people. When those meetings can't happen I know that law does and has gone to different communities to be able to facilitate that. So we'll go to a community, try to get all the laws done and all the signings done right off the bat, which does provide challenges on its own. But, yeah, that's pretty much my day-to-day now. I'm meeting with lots of people, I'm being able to experience a lot of different cool, unique challenges.

Eric:                  So for Nunavut I think it's deceptively similar. If you listen to [Galio? 00:36:38] for any trial, it sounds like any kind of trial that might be running in Surrey or Moncton, for example. So my first trial, though, if you were in the room you would have seen that I was wearing army boots, the judge had a sealskin robe on. We were in a school gym with folding chairs with very little heating. So there were [hunters and camel? 00:36:55] in the back. Then I was trading spaces with the defence counsel to use the gym equipment room as our witness interview and prep space.

So we make it work, but you have to understand that the operation of the Nunavut Court of Justice and also the use of Canadian law exists at tension within the [Inuit? 00:37:16] law as well. We're very much in a space where there was a Court Department of Canada. As of 2021 there is an inherent right to Indigenous sovereignty and so to the extent that Nunavut exists, it exists as a very carefully negotiated balance of self-determination. So we're seeing the operation of courts in context as part of the wider vision of what works. So we do have to ensure that there is that civic trust in having these institutions operate well.

Julia:                 That's very interesting, actually. Would you mind expanding a little bit more on that, on the Nunavut Court of Justice?

Eric:                  So the Nunavut Court of Justice came out of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. This was part of the vision negotiated into the 1990s, I'd say. It goes back to at least the 70s, if not before. But I think each territory has its trajectory, but the government of Nunavut was created as a territorial government as a new entity out of the northwest territories. And so that separation happened in 1999, and as of 2024 we have a devolution, so the next stage of that independence.

So the organs of the territorial government were created under the terms of the Land Claim Agreement and subsequently instituted in federal legislation. So in a way you have to understand there's push and pull factors on both sides and make sure that this is the vision of how Inuit and Nunavut want to see their institutions operate. So we're playing a small part in a larger picture, I guess is what we have to say about it. Sometimes we're challenged to look a bit further ahead into the future when we deal with issues that are very, very loud and very, very immediate that cross our desks.

Julia:                 Can I ask all of you a question we often ask, if you have any mentors in your life, or people you've looked up to for your career and that inspires you either to go to law or just to continue the work you're doing?

Leeland:           I didn't really know any lawyers when I was growing up, so that has been a bit of a learning experience for me as to what the practise of law is, even. And certainly in my current role there's lots of very accomplished and competent counsel, so I draw on a lot of different mentorship opportunities through my job. And I think also it can be really inspiring sitting at some of the negotiation tables that I get to sit at and working with or opposite some really experienced and capable counsel who have, some of them have been around since, they've been negotiating and practising law since the 80s and have worked on all the land claims agreements and stuff going way back.

And I find that quite inspiring given that I'm able to sit at the same table as them. Maybe I have no business doing so, and like a third year call. And that's also maybe a unique opportunity in the north. I would point out if you're interested and capable, the opportunities are, they come fast and furious, let's put it that way. You have opportunities to sink and swim, so it's good for people who are self-motivated and self-starters and don't mind flying a little bit blind sometimes. That is kind of a cool thing, working in the north.

Paulina:            Yeah, I would definitely have to agree with Lee on that one. Definitely, no, I didn't know any lawyers growing up at all. I only met, I feel, my first lawyers when I went to law school, and then I was in the COVID year, so it wasn't even until second year. But I feel like just the collection of people who’ve gotten me here, I think have all contributed to my experiences and motivation to do what I'm doing now.

Eric:                  Just like my friends here, I don't know any lawyers. I came from an [unintelligible 00:41:59] family, first generation. so maybe that's why we're in the north, but I wasn't shy about bouncing around and trying before I knew because I didn't have the environment in my family to say it. I knew what I was choosing, so to try it before you get into it. So what inspires me really is not just lawyers, but anyone that's a first generation professional.

A lot of people I've worked with, the Crown witness coordinators, the assistants, you find your inspiration where you can. And I've found that what really inspires me is when you realise that the people that you're dealing with, no matter what level of seniority, have that humility to get down and help you help them. Because this is a service industry. So I was astonished when I was working, for example, the judges, some of the most powerful people in the country would be like, “Okay, well.”

And I was coming from a common law legal background, so the Roman Dutch Law basis for South Africa meant that I didn't have a litigal basis. And I made a joke about Ginger Beer once and no one laughed in the room, it was very, very sad. But on the other side of it I also had to be really, really useful because I had final appeals going through the court at the time. So from the judges and anyone else that I came across that was willing to work with me and just engage and understand that there's an exchange of information and there's stories to be made out of this, that's what I find inspiring.

Julia:                 And then my last question will just be where do you see yourself in ten years? Which is also a hard one, and maybe you don't have the answer.

Paulina:            Yeah, for me, no answer. I'm not really sure, hopefully still in Yellowknife doing something cool and interesting and fun. Yeah, it's going to be law related, I don't know if I'll be a lawyer forever, and maybe I will be, but I'm definitely open to the opportunities. And being in the north there is tons of opportunities and experiences, so I'm open to where life takes me. But likely in Yellowknife still.

Julia:                 I like that. Where would you like to be, actually, in ten years, maybe is more accurate, but I like that.

Paulina:            Yes, in Yellowknife.

Julia:                 That's good. I love it.

Leeland:           I'm the same way. I'm more certain, I think, where I want to be geographically than what I want to be doing professionally. Although I'm quite happy with the type of work I'm able to do now and I'd love to still be working in this area in ten years. Maybe not in the same position, who knows? But I have no reason to be looking elsewhere at the moment.

Eric:                  Well, I hope my knees are going to be the same shape in ten years, but I really don't know. I'm pretty sure, I'm really enjoying my time here, but right now all I can say is serving the public is, public service is really what I've found is a good fit for me.

Julia:                 Is there anything else that you would like to address that hasn't been, that you want to share? Either it's if you know good opportunities for listeners or tips or whatever that you’d like to share, that would be the moment.

Leeland:           I know for us, at least, in Yukon, kind of going back to the recruitment challenges and the need for legal counsel in a whole range of areas, that's why I would encourage people who have an interest in coming north to take advantage of some of the opportunities and resources and institutions that are available to try and get some more information if you're considering it. So we have a pretty active CBA branch, as well as the Law Society is, I think, doing some work on recruitment. There's certainly some firms and lots of individual lawyers that would be willing to provide that sort of information and mentorship to folks that might be thinking of, or interested in coming north.

And similarly for people that aren't lawyers or people that are in the north that want to learn more about the practise of law and are considering a career in law, I think there's often, there's a lot of opportunities that might not be structured as in other places, but I think there's certainly a willingness and desire for a lot of people to help solve some of these problems that we've been discussing today. So just sometimes you kind of have to make your own opportunities.

Eric:                  I think for people that are in law school, one of the really important things I wish I'd learned early on was that you're putting yourself into an artificial box if you think you already know without having practised yet, what you want. So there is one narrative being spun during the recruitment phases of law school, first year, second year, third year, and some people feel like, “Oh, well, I've kind of missed the bus on this.” Well, no, it's a marathon. This whole career, you're going to be in the field if you really enjoy it, for a few decades, if not more. And you have to really understand that no one else is responsible for your own fulfilment, so you have to make your own choices.

Julia:                 It's hard to follow up on that point now, right? That was such a good ending, I think. It's really inspiring. No, but, seriously, thank you very much, you've been awesome to share experience and just talk about your daily life, so thank you very much for doing that, it's very appreciated. And I think it's going to bring a lot also to the listeners of the CBA, the tricks and just demystifying a bit what it’s all about. So thank you so much.

This is The Every Lawyer presented by the Canadian Bar Association.

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