ELC’s Next Generation in Action

(L to R) Former ELC Articled Student Carmen Gustafson and ELC Executive Director Deborah Curran at the Canadian Bar Association Yukon midwinter conference

Over 550 law students have taken the ELC Clinic. Given that we know one-third of the UVic Law students enrol in the ELC Clinic and we’ve been at it for almost 25 years, that number in itself is not surprising. What is surprising – and rewarding – is realizing how many of our grads continue to contribute to the ELC and stay in touch, and how many of them go on to practice some form of public interest environmental law work.

For years we’ve said that the ELC is training the next generation of public interest environmental law lawyers. When we look around today’s public interest environmental scene, we see the proof is in the pudding. A number of our alumni and former articled students have gone on to work as lawyers at Ecojustice and West Coast Environmental Law, the two most prominent public interest environmental law organizations in BC. Many of the practitioners (and even several partners) in BC’s aboriginal law firms are ELC alumni. They are also leaders at NGOs, tribunals, and in government; they partner with us through the ELC Associates Program; and they come to us for student assistance on the public interest environmental law aspect of their legal files – full circle.

Over 80 lawyers are part of our ELC Associates Program, and almost 30% of them were once ELC Clinic students. Seven from that group of Clinic students are also former ELC articled students, three others came from other law schools to do their articles with us, and one lawyer had a sponsored placement with us for a summer.

Since 2007, we have mentored 30 students through a shared articling term and helped them secure the other part of their articles with a partner firm or organization. We have two more articled students sharing articles for 2020-21, and thanks to support from the Law Foundation of BC, we are advertising for two more in 2021-22. So our ELC team continues to grow. With over 30 new students taking the Clinic each year, we are still training the next generation of public interest environmental lawyers. But it’s worth pausing a moment to realize we’re also building a solid network of legal professionals who bolster us (and each other) in tackling BC’s environmental law challenges.

Former articled student Carmen Gustafson

Carmen on an early morning paddle at Schwatka Lake, right in Whitehorse, Yukon

Earlier this year, we were thrilled when we ran into former articled student Carmen Gustafson to see that she was still working on environmental law issues, and we asked her for an update on her work and some thoughts on her articling time with the ELC in 2011.

Since November 2018 I have been legal counsel in the Natural Resources and Environmental Law (“NREL”) group at Yukon Government. Our group provides advice on a variety of legal issues related to environmental and resource law, from prosecutions to contract review. When I was at ELC one of the projects I assisted on was Calvin’s book of law reform ideas for BC (a copy proudly sits in my office). That project opened my mind to imagining how environmental and resource laws might better serve the public interest. Articling at ELC also grew my passion for environmental law and solidified my desire to find a career outside big firms. Keeping in touch with ELC contacts and reading about successes of former students and lawyers kept that passion alive. Shared articles at ELC were a great way to kick off my legal career, because not only did I get to spend time at ELC, it also allowed me to be creative in my options for the second part of my articles. I came to Yukon to work at a small firm that may not have taken a chance on me for a full article. That four month article turned into a nearly 4 year job, a permanent home in the Yukon and subsequent opportunities in law that I would never have imagined possible. Thanks to all the lawyers, staff and students at the ELC. I had a wonderful experience and the very best possible start to my legal career!

Articling During COVID

Ruben Tillman’s reflections on articling at the ELC during COVID (and the homemade bread he brought as gifts on his last day of work when ELC staff all met – for the first time since early March – for a socially distant picnic)

I worked from home starting in early March, until my term ended at the beginning of June. The world seemed to be collapsing, but the ELC was humming along. …work kept me grounded. Instead of mindlessly wandering my apartment worrying, I was meaningfully contributing to society, at least that’s how I felt. Moreover, the virtual staff meetings helped me maintain a semblance of normality, as we all commiserated and joked about the state of things, together as a team.

I loved my time at the ELC. I learned a great deal of substantive law thanks to my file work. I learned in the process of contributing to meaningful projects that hopefully will make the world a better place.

Lawyers have repeatedly told me that it’s critical to have a good network of other lawyers working in your subject area. For new calls hoping to practice in the public interest, the ELC provides an invaluable opportunity to build such a network.The ELC has prepared me, I hope, for a career in public interest law, giving me skills, connections, and inspiration to keep going.

We’re Hiring!

The ELC is accepting applications to our shared articling program for 2021-22. Deadline to apply is Friday, July 17, 2020. For details on how to apply, see here: http://elc.uvic.ca/programs/articling/