THE ADVOCATE 345
VOL. 77 PART 3 MAY 2019
WT: Unlike Tina, I always wanted to be a lawyer. What I did not know at
the time was that the impetus came from me grappling with my identity
as a Chinese Canadian. After several adolescent years being ashamed of
my cultural heritage, I studied migration history at university. Through
cultural community engagement projects and working with migrant
communities, I saw the law’s power to change lives, both positively and
negatively. On this journey, I lost my way a few times, including pursuing
a Big Law position at a now-defunct firm. Looking back, I wanted that
position for the wrong reason: prestige. Eventually, I returned to my
roots in Canadian immigration and refugee law and recently shifted from
a business immigration practice to one focused on families, international
students, workers and vulnerable clients. I am a publicly vocal and passionate
advocate for immigration policy reform.
Q: How do you find the practice of law as a racialized lawyer?
LY: I had the good fortune of landing that coveted Big Law position as a
litigation and immigration associate. Another version of myself would
have been content with this career trajectory and the fact that I was making
a dent in my crushing student debt. However, my family’s refugee
journey, in addition to my progressive Christianity, made me yearn for a
different life, one that did not relegate the pursuit of justice to the margins
(i.e., a few pro bono hours here, a donation there). In the end, I
asked myself if I wanted to continue serving the private commercial sector.
The answer was a resounding “no”. So I resigned from the firm and
took an unpaid legal fellowship position with IJM in its Cebu, Philippines
field office. Through the generous support of family, friends and colleagues,
I am now in my second year as a volunteer lawyer, supporting
Filipino authorities who investigate and prosecute the online sexual
exploitation of children (a broad term encompassing human trafficking
and child pornography usually with an international angle) and driving
public justice system reform in the Philippines. For the first time in my
legal career, I feel genuinely fulfilled by my work.
WT: Early on, I treated practice like it was law school: reading, absorbing
and regurgitating. This model works for simple, clear-cut cases (and a good
business model), but the complexities of litigation, especially constitutional
litigation, require a deeper dive. While client management and
business development come more naturally to me, less natural are contending
with enforcement authorities, dealing with highly-traumatized
clients, and the hypercritical, academic study of the law that I now need
to do. I need to develop a whole new set of skills, and it is humbling.