In anticipation of the Central Library's full day Law Connect Event on October 17th, we talked with local lawyer Gillian D. Marriott QC, to offer her take on law as a profession, and the importance of making law accessible to all Calgarians.
Gillian, the upcoming Legal Grounds clinic is an amazing opportunity for Calgarians to access free legal advice. It also aligns perfectly with your work with Pro Bono Law Alberta an organization that promotes access to justice by creating and promoting opportunities for lawyers to provide free legal service to those of limited means. Why is it important to you personally to volunteer your time to community events and organizations that offer this type of service?
As a lawyer, I believe that I have a responsibility and an obligation to give back to my community. I have been given the privilege of developing a skill set and an ability to provide legal advice, something only a lawyer can do. My view is that as a lawyer the best way I can give back is to provide that advice to individuals who might otherwise not be able to access it. The Legal Grounds Clinic is an excellent opportunity for me to do so, as it is for the volunteer lawyers from Norton Rose Canada LLP who assist us in Calgary.
Do you think that events such as these help make the law and lawyers more accessible, perhaps helping remove perceived barriers?
Yes. Many individuals don’t realize that the problem they are dealing with is a legal problem. The opposite is also true: many people think they have a legal problem when they don't. The first step is to actually have an opportunity to talk to a lawyer. That is often difficult and somewhat intimidating. Events like this held in public spaces such as the Library make it easier for individuals to engage with the lawyers and receive the advice they need.
Did your career path as a lawyer play out as you envisioned when you entered law school?
No, but I am not sure that I had a vision. I talked and argued a lot, and thought Perry Mason was pretty cool. I started out thinking I would be a corporate solicitor, but have practiced criminal and family law as well as general civil litigation. However, regardless of what type of law I was practicing I was always involved in community organizations or legal clinics that allowed me to utilize my skills as a lawyer to help others. When I was offered the job as ED of PBLA it was an opportunity to do that full time. I was given the chance to take on something that I’m passionate about, which is working towards ensuring that individuals have access to legal services and therefore access to justice.
Gillian, we understand that you also volunteer your time by mentoring. How does offering that kind of support and experience help young lawyers?
Mentoring young lawyers is so important. The practice of law is very different from law school and young lawyers need to be prepared for that. Law school is largely about dealing with abstract concepts along with intellectual exercises. A law practice means dealing with people and their problems. It’s about using common sense and practicalities to effectively, efficiently and calmly finding the solutions that work for clients who are often confused or can’t find their way.
People generally go into law because they want to help others and I believe that should be nurtured. Lawyers have to remember that and they need to be encouraged to do so on an ongoing basis. They really need to be given the opportunity to continue with the "feel good" work as well as the work that they do generally. Mentoring gives me the opportunity to help young lawyers figure out how they want to practice and to encourage them to help the people who otherwise wouldn't receive their assistance.
What advice would you give those wanting to enter the legal profession?
My advice to someone who wants to enter the profession is to really think about why you want to go to law school and why you want to be a lawyer. These are two separate questions. Then work to become the best lawyer you can be, while remembering that it is a privilege that carries with it obligations and responsibilities: to be a lawyer with strong legal skills, to be ethical and have the highest integrity, and to give back to your community. You have to determine how you will define being a "successful lawyer" and then strive to achieve it. Remember: it’s not always about how much you can make.