Sandra E. AitkenPublic Prosecution Service of Canada
My husband Mark (also a lawyer) and I are originally from British Columbia. We moved to Yellowknife in January 1986, when I took a position with the Federal Department of Justice (now the Public Prosecution Service of Canada) as Crown Counsel. Mark in turnfound a position as staff lawyer to the then Association of the Northwest Territories, and worked there for two and half years until he joined the GNWT Department of Justice as a junior legislative counsel in August 1988. The office experienced a period of rapid turnover, and Mark became Senior Legislative Counsel less than 18 months later and was appointed Director in February 2003.
For my first three years in the north I traveled extensively throughout the Northwest Territories and what is now Nunavut on court circuits. Within a very short period of time I was exposed to very challenging legal work in three levels of Court - the Territorial Court, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, and had the opportunity to prosecute many jury trials. Mark and I were very active as volunteers in the Law Society of the NWT andthe Canadian Bar Association, and traveled across Canada to attend national meetings. Through our involvement in the Law Society and the CBA we continue to have contact with many lawyers across the country.
Since my first child was born in 1988, the Department of Justice Canada has been a very accommodating employer, and I was fortunate to be able to work part-time for many years which allowed me to spend time with my (now) three children. Mark and I are very active in the community at large and have been active on the Boards of various sporting organizations at both the local and territorial level, and Mark has coached our three children in a number of sports, including hockey, fastball and most particularly soccer.
There are incredible opportunities for youth in this jurisdiction. Our children are active in sports and have been fortunate to be part of the NWT Team at the Canada Summer Games, the Western Canada Games, the Canada Winter Games, the Arctic Winter Games, and the Canadian and Western Francophone Games. Through this extensive travel across Canada our children have made connections with other youth across thecountry, and have grown in their confidence and maturity.
We have now been here 22 years and Yellowknife is truly "home". The north is anexcellent place to work and to raise children, and we would encourage lawyers to practice law in this jurisdiction.
For further information please do not hesitate to contact me.
Candace J. SeddonLegal Services Board of the NWT
If you are considering moving to the North to practice law, my words of advice are simple: go for it…you won’t regret it!
I have been practicing in Inuvik, Northwest Territories for nearly four years. I was lured up here from "tropical" Halifax with the promise of a good job and an adventure I would never forget.
The first few years of living in the North was just that – an adventure. I got to experience a beautiful part of our country that many Canadians never see. I experienced a new culture and way of life. I learned to dogsled and skidoo, I took courses on caribou-hair tufting and beading, I traveled on ice roads and saw the footprints of wildlife in my backyard. I snuggled in for the Arctic winter and learned that 24-hour darkness is really not that bad, and I enjoyed the incredible 24-hour daylight and all of its benefits, including the effect it had on my garden in the most northerly Community Greenhouse in the world.
From a practice perspective, I have enjoyed the challenge that working in a remote community presents. I have learned to be adaptable, as conducting Court in small gyms and community halls is the norm, and if you have to interview your clients and witnesses in the bathroom, you sit on the toilet and make the best of it. I work for Legal Aid, so my work is primarily in the area of Family Law, with a little Criminal Law thrown in for variety. In the course of my practice I have appeared in both Territorial and Supreme Court, and have traveled all over the Territory representing a diverse set of clients on a variety of legal issues. Although I am fairly isolated in my community, in my experience the bar in the Territories is a friendly and welcoming one, with senior counsel in Yellowknife always ready to discuss a legal issue or be a mentor as required.
I won’t pretend that there haven’t been challenges in this remote practice that I have found frustrating, or that I don’t sometimes miss the amenities of the "south" – movie theatres, shopping centres, etc. However, the trade-off is well worth it. I love the small community I live in, where I am active as a volunteer in many areas. The people are friendly and the sense of community and support for each other is amazing. Although we don’t have all the southern amenities, people make an effort to organize things for the community to enjoy; you and your children can learn and participate in practically any sport, take violin lessons, join a community band or theatre group, take in live music, or learn a new hobby or skill through the college or one of the many groups in town. After a couple years, my "arctic adventure" turned into my life…Inuvik is truly home, and I love it here. Working in the North is an opportunity you should not pass up. I’m glad I didn’t.
There are jobs aplenty in the North, waiting to be filled by people with adventurous spirits. There is a need as well for people who want to hang out their own shingle and practice on their own; Inuvik does not have one single private lawyer at present, so anyone in this town of 3500 people who needs a lawyer for a will, property transaction, civil matter, or anything else has to find one in Yellowknife. I believe a private lawyer would do very well here.
If you have any questions about the North, or what practice is like up here, or even if you’re just curious, please feel free to contact me. I’m always happy to talk about my experiences and this wonderful place I now call home.
Betty-Lou A. McIlmoyleMcIlmoyle Law
I woke up this morning, rolled over in bed and looked outside. It was sunny. It was also minus 35 celsius and the wind was blowing. I got to thinking: just why would anyone want to practise law in the North? Immigrants, at least, have the excuse that they don’t know how cold it can get in Canada. What about us?
Oh, I remember.... the almost 24 hours of sunlight that is soon to come. I decide that I can tolerate the cold of winter to be able to enjoy the long, beautiful days of summer. But they are short and all too soon over.
Many of us came here with a short term plan of getting some experience, then moving south. Some others were born and raised here and returned after going away to university. Whatever our reasons for being here, the North has much to offer.
For those of us who have decided to work in the legal profession, the small numbers allow us to get to know each other well. We are fortunate to have a congenial, if small, group of colleagues to work with.
Many of us rely on the senior members of the bar who have an open door policy to offer guidance and direction to younger members. Without their mentoring, we would not be able to develop the necessary skills to advance and become better lawyers.
The limited numbers of lawyers means that many of us have opportunities while still fairly junior to work on interesting files that wouldn’t be available in the South. While we are preparing submissions to the court our southern contemporaries are often locked in the library writing briefs for more senior counsel or carrying their briefcases to court.
Few of us are faced with three hour commutes to work in the morning and again at night. And when we are, it is on First Air and they serve reasonably decent food. And coffee, of course.
For those who enjoy outdoor activities – from canoeing to cross-country skiing — we have the world’s largest playground just outside of whatever community we work in. Unless you’re dying to attend the ballet or eat in an actual four star restaurant, the North offers us all the balance that we all seek between life and law.
We all hear stories of people with their "three year plans" — to come North for three years, make a pile of money and then retreat to the South. Many people who came on that basis have learned, as Robert Burns would have it, that "The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang aglee". My personal "one year plan" has turned into "seven . . . and counting".
So, it comes as somewhat of a disappointment to see so many of our numbers leave for the seemingly greener pastures to the south. Many do well, living off the positive training and experience that comes to us all so quickly practising in the Northwest Territories. You can hardly blame people who have families, connections and prospects there. Still, they go and we are all that little bit poorer for their absences.
It is my hope, over the coming year, that the Law Society of the Northwest Territories will continue to recruit and retain lawyers to live here, to develop and maintain positive relationships between the bench and the bar, to develop a more formal mentoring program for all lawyers, and to continue to provide the public with competent representation.