The North isn't a “blighted hinterland,” as some have described it. Instead, it's a great place to get a jump start on your legal career.
Simon Jack has spent the past year articling at the Thompson Community Law Centre in Thompson, Man.
“It's the finest Legal Aid office for at least four hours,” he says. “And, as you probably guessed, it's the only one for at least four hours.”
Jack is one of the many law school graduates who had difficulty finding articling positions in urban centres. In Ontario, more than one in seven students graduates without an articling position.
But many students don't consider leaving the city to article in rural and northern communities. According to a survey of articling students by the Canadian Bar Association B.C. Branch, almost 82 per cent of respondents said they would like to practise law either in the Vancouver or Victoria areas. Only 0.5 per cent said they were interested in practising in Northern B.C.
Jack says that communities like Thompson, located about 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg, have a lot to offer students. “The people of Manitoba seem to think Thompson is a blighted hinterland, which it isn't,” he says.
“I think that a lot of northern communities are viewed as where you go when you can't make it in the big city. And I don't think that's fair. Coming up here isn't a failure unless you screw it up or fail to make the best of it,” he says. “And I'm not just saying that because I ended up here.”
Roberta J. Stewart, partner at Heather Sadler Jenkins LLP in Prince George, B.C., says that articling students have more opportunities to get hands-on experience in rural and northern communities. Unlike her friends who articled in big cities, she says she spent her articling year in court, meeting with clients, being mentored by senior partners and managing files.
Jack agrees, saying that over the past year he has been in court virtually every day.
“You get to handle serious stuff up here that you wouldn't down south,” says Jack, who grew up on Prince Edward Island. “I do more court in a week than my friend did in his entire articling year down south.”
Stewart had never been to Prince George when a family friend recommended she apply to article at HSJ in 2003.
“I actually had to pull out a map and find out where Prince George was,” she says with a laugh.
Similarly, Morna Boyle had never been to Rankin Inlet before she arrived in the remote area of Nunavut to begin her summer job in 2012.
She returned the following year to article with the Legal Services Board of Nunavut and plans to continue working with the organization as a criminal lawyer.
Boyle, who is originally from Ottawa, says that her articling experience exposed her to many different areas, including criminal, civil and family law.
“The work is always interesting and challenging, and the logistics of the court-circuit system mean that as an articling student, you get quite a bit of experience on your feet in the courtroom,” she says.
Living in the Far North is also an “incredible” experience, she says. “The sense of community here is unlike any I ever experienced growing up in a city. The community gets together for square dances and country-food feasts on special occasions, and there is always a craft sale or hockey game to get people together at the community centre in the meantime.”
Boyle initially applied to work in Rankin Inlet through Canadian Lawyers Abroad, which includes postings in northern Canada. British Columbia's Rural Education and Access to Lawyers Initiative (REAL) is another program that helps students find work in northern and rural communities.
The initiative, which began in 2009, provides funding for summer student placements in rural communities throughout the province and provides support for law firms trying to hire and retain students.
Nicole Clarke, a recent graduate of the University of Alberta law school, took advantage of the opportunity offered by REAL.
“I applied to and interviewed with firms of all sizes in different areas of British Columbia but could tell that working for a large firm in the city wasn't really for me,” says Clarke, who grew up in Whitby, Ont. “I had vacationed in the Okanagan for a few years and thought it was a beautiful place.”
Inspired by a presentation by a REAL coordinator at her law school, Clarke started cold-calling law firms.
“It took a lot of work on my own to find somewhere,” she says. “I called every firm in the Okanagan, all across the Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland, Kootenays and up through Squamish and Whistler. After all that I was able to secure a few interviews with firms interested in the program.”
Clarke spent the summer of her second year working at the Avery Law Office in Summerland, B.C.
“I'm very excited to go back,” says Clarke, who is returning to Summerland in August to begin articling. “My plan is to continue to work in an area where I can directly see how my work is helping the people in