The Transition from a Lawyer to a BC Provincial Court Judge


The Transition from a Lawyer to a BC Provincial Court Judge

When I was a law student, I assumed that the natural progression of a legal career was to become a judge. I didn’t realize at the time that very few lawyers become judges. But I wanted to be a judge because I loved the law, and then the business of practising law took over. Fast forward 28 years, a lifetime later, and it happened to me.

I didn’t think about applying to the Bench until I was approached by some members of the judiciary asking if I would consider applying to the Provincial Court Bench. Eventually I applied. The hardest part of the application, aside from the interview, was having to write an essay about why I might be a good judge. I found it very awkward to write about myself. One of the strange things about the process is that an applicant isn’t told whether they have made it to the approved list or not. Some of my colleagues had long since forgotten about their application to the Bench and were quite surprised when they finally got the call.

Once a lawyer has accepted appointment to the Bench, the lawyer cannot appear before the court. For me the formal transition process from lawyer to judge was very speedy — I was appointed only five days or so after the call from the attorney general. For appointees in private practice, it typically takes much longer to close their practice.

A new judge begins a practical training program, including shadowing and being mentored by judges and attending course, which is wonderfully helpful. Once the initial exhilaration was over, the new reality settles in. I had been accustomed to a warm, cozy, even raucous collegiality as a Crown counsel; by comparison, the halls of judges’ chambers were very quiet and lonely. One of the difficulties for many new judges is that the obligation to be and appear impartial may have a chilling effect on your relationships with friends who were also your colleagues. For me, almost all of my friends were lawyers, so that meant my social life disappeared along with my barristers robes. For a while I felt like transitioning to the Bench was like going into Purdah. I missed my friends.

In the north, where I was appointed, judges travel extensively to hold court in many small towns, and I was often away from home. Aside from my home chambers, it was rare for me to see any other judges. Whereas I had been used to sleeping in my own bed and eating with my family, I was now often sleeping in dingy cinder block hotel rooms and eating alone in the local pub, wondering if I would be seeing the guys enjoying “a few too many” at the table next to me in the prisoner’s box the next day.

Another thing that I did not realize as counsel is the solitary nature of judicial deliberation — and how exhausting it is to make decisions, day after day, which will change or govern peoples’ lives for years. As counsel, I would chat over my files with my colleagues; sometimes we worked as co-counsel. But as the judge, the buck literally stops with you. You may or may not have a colleague available to discuss the file with you, but in the end, you have to make a decision, and you have to make it alone. 

Eventually I adjusted to the new role. I am in my 9th year on the Bench now, and I am happy to tell you that it is still endlessly interesting and challenging — and my colleagues on the Bench are as warm, kind, and helpful as my colleagues at the Bar. Much as I enjoyed counsel work, I am happy being a judge.