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 2021
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Gurjaiveer (Jay) Dhillon

My experience at White Stag Law in 100 Mile House was phenomenal. I particularly enjoyed working for Ken Smith in his solo-practice as I got first hand mentorship in nearly every area of practice. I had an opportunity to meet dozens of clients and work in a variety of practice areas. I had the opportunity to research family law, as well as work on real estate files, corporate matters, contracts, as well as wills and estates. I enjoyed the small firm and small town environment where I got to know my co-workers, my employers, as well as clients on a personal level. The town of 100 Mile House was a friendly, relaxed place with loads of outdoor activities. I had amazing landlords. Pay was generous and living was very affordable. I would recommend the REALBC program to anyone who is considering practice outside a major urban center. Even if you are from the city like me, rural law practice offers a fresh perspective on law and life that will enrich you in many ways.

 

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Camille O’Sullivan

Working at the Upper Skeena Counselling & Legal Assistance Society (USCLAS) through the REAL program this summer was a formative experience. As USCLAS is a non-profit law and advocacy centre that services the Upper Skeena Region carrying the Legal Aid contract for the region, I was exposed to a wide variety of files in both Family and Criminal Law Matters that touch on the unique and diverse issues facing the region. In addition to working on client intake, attending court, wills, and divorces, I undertook some research related to advocacy issues that are being pursued at USCLAS.

My placement over the summer of 2021 was especially unique because, after eight years of tireless work by the project Council members, the Hazelton Indigenous Court opened. Thus, much of my time was also dedicated to supporting the opening of the Court. This was accomplished by working with the Court’s Elders Council to develop a Terms of Reference document and working with Court stakeholders, Elders, and Chiefs to ensure the Court opens following proper protocol.

Hazelton has much to offer, both in terms of growing one’s legal knowledge and opportunities for outdoor activities. I recommend coming with a baseline knowledge of Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en law and culture, and readiness to operate in a dynamic workplace. For one’s recreational time, I recommend bringing a bicycle, favourite sports gear, and/or an adventurous spirit to take on the backcountry of the Northwest. There is lots to see and do in the Northwest.

 

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Joseph Heenan

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working as a summer student for Macdonald and Company law firm over the summer. The staff was extremely nice and helpful, going above and beyond by helping me find suitable accommodations once I started working. Bill  Macdonald and James Judiesch are both great lawyers and helped me become comfortable working with them in what was an extremely rewarding experience for me. I got to experience the practical side of law, working mainly on real estate transactions and doing wills/ estate planning.

Working in a rural setting like Invermere opened up a whole new side of the legal world for me. Before applying for the REAL program I hadn’t even really considered working outside of a major metropolitan center. I’m now very open to working in a small town.  The work environment is more conducive to less stress. You can get to know clients and other lawyers quite quickly and the sense of comradely helped me a lot. I got to work on lots of different stages of real estate transactions including drafting purchase contracts and subject removal clauses. On the wills/ estate planning side I was able to draft a will, a power of attorney and a representation agreement. Overall the whole experience was amazing and I would highly recommend anyone consider the REAL program and taking their talents to a smaller rural setting where their talents are truly appreciated.

 

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Jordan Lalonde

At Rockies Law in Kimberley, I was given plenty of responsibility and autonomy. It never felt that I was just doing “busy work.” I was doing substantive work that challenged me and helped me to grow. I was able to meet a lot of clients and in some cases was the primary contact for the client. Client service is a vital skill in law and none of my friends at big firms got to have the kind of client interaction that I did. Being in a smaller firm gives you the opportunity to work more directly with clients.

I love mountain sports so I specifically targeted this center and this location. It is important to enjoy the things to do in the area if you are planning on moving to a small town. The lifestyle is way more laid back. I would be done work at 4:30pm and could go rock climbing or golfing right after work. Sometimes I would even go to the driving range at lunch. That is something you simply cannot do if you work in a city downtown.

Having a good social life can initially be tough in a small town because it may be harder to meet people of a similar age and interests. I was in a center with 25,000 people in the surrounding area.

 

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Lindsey Richardson

My summer at Jaimie Kidston Law Office in Penticton has been a fantastic learning experience. I grew up here and knew a lot about the intricacies of life in a small town, but this was my firsts experience with the legal profession in Penticton.

The office I worked in is small, which had its advantages. I was able to build a very close working relationship with both my supervising lawyer as well as with the paralegals. I was able to be involved in files from their opening, including taking identification, all the way to closing files and re organizing the off-site closed file storage. I was given my own files to work on, where I was able to draft demand letters and court applications, and was able to present a chambers application near the end of my summer.

One of the most important things has been learning to connect with not only my supervising lawyer on a personal level, but also with our clients. Being in a small town and at a small firm means that you need to be conscience with your resources, including your law students. Penticton has an elderly population which requires a much different style of communication, which does not typically involve sending an email but rather phone or in person conversations.

For students looking for summer placements in a small or rural town, I would encourage them to build personal connections before asking for a job. As mentioned, resource management is very important, and often you’re working in an office setting where you see a lot of one another. Making sure you are a good fit is the most important.

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Sam Wex

I had the pleasure of working as a temporary articled student at Arrow Law Corporation in my 2L summer, a position funded through the BC Bar Association’s REAL program. I had an excellent experience at Arrow and would recommend the placement to anyone who enjoys small mountain town living, work-life balance and an autonomous learning environment.

The firm consists of three lawyers and two legal assistants. I worked under all three of the lawyers and helped the two legal assistants with their files and tasks. The lawyers gave me discrete assignments and I also had carriage of a number of my own family and corporate files throughout the summer. My work consisted of completing research memos, drafting and filing various court documents, drafting family and corporate agreements, corresponding and meeting with clients, assisting lawyers with trial preparation and accompanying lawyers to trial, appearing at court hearings, and helping out with general office and administrative duties. I also spent half a day a week at a local community outreach centre, creating educational resources and manning drop-in hours in order to provide summary legal advice and referral to community members.

The work environment at Arrow was one in which I had quite a bit of freedom, which meant that I could pursue tasks that interested me, could take on more responsibility as I felt comfortable, and was left to organize my own schedule and work through assignments and files without direct supervision. It was an environment in which my learning depended on taking initiative, but both the lawyers and the legal assistants were very approachable and always happy to answer my questions, support my learning, and ensure that I was not overloaded. Lastly, Revelstoke is a fun community situated in a beautiful place and it offers endless recreational opportunities in the summer months. 

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Gabriel White

I had a wonderful time at Lysenko Law in Rossland. Lilina Lysenko is a wonderful, intelligent and supportive principal and the same can be said for all of my other colleagues at the firm. Rossland is an amazing and cute little town where I got to perform live music and go camping.

During my summer I got some amazing experience. I made submissions before the Provincial Court on a criminal matter, drafted wills, notices of application, affidavits, performed document review, prepared conveyance documents, and did interesting legal research. I learned a lot, got to be involved with clients, and was supported the whole way through.

My advice to a prospective student is to expect a rural lifestyle. The community is small and friendly and the nature is beautiful. There aren’t too many restaurants, but there is a local brewery and several other fun local spots. Best of luck!

Summer 2020
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Russell Demerse

This summer I had the pleasure of working at CR Lawyers in my hometown of Campbell River.  In light of COVID-19, I was fully expecting my summer job to be cancelled, but fortunately for me, it was not. From May through August I was at the law firm being exposed to a wide variety of hands-on litigation and solicitor work. Under the tutelage of one of the two partners I was given the opportunity to work for and learn from all of the lawyers and support staff, as well as spend time at the neighbouring branch of CV Lawyers in Courtenay.

Campbell River is a small coastal city on the east coast of Vancouver Island. I was born and raised in Campbell River, and by the time I graduated high school, eager to leave for elsewhere. However, after years of living away, I finally decided I was ready for a north island homecoming. This summer I was able to reconnect with my roots with a revived perspective. Campbell River has good character; it is an eclectic seaside community which offers a professional lifestyle that allows for balance between work and play.

Near the close of the August CR Lawyers offered me an articling position, which I gratefully accepted. I am very excited to return home after my last year of law school to begin my career.

Thank you to REAL BC and CR Lawyers for this summer’s opportunity.

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Cinthia Martin

As my year, and my undergraduate degree, come to an end, I’ve spent more and more time considering the opportunity I got presented with here at Spruce Notary and Legal,  and thinking about the places, people, and moments I have made over the past 5 years.

I am originally from Mexico, and I studied for my law degree in the University of Colima. I practice law for a couple of years while studying and I decided to move to Canada in 2016, the following year of my graduation, and after all the immigration and moving process, the search for continuing education began.

Like many international students, the path to certification has not been an easy one. I battled loneliness, financial hardship, and culture shock, but I also learned valuable lessons along the way, my undergraduate experience taught me that there’s always a way through.

The REAL program made possible for Spruce Notary and Legal, a small new firm with locations in Cranbrook and Creston BC., to hired me to finally commenced my law practice experience in Canada.

From day one I was exposed to real estate conveyances, foreclosure representation, corporate files, wills and estates. I was introduced to a wonderful group of people, that in my opinion are the definition of what a good team is.

I am learning about the day to day running of a firm and key aspects for a successful business. The two lawyers I am working with have the work ethics and love for the profession that I have always seek in a law firm.

Having grown up in Mexico, the lifestyle, scenery, culture, weather, etc., are completely different from what I was used to. In Creston I have found my home away from home. All the sudden I found myself hiking trails, surfing the Kootenay lake, golfing, doing things that I never thought I would ever experience and now are part of my daily activities.

I am so thrilled to learned that I have the possibility to article and forge a future surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains here in Creston, thank you REAL for make it possible.

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.