The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 3, June 2010

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Aboriginal Law Summer Program Creates Environment for Students to Become Invested in Law

By Derek Sankey

Growing up in Cardston, Alberta, in the Blood Tribe, Carly Fox wasn’t sure what to expect when she took a course in law and society at the University of Calgary.

“I was from a small town and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into,” she says. “I was a little worried about that.”

Fear of the unknown was no match for her desire to pursue law, so she enrolled in law school at the University of Victoria. She always wanted to come back to southern Alberta eventually. Then she got an e-mail from the Indigenous Law Students’ Association inviting her to apply in the Law Society of Alberta’s Aboriginal Law Student Summer Program.

She landed a four-month position working with Maurice Law Barristers and Solicitors, a firm that specializes in First Nations law, at their Redwood Meadows office just west of Calgary. Her interest was immediately piqued and, while it was a summer position, the opportunity opened her eyes to an entirely new world of law.

That was the summer of 2006. After going back to finish her law degree, she began articling with Maurice Law in January 2007. She was called to the Bar in April 2008 and the 27-year-old now looks back on the experience as an essential step toward developing her career. Several mentors along the way have been a big part of her success.

“It’s really important to network and meet other aboriginal lawyers,” says Fox. “It’s nice to know there are other people with similar circumstances.”

The Law Society’s Aboriginal Law Student Summer Program is designed to enhance equity and diversity in the legal profession, while providing opportunities to a group of potential practitioners that may not otherwise find those opportunities.

“We’re opening doors and inviting them to step in and see what they think,” says Jocelyn Frazer, the Law Society’s Equity Ombudsperson. “What we’re trying to do is encourage people to really reach out and make the connections.”

Rather than an affirmative action program, it is actually designed to provide a way for First Nations law students to explore all areas of law and facilitate the hiring process for them. Some decide to specialize in Aboriginal law; others pursue many different areas.

Firms have no obligation to hire. The program , which accepts first- and second-year law students, acts as a way to expand firms’ pool of candidates. Students, meanwhile, get to see law firms in action.

“It lets them go back into their next year of law school with a better understanding of what the practice of law might like,” says Frazer. “They have a chance to explore different areas of law and understand some of the dynamics inside firms.”

Fox quickly found her passion. She continues to work for Maurice Law negotiating land claim settlements, drafting agreements, conducting community consultations and doing some litigation work related to drafting of pleadings.

“I feel emotionally invested in my work without being over the top,” she says. “I feel a sense of accomplishments practising Aboriginal law.”

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