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Taking the long view

Tom Ullyett is the recipient of this year’s Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence.

Tom Ullyett running in a race

The Canadian Bar Association is fortunate to count many long-time members in its ranks. But very few can say their history goes back to before law school.

Thomas Ullyett, this year’s recipient of the Louis Saint-Laurent award of Excellence, spent over three decades in the Yukon government, including serving as Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General. He has also been an active member of the CBA, both at the national level and in the territory during – and before – that time.

Ullyett’s first encounter with the CBA occurred one winter while visiting his parents for the holidays when he headed over to the University of Windsor law library to work on overdue assignments. “I walked into the library and saw a bulletin board, and on it was something about the CBA. I remember it was one of those tear-off things you could mail in.” He wondered if he could become a member but realized he had to be a law student to do so.

When he enrolled in law school at the University of Ottawa, he signed up right away and never looked back. “It connected me," he said. "Right off the bat.”

Being involved in the CBA has allowed Ullyett to travel the country, make lifelong friends and deepen his understanding of the law and of public policy. It also thinks back fondly to a time when in-person meetings and social activities were a regular occurrence. He also recalls with a laugh teaching his Eastern Canadian peers a lesson in hockey on one such occasion.

“At every stage of my career, the CBA played a role and helped me develop as a lawyer, as a person, as a Canadian and as a Northerner,” Ullyett says. His involvement with the Young Lawyers Section early on in his career also helped him gain confidence and learn how to speak in public.

As you progress through your career, he says, the CBA allows you to take on leadership roles. “You start learning some pretty valuable leadership skills,” such as chairing meetings efficiently.

Throughout his professional life, Ullyett has helped support lawyers working in the Yukon and encouraged young people to get involved not just in the legal profession but also in public service. He continues to do so every chance he gets.

There are all kinds of opportunities for young lawyers to get engaged in their communities, he says. He advises lawyers, regardless of their age to find opportunities to advance causes dear to their hearts, whether it’s with an organized group or a local ski club, and to get involved in leadership positions. “People love having lawyers on a board,” he explains, “They know they’re going to get a professional who is a critical thinker and who understands the law and rules of procedure.”

Those opportunities will serve you well, he says, pointing to his own experience.

“Some people are stars right out of the box,” he explains, mentioning the late judge and past CBA President Cecilia Johnstone or Eugene Meehan who he says excelled at every step. “Some people, as soon as they hit the ice people will say, watch him or watch her, because they are very, very good.”

Ullyett, a long-time endurance runner, says he wasn’t one of them at law school or when he moved to the Yukon after graduating, and “if you asked my hockey teammates, they would say I’m still not a star and never will be.” His professional progress was incremental, but his hard work and community involvement allowed him to enjoy a rewarding legal career.

“I have been very involved over the years because those opportunities were there, and they were visible to the naked eye. Anybody could see them.”

The Louis St-Laurent award of Excellence is the highest award conferred to a CBA member in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding service and professional achievement to the benefit of the legal profession, the CBA and society at large. The breadth and scope of achievement are significant factors in receipt of this award, as is the contribution that the individual has made to the goals and objectives of the CBA. The Award was named in memory of Louis St-Laurent, a former Prime Minister of Canada and former President of the CBA. View the list of past recipients.

Thomas Ullyett is a career public service lawyer who served as Deputy Minister and Deputy Attorney General of the Yukon Department of Justice from 2013-2016 and as the Public Service Commissioner from 2016-2019. He is currently Chair of the Employment Standards Board, a member of Yukon University’s Board of Governors and co-chair of the Yukon Branch’s Public Sector Lawyers Section. He is recognized for being a community-builder who helped to support a generation of Yukon public sector lawyers. He has been an active CBA member at the Branch and National levels for over 30 years.