Career Advice

Yellowknife, NWT: It’s Time to Look North for Law Jobs

 

By Adegoke Arowosebe

Photo Credit: Flickr/Flazingo

It is no news that the employment outlook for lawyers is not as great as it used to be in the 90’s or early 2000’s. Despite this though, one thing is crystal clear - you can still find your dream law job in Canada if you are ready to be geographically flexible. If you are flexible with the location of your office, you should have no problem finding work in the legal field.  

 

Lawyers and law students often neglect the Territories while searching for a legal position. In this piece, I highlight why I think Yellowknife and other parts of the Northwest Territories (NWT) should be a top pick for law students and lawyers seeking legal jobs in Canada.

 

There is no available stats on the exact amount of law jobs in the NWT, but several indices suggest that there might be something in there for legal professionals. According to a 2016 report, the residents are lamenting the shortage of lawyers in the NWT as people often wait for many months before they can have access to the duty counsel in the courts. Also, as noted in the report, the “lack of lawyers in the NWT generally, and family law and private lawyers specifically” is hampering access to justice in the Territory. Apparently, this suggests the demand for legal services in the NWT surpasses the supply.

 

Let’s put the revelations in the report aside, are there other factors that point to a positive outlook for law jobs in the NWT?

 

In any geographical location, there are two primary drivers for law career opportunities: 1) a growing population and; 2) a thriving economy. Other drivers include the presence of law courts and the availability/proximity of law school(s). Let’s take a look at how these drivers shape or could shape the availability of legal jobs in Yellowknife and other parts of the NWT.

 Attractions to the Northern Light can increase applications for law jobs in Yellowknife

 Image: The Northern Lights

 

#1. Population

In 2016, the NWT had an estimated population of 44,397. Its capital city, Yellowknife, is the most populous city in the Territory with about 20,637 people. But the ratio of lawyers to the residents of the Territory is disproportional. According to the Law Society’s membership directory, as of May 31, 2017, there are only 152 lawyers resident in the Territory that have an active practisin status. The remaining 228 lawyers with an active status are non-resident. This shows there is an average of one lawyer to about 292 people in the NWT. What an opportunity!

 

#2. Economy

The key industries driving the economic activities of the NWT include mining, oil and gas, commercial fishing and tourism. Essentially, the expanding activities in diamond mining, oil and gas production, and urban planning and infrastructural developments by governments have spurred secondary industrial activities as well as construction activities in the Territory.

The top employers in the NWT include the governments (federal, territorial, and municipal) and mining companies (Dominion Diamond Corporation, Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., and De Beers). In fact, the NWT boasts as having the highest employment rate in Canada.

 

#3. Court

Generally, the court of law is associated with lawyers. In any cities or town, law offices are sited around court buildings. Although today, many lawyers ply their trade outside the courtrooms as in-house counsel, transactional counsel, or in other advisory roles, yet, there are many lawyers who represent litigants before the courts. The judicial arm of the Government of the NWT administers justice through the following levels of court:

  • Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories
  • Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories
  • Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories
    • Domestic Violence Treatment Options Court
    • Wellness Court
    • Civil Claims Court
  • Youth Justice Court of the Northwest Territories
  • Justice of the Peace Court of the Northwest Territories

In addition to the traditional courts, there are also a number of administrative tribunals in NWT where legal representation of parties will be needed.

 

#4. Law School

There is no law school in the NWT. Aurora College is the only post-secondary institution in the NWT and it does not offer any law related program such as legal assistant, legal administrative assistant, paralegal, or criminology and justice administration.

 

Other Attractions of NWT

The list of attractions in the NWT is inexhaustive but here are few:

  • Northern Lights: Yellowknife is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. The ideal time to see them is from mid-August till the end of September and from mid-November until mid-April.
  • Financial Benefits: Residents of NWT enjoy lower tax rates than the national average across all income levels, travel deductions, tax breaks, absence of territorial sales tax, and northern allowance.
  • Accessibility: There are a number of airports in NWT. But the Yellowknife Airport is the largest of them and it receives direct flight from many major cities in Canada including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, Vancouver Regina, and Winnipeg
  • Tourist Attractions: There are several tourist attractions in NWT. They include Nahanni National Park Reserve, Great Salve Lake, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage centre, Great bear Lake, and Northern Life Museum. For a fact, NWT receives over 60,000 tourists annually thus meaning there are many amazing things about the place.
  • Low Membership Fees – The membership fee of the Law Society of NWT is one of the lowest in Canada; about half of the membership fees of the Law Societies in some jurisdictions. For the calendar year April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, the annual fee is $1,250.00. This low membership fee could also be an indication that there is low competition among lawyers.
  • Bilingualism: The official languages are English and French. So if you are bilingual in French and English, this may be a factor that could weigh in your favor in securing a law job in the NWT.

 

Practicing Law in the NWT

Licensing Requirements

To practice law in the NWT, you must be a member of the Law Society of the NWT. To find out about how to become a member, click here.

 

Law Firms in the NWT

National or regional law firms with offices in Yellowknife include Field Law, Lawson Lundell LLP, and McLennan Ross LLP. Other law firms include Ahlstrom Wright Oliver & Cooper, Ken Allison, Smith & Associates, Rehnlaw, Wallbridge Law Office, Marshall & Company, MacDonald & Associates, Keenan Bengts Law Office, Marshall and Company, Nightingale Law Office, McNiven Law Office, Boyd Thomas, Bengts Elaine Keenan, Phillips Law Office, Denroche & Associates, Dragon Toner Law Office and McIlmoyle Law.

 

Non-Traditional Law Jobs

Traditional law jobs and legal support roles go hand in hand. Practically, lawyers and law offices cannot function without the services of legal paraprofessionals (legal assistants, paralegals, legal secretaries etc.). Also, there will be need for court clerks in the judicial branch. And also, the presence of the primary drivers of law jobs – thriving economy and growing population - are indications of the likely availability of non-traditional law jobs such as contract administrators, compliance specialists, privacy specialist etc. Therefore, even if you are not on the look out for traditional legal roles, you may still want to keep NWT on your radar.

 

Things to Note

In weighing in on whether to apply for or accept, a law job in the NWT, here are two of the key factors to keep in mind:

#1        Inclement Weather Conditions

The NWT climate is unique, as it possesses a distinct four-season cycle including fall, winter, spring and summer. However, it is one of the coldest places in Canada.

Its Winters are long and harsh, with average highs of mid negative 20° C, average lows of negative 40 °C, and shorter daylights. Summers are short and cool with average highs of 15° C, average lows of 5° C, and longer daylights. For more on the weather conditions in the NWT, visit Weather Canada’s website.

 

#2        High Cost of Living

The average household income in the NWT is higher than the national average. In Yellowknife, for instance, notes the Canadian Encyclopedia, households spend 50 percent more than the average Canadian home.

 

How to get a Law Job in the NWT

To find a law job in the NWT, I recommend you use these three options. You may search job board from time to time for new postings and set up job alerts. Considering not all organizations use job boards to advertise job vacancies, I will recommend that you also search their websites and set up a job alerts there too. You could also consider making unsolicited calls to law firms and lawyers to find out if they are hiring and if they are not, request they keep you in mind. For tips on how to search for law jobs, read Getting your First Job After Law School.

 

Conclusion

The essence of this post is to create awareness of the hidden opportunities for lawyers in the Diamond Capital of North America and other locations in the Territory. By so doing lawyers and law students who are unable to land their dream law job in the South can give NWT a whirl. Albeit, this must be after they have done their due diligence and are convinced they will like it up there.

 

Despite the inclement weather conditions in the NWT, if you are convinced it’s time to look North for law jobs and are passionate about making the place a home, then don’t be discouraged. Just keep in mind that there is no bad weather but rather just bad dressing. Once you dress appropriately for the weather condition, you will be just fine like the 44,397 residents of the NWT.

 

For more on legal jobs in the North, read Whitehorse, Yukon: Searching for law jobs while on a vacation trip in the North

Adegoke Arowosebe is a Calgary-based corporate lawyer. He holds an LL.M in Energy, Natural Resources

and Environmental Law from the University of Calgary and an MBA in Global Leadership from the University of Fredericton.