The law became real to Keeley Phillips last summer. After finishing her first year at the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law, she travelled to Whitehorse to work for the Council of Yukon First Nation as part of a 14-week internship through Canadian Lawyers Abroad.
Her goal was to educate self-governing First Nations on changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which was no easy task. She had to learn how to network with different First Nations governments and overcome her fear of public speaking to present her research to public policy officials.
“I gained so much confidence,” says Phillips. “I had to network with different groups, set up meetings, and do research on my own. I learned what I could accomplish on my own and it gave me more self-esteem.”
Phillips couldn’t have gone to Whitehorse without the $1,000 in financial support from the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. She is the first recipient of the NSBS Presidents’ Leadership Summer Internship, an award aimed at supporting students’ volunteer projects focused on governance.
The program was created by former NSBS presidents Philip Star and Catherine Walker as a way to encourage students to volunteer in the community and create opportunities for them to gain practical experience.
“We want students to implement the law at a higher level,” says Star, a partner at Pink Star Barro in Yarmouth, N.S. “It’s a chance for students to see how the abstract and philosophical law is really used in real life.”
Walker came up with the idea for the internship program after working with law students in her office.
“I want more lawyers connected to law students,” she says. “Having students work on governance issues is a part of our access to justice mandate. Students get to see a different side of the law by working with consumers.”
As the profession continues to evolve, the NSBS is hoping to make more meaningful connections with students. This means supporting students in their volunteer projects, rewarding students for their community leadership, and establishing mentorship programs.
In 2006, Star and Walker established the NSBS Presidents’ Leadership Award, given to a graduating law student who exemplifies leadership in the community.
The summer internship is similar to the leadership award. First-year law students can apply through the dean’s office in the spring detailing how their project or internship will benefit the community. Projects must be a minimum of four weeks and can be related to any Canadian organization.
“We wanted to frame the award on leadership and governance so that students are aware of these issues for the future,” says Walker, a solo practitioner in Halifax.
Currently, the internship is offered to only one student per year but Walker hopes to expand the award to multiple students in their second and third year.
“We want to develop and evolve the program to more students,” she says. “I’m interested in bringing law students into the practice of volunteering in the community.”
Originally from Winnipeg, Phillips knew she wanted to work in the North.
“I’ve been working with aboriginal groups since my undergrad years,” she says. “I knew I wanted to continue that work in law school. I’m really interested in First Nations rights.”
Phillips certainly got a taste of working with the public. Besides her research with aboriginal groups, she volunteered at the Assembly of First Nations general assembly and the Yukon Humane Society. She hopes to focus more on aboriginal law and perhaps make another trip to the Yukon.
“It’s really inspiring to see the law come alive,” she says.