REAL Stories

What is it like to work for a law firm in a high needs community? 

Find out by reading these REAL Stories written from the front lines by the second year law students who worked in those communities. 

Summer 2019
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Lane Perry | Smithers

Aug 15 2019 - My name is Lane Perry, and I am heading into my third and final year of law school in September. Currently, however, I am working at Perry & Company in Smithers. Perry & Company is particularly special to me. My grandfather started the firm in 1951, and my dad currently practices at the firm. Having the opportunity to work with and learn from my dad was something that I have been looking forward to for a long time, and it has been a great experience.

During this summer, I had the opportunity to immerse myself into the practice of law. There has been a healthy balance struck between having some independence as a temporary articled student while still having the confidence to trust that I can call upon the partners if I am unsure of anything. My principal, Sean Rowell, always has his office door open and is receptive to all questions. He makes sure that I have a sturdy understanding of the task at hand before I start on any assignment. Gail Cole, Ingrid Dykstra and the other legal support staff at the office have proven to be excellent resources to assist me in all matters, and I have gained a deep appreciation for all their hard work and knowledge.

I consider myself fortunate to have had exposure to such diverse areas of practice. Subjects of law that I have worked in this summer has included civil litigation, wills and estates, family law, contract law, employment, insurance, real estate and commercial transactions. I have already learned a lot, and I am thankful for the opportunity to get such a diverse set of experience this summer.

Smithers, for those who do not know (and no judgement if so), is a small community nestled in northern British Columbia. It has a population of approximately 5,500 people, but there are many families that live outside of Smithers who rely on the town for groceries, schools, hospital, etc. It has everything one needs to survive while also being able to satisfy many of the “wants” people may have. There includes a large amount of tourist activities that attract people to Smithers. These activities include fishing (fly fishing, lure fishing, ice fishing in the winter), boating, floating, kayaking, hiking, camping, mountain biking, cycling, snowboarding, skiing (cross-country, downhill and backcountry), golf, hockey, soccer and many other activities. It is a town of all seasons that provides opportunity for adventure year-round.

My activities outside of work have kept me busy this summer. Because of the healthy work-life balance available in Smithers, I have been able to say “yes” to opportunities for adventure many times this summer. I travelled to Alaska to fish in the Pacific Ocean, successfully bringing home some fresh Chinook Salmon. More locally, I fished both the Skeena river and Bulkley river, and Babine Lake. These trips involved spotting grizzly bears, black bears, cinnamon bears, deer, moose, eagles, porpoises, whales, seals and other wildlife that makes British Columbia beautiful and wild.

I also participated in a soccer tournament in Prince Rupert, helping the local Smithers team place first during Prince Rupert’s annual Seafest Festival. Last, I was also able to take advantage of the countryside by helping my family with farming activities such as fencing, haying, tending to chickens and watering large gardens. These kinds of activities are unique to living in the north, but are all activities that make the north so special.

The community of Smithers is full of opportunity. It offers everything anyone would ever need and more. There are cafes, restaurants, breweries and all kinds of other shops that leave you not needing to leave Smithers to buy anything you may otherwise want. Smithers, for me, was “home” before university, and will be “home” after university. I encourage anyone who is considering the REAL program to trust that it is a valuable experience that can provide opportunity for true, genuine and full exposure into what life is like as a practicing lawyer in rural areas of British Columbia. There is a need for lawyers in the north, and the REAL program is an excellent way to get exposure without the need for any serious commitment.

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Sara Hilliard | Revelstoke
at Christopher Johnston & Associates

I was fortunate enough to spend my summer in the beautiful town of Revelstoke. I worked for Christopher Johnston & Associates, a multi-practice firm with three lawyers and one articling student. I got to work on a variety of files, which was great experience as I went into law school not really knowing which area of law to specialize in. The people I worked with were wonderful. The lawyers were very helpful and knowledgeable, and the secretaries were so much fun to work with.

I am so grateful for the experience I gained this summer.

Revelstoke is an amazing town, especially if you love the outdoors. They have a huge selection of amazing hiking trails. As an avid hiker, Revelstoke was paradise for me. They also have tons of cool waterfalls, white water rafting, and a beautiful golf course. There is also the pipe mountain coaster, which is definitely a must do if you are planning on stopping in Revelstoke anytime over the summer.

Revelstoke is also filled with tons of great restaurants, cafes, and pubs to check out. There are lots of hidden gems there. I was also fortunate enough to be there when their second brewery opened up! As a craft beer lover, this was pretty exciting for me.

The town is very cute and quaint. Its nestled in between two huge and gorgeous mountain ranges, and the Columbia river runs through the middle of it. It is very small, but you never run out of things to do! It was an incredible place to live.

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Jordan Sperling | Nelson

Thanks to the REAL Program I had a wonderful summer working with a solo criminal law practitioner in beautiful Nelson, BC. Working one on one with an experienced lawyer afforded me an in depth experience in criminal law as I was able to partake in virtually every aspect of the practice.

My principal entrusted me with substantive legal work including: routine appearances at both Supreme and Provincial Court levels (fix dates, arraignments, elections), written submissions, legal research, filing applications, client communication, legal billing, and more. I even conducted a trial in Traffic Court. I was also able to simply watch numerous of my boss’ trials and hearings, and to sit in with him as he negotiated with Crown Counsel, conducted client interviews and so on. It was a highly educational and adventurous summer.

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Emily Beggs | Hazelton

This summer I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with Linda Locke, Q.C. at Upper Skeena Counseling and Legal Assistance Society. The North faces the challenge of not having enough lawyers for the demand of work. This means that as a law student in the North I got the opportunity to have a taste of a variety of areas of law with enough guidance to support my growth as a legal professional. I assisted clients in a range of issues from poverty law to criminal to family to on reserve wills and estates. This broad range of work solidified my decision to become a lawyer. It also meant that I was working all over the north from Smithers to Prince Rupert and gave me an opportunity to explore this beautiful area of BC. I am happy to report that I’m returning to Hazelton for articles once I finish my degree!

I grew up in Vancouver and this was also my first opportunity to live in a smaller town . I quickly learned that the style of life in Smithers was much more my speed. The sense of community and kindness that occurs when you see the same people around town warmed my heart. Additionally so many people were interested in getting outdoors and exploring this area – my biggest worry began to be how am I going to afford all these hobbies!

If you are at all considering applying for a job through REAL, I highly recommend it!

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Kendra Murray | Haida Gwaii

I was very excited to be spending the summer working for Meghan Wallace on the north coast of Haida Gwaii. It did not disappoint. Coming from the Yukon I was familiar with living and working in remote areas so the summer in Masset was both very unique, yet somehow quite familiar. It offered varied living and work opportunities. 

For work, I spent the summer assisting Meghan with family, wills and estates and real estate files, researching and writing argument for appearances in court, and conducting or assisting with client interviews. I had the opportunity to assist family and criminal duty counsel and to meet all the circuit court staff. The work was challenging and engaging with many interesting issues coming through the door. There are only two lawyers who live on Haida Gwaii full time, so we were always busy! 

The opportunities for outdoor adventures are also endless. I filled my time with beach running, biking, SUPing, hiking and fishing. There are always community events going on and you can always find someone who wants to hang out on the beach. I loved my time on Haida Gwaii and I cannot wait until I find my way back there. 

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Justin Wiebe | Fort St John

This summer I had the opportunity to experience the intricacies of working at a small law firm in northern British Columbia. At Callison Zeunert Law Corporation in Fort St. John, I had the chance to gain exposure to a wide range of practice areas, including criminal, real estate, civil litigation, and business law. Given my passion for public interest advocacy, I was delighted to work with the family and poverty law advocates at the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society. I am grateful that the firm allowed me to tailor much of my time according to my interest areas.

In addition to my legal training, I was also invited to fun events such as wine tastings, movie screenings, concerts, and hikes. These experiences allowed me to gain an appreciation for the friendly and welcoming nature of the Peace River region.

Based on my experience this summer, I would highly recommend looking into the REAL Initiative due to the “hands-on” legal experience I received in a supportive context.