Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

Programs

2020 Bencher Election - Assist Questionnaire

Bencher election season is underway. There are 42 incredible lawyers standing for election—it’s hard to choose! So Assist circulated five question to the 42 candidates to help Assist volunteers and supporters to learn more about the candidates personally. We are posting their responses as we receive them—scroll down to see the newest addictions.

Remember to vote between November 2nd and 16th!

 Questions:

  1. What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?
  2. What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?
  3. How do you deal with stress?
  4. What does lawyer well-being mean to you?
  5. Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Here are some of their responses:

Walter Pavlic, QC: 

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

I really enjoyed reading  "A Fine Balance" by Rohiton Mistry,  It is a tale of family, friendship, sacrifice, corruption blended into the time of martial law in India.  A riveting read.

As for a Movie, I have always said that The Lion King pretty much teaches you everything you need to know about life!

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Being a Board Member and then Chair of the Boyle Street Coop, an inner city agency in Edmonton.  Always amazed at the resiliency of those less fortunate than ourselves and how just a little help can make such a difference.

How do you deal with stress?

I love cycling, both road and mountain. Put thousands of km on the bikes this summer!  In the winter I ski.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Being both mentally and physically content.  Lawyers are under so many various pressures from their practice, their clients, their families that it is a constant battle to maintain one's well being.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

 Definitely!  Without good mental health it is difficult to do anything well.  The challenge is that often people do not realize when their mental health is compromised and it prevents them from seeking timely assistance .

 

Tim Verhaege

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why? 

My favourite song is Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.  My mother used to sing it for me on the cattle ranch that I grew up on.  My favourite movie is Shawshank Redemption because of Morgan Freeman.  He is one the most dynamic and prolific actors of our generation in my respectful opinion.  Hmmm perhaps there is a theme here between the song and the and movie?  My favourite book is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  It is a fictional story about the tale of a cathedral in mid-century England but there is so much more to it than just the building of a cathedral.  It is a book I used to carry with me when I worked in logging and fire camps and I read it on more than one occasion.  I lent it to somebody along the way and now that I think about it I never got it back….

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Perhaps it was not a volunteer activity, but spending 7 years on Athabasca Town Council and sitting on many different committees.  Being voted for by members of the public and being entrusted to do one’s very best and applying  one’s skill set for the betterment and greater good of the community is rewarding.  I chose not to run for a 3rd term as it was time to focus on my family and my practice (in that order), however, I feel that I have the time and dedication to be a Bencher and to apply my experience and skillset to the position if elected.                   

How do you deal with stress?  

By going to the gym, outdoor activities including bike riding with my family, and mountain getaways as often as we can!  Anywhere where there is a lake and a canoe is good for my soul!

What does lawyer well-being mean to you? 

In one word “balance”.  The balance between mental, physical and spiritual strength.  The 3 must be in balance always.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?  

Yes, as per my response in 4 above.  Not only in the practice of law but for everyone.  We are living in different times and we are going through and will continue to go through ups and downs and now more than ever we all have to stay strong mentally, physically and spiritually.  This is not for just us, but for our loved ones and for our neighbours, community, and country.

 

Matia Matkovic

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

I have incredibly eclectic tastes when it comes to music, probably because I personally do not have any musical talent myself and am in awe of people how do. My favourite song (though there are many that depending on the day may qualify) is “A Sunday Kind of Love” – the version that Etta James does. There are a lot of layers to this song but ultimately is about something we all want, a true and easy kind of love from someone.

My favourite movie – there is a tie. The first is Now, Voyager which is a Bette Davis movie from 1942. It is your classic love story drama but one about a life that was almost not really lived. It has some great scenes and moments in it that have been copied in numerous movies but ultimately the message is one about being responsible for finding your happiness. The other movie is “Grease” from 1978. In addition to thinking that it would be such a cool world if we could all randomly break into song to express our feelings, I always wanted to be “Rizzo”.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I believe that we are all influenced and to some extent changed by everyone we meet whether for good or for bad. When I have volunteered with different organizations, I always started with the initial thought that I would be doing something to help someone else but beyond that being an almost arrogant way of looking at things, it was also not at all accurate. I have learned so much from the opportunities that I have had to volunteer, not only about myself but about others. There are many instances that stand out but one that I tend to think of first was with respect to a pro-bono file that I had worked on with another very good friend and colleague. We were acting on behalf of a mother who was going through a messy divorce that also involved a civil suit that was commenced by one of her husband’s best friends in an attempt to hide or otherwise dissipate matrimonial assets. This client was not only struggling to raise her young son on a very limited income but was also raising two children from a previous relationship and taking care of her elderly parents. Her husband refused to pay support and was doing everything he could to prevent her from getting the benefit of any of their meagre assets. Throughout this experience and although there were numerous legal setbacks, she remained kind, humble, and resilient. She was (is) a very quiet person. Unassuming and likely would be mistaken as being a “victim” of sorts but in reality she was stronger than most of us. When we were finally able to resolve matters in her favour, after we left the courtroom and were sitting at the courthouse cafeteria to discuss what happened next, she pulled out a bank passbook and explained that she had been trying to save a few dollars here and there and that while she knew that it would never cover the actual fees, she hoped that she could at least pay us “something” as she did not want us to think she was taking us for granted… I do not believe that this woman had bought anything new for herself or treated herself to even a coffee at Starbucks as she was struggling to support her family and yet, she was putting money aside for these two lawyers who thought they were doing her a favour. In fact, the kindness, appreciation and resilience that this women showed throughout was a gift to me (I will not speak for my colleague but assume she likely feels the same) as it reminded me that in this very cynical world, there are some people who are just good people who work hard, love their family, appreciate their lives and do not take anything for granted and even when things are going very wrong for them, they still think of others and still make it through every day. (P.S. as for the money she saved… of course we did not accept it but I asked her to spend it on something just for herself… I hope she did but suspect she likely spent it on her children.)

How do you deal with stress?

It depends on the day. Some days better than others. I reach to my friends and tend to talk things out and find that this will often give me some much needed perspective. I also try to take small breaks from day to day real life and will get away from the office, go for a drive or just watch some mindless TV show. With COVID it has made it harder to get together with friends and my “go to” of having a long coffee break where I could vent or hear someone vent has become more difficult to do but I will still make sure that I have real breaks away from what is causing the stress throughout the day. Generally, what I have come to accept is that we can’t do this alone. It is okay to rely on friends and family to help you and to be there for them when they need help.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

I became a lawyer for many of the same reasons that a lot of other of my colleagues did… challenging career, opportunity to help people, a bit of prestige and the idea that justice would be pursued. I was not aware of the day to day grind that we all go through, the focus and push for “billable hours”, the stress and worry associated with not being good enough, not meeting your hours, the long hours and the impact of dealing with so many people going through such difficult times in their lives. It took years of practice to start realizing that for me to be a good lawyer and more importantly, a good person, I needed to have some sort of balance (not the “work-life balance” that all firms try to tell you they support) but a balance that involved understanding and admitting what was really important to me and my personal well-being so that I could then be a better lawyer. I know that on a personal level, I value independence, freedom, time with family and friends and that if I did not have those things, I would be miserable. On a professional level I value continued learning, debate and discussion, striving to provide the best quality of advice and work for my clients. What I had to figure out was how to balance those interests and values… the answer will be different for all of us but for me the answer was for me to start my own firm with a business partner who had similar values and interests. We built a team who also had similar goals and values and created a work environment where we had freedom, independence, time to spend with our families, time to complete good work for our clients and the support to do so.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Yes, absolutely. This is a career filled with a lot of high achievers and personalities that are unlikely to ask for help when needed. In fact, it is our job to help others… Eventually, if you keep going this way and do not recognize the impact that stress, anxiety and a pace that most other professions / jobs do not require (and idealize) it will take its toll on not only your mental health but your physical health. It will also impact your family and your ability to be there for those you love. I think most lawyers tend to downplay any issues that they are having in dealing with their mental health as there is a real stigma to admitting that you need help but that is something that for all of our best interests needs to change.

 

Derek Anderson

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

I don’t mean this as a dodge, but I don’t think I actually have a single overall favourite song, movie, or book.  

As far as music goes, I really enjoy all things related to the Grateful Dead—both for listening and for playing (I play guitar)—but also find opera and contemporary dance deeply soothing (I typically have opera or contemporary dance on in my office as I work).  I enjoy 20th and 21st century orchestral work, as well as traditional “world music” as well.  It really depends on my mood.

I have to be equally vague with movies, as I watch probably ten or so movies a week.  I’m a huge fan of Asian cinema—Kurosawa, perhaps obviously, but also Korean directors Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite” was wicked fun, as was “Snowpiercer”) and Park Chan Wook (“Oldboy” and “Lady Vengeance”).  Tarantino movies are hard to turn off (“Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” is brilliant), movies from the French new wave (particularly Truffault, Goddard, and Melville) also feel like comfort food, but I’ve recently fallen down the Agnes Varda rabbit hole (her movies include quirky gems like “Cléo from 5 to 7” and the documentary “Daguerréotypes”).

 As far as books go, I’v been really enjoying John LeCarre’s “George Smilie” spy novels of late—both for the propulsive plots and their warm (if sad) and intelligent humanity—although I have long loved everything Willian Faulkner, Alice Munro, and Thomas Pynchon have produced.  All that being said, I have probably read Haruki Murakami books (in translation; I don’t read Japanese) than any other single writer over the last 20 years.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

This is a tough one.  I don’t mean this to sound like I'm pandering, but talking to other lawyers and helping them through moments of crisis to a point where they are in a position to thrive anew is always deeply satisfying—frankly, as much for the “there but for the grace of god go I” reminder that I could be just as easily the one asking for help as the one present to give help as for the positive outcomes the lawyers enjoy.

However, upon reflection, perhaps it’s actually an easy question: while living in South Korea, one evening I noticed an elderly woman  wandering around our apartment grounds, holding a broken ear-bud near her mouth and alternately whispering, talking, and shouting into it.  (I eventually found out she was using the earbud to “talk to” then North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, and to excoriate him for the loss of many members of her family.)  She was in obviously severe emotional distress, and was being followed at a distance of about ten or so feet by a worried young girl of around 12 or 13 years of age.  Turns out the girl was her granddaughter, and both were relatively recent refugees from North Korea (if I recall, their escape route went through China to Cambodia and then to Seoul).  Somehow, they had become disconnected from their supports—perhaps lost as you or I might become lost, but more likely lost as consequence of the grandmother’s emotional breakdown.

In any event, by this time in my South Korean life (I had been in South Korea for 7 years by this time) I had become familiar with a number of different people/organizations that connected with, and helped, North Korean refugees, and I was able to connect the old woman and her granddaughter with one of those groups.  That was all that I did, and I don’t know what happened after the connection was made.

But I couldn’t help but be moved.  Let’s just say that I hugged my family all the more tightly after this. 

How do you deal with stress? 

The shortest answer possible is: I make sure that talk about it, and I make sure that I ask for help when I need to.  I also maintain healthy habits—including daily exercise, a healthy diet, and regular routines.

The more complicated answer starts off:  I have been fairly aggressive in seeking out guidance and care, so regular counselling is a very significant component of my self-care.  Sharing with supports is a key tool, as is maintaining time/space for spending time with my family and friends, meditation, reading for pleasure (fiction and non-fiction), and both playing and listening to music.  There is no shortage of available supports, but the key is taking the initiative to engage with them when needed. 

I should emphasize, however, that the most important thing I do to deal with stress is to very self-consciously treat it health issue that needs constant attention—no different from maintaining a healthy diet and exercise.  I need to be vigilant about this, and believe that this is true of everyone.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

From a very practical, general, and professional perspective, it means that the lawyer’s physical, mental (including emotional), and spiritual health does not have a measurable impact on the lawyer’s practice or her/his clients.  That is one way to look at it.  Another way of expressing it would be describe it as being that state that allows the lawyer the freedom to enjoy her/his practice/profession specifically and, more generally, life.

Most of us join this profession because we believe that being of service will make us happy, make our clients happy, and improve society.

Because as important as it is to be able to do my job well, it is also important for me and for the public perception of the justice system that the public sees that working in the justice system, and helping people individual and society as a whole, is a joyful and rewarding experience. 

In other words, it’s important to me that the public sees that working in the justice system helps people, including lawyers and judges and other participants,  live positive, meaningful lives.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority? 

Absolutely.  Mental health is health, and should be managed with no less than the same attention and seriousness that physical health is maintained.  In fact, arguably more attention should be given over to maintaining our mental health , as (unlike a purely physical health condition) a mental health condition not only will hurt the sufferer, but has the capacity to hurt everyone (including family, friends, co-workers, and clients) in the sufferer's orbit.  Poor mental health in one can contribute or cause poor mental health in another (this is, after all, the foundational principle the organizes trauma across generations).

As such, I take the position that self-care regarding mental health is absolutely a core competency issue for lawyers.  We must do all that we reasonably can not to harm others—and that includes being responsible for our mental health.

 

Deanna Steblyk, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

It’s very hard to choose one in those categories, but I would say that the first two Godfather movies popped into mind right away. They’re so well-written, well-acted, and well-directed that I can watch some or all of either of them at any time and still find them completely engrossing. I’ve probably seen both dozens of times, and they remain just as interesting to me as they were the first time.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

All of my volunteer experiences have been inspiring and rewarding – it’s one of the big reasons for volunteering! But one experience that really sticks with me is a visit my husband and I paid to an all-girls school near Nairobi, Kenya, to drop off school supplies and other donations. Many of these young women were there because they fled violence, including forced child marriages and female circumcision. They had very little in terms of creature comforts, but were so clearly grateful for the opportunity to get an education. In one particular classroom, the girls’ teacher asked us to explain who we were, where we came from, what we do for a living, etc. My husband spoke first, and they gave him a huge cheer when he said he was a lawyer. Then I spoke and said that not only was I married to him, I was a lawyer myself – I got a HUGE, huge cheer. The teacher then explained to us that because of the background these girls came from, many dreamed of becoming lawyers one day themselves, so to meet a real, live woman lawyer was a great treat for them and helped to show them their dreams were possible. I was so touched by that – and the reminder that we in this province are so very lucky in so many respects, including because we get to pursue the careers of our choice – that it still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it, almost 10 years later.

How do you deal with stress? 

I deal with stress with daily exercise, and trying to remember to take time for myself when I need it. When my introvert side is in play, recharging can be as simple as sitting down to do crossword puzzles in a quiet room for an hour. Getting a good amount of sleep is always very helpful as well. Not only does it help with stress in and of itself, I find that I’m more focused when I’ve slept well, so I get my work done better and more efficiently, which allows me to be much less stressed about it.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

To me, lawyer well-being is multi-dimensional. It means being competent to practice in one’s chosen area, substantively, culturally, and technologically. More importantly, though, it means physical, mental, and emotional health. We are better lawyers, better able to serve our clients and the public interest if we are healthy in those ways.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority? 

I absolutely believe that mental health should be a priority. As stated above, we are better lawyers when we are healthy, and mental health is a huge part of that, especially in a profession that can be so stressful and emotionally and intellectually challenging. There is still much work to be done in breaking down the stigma around mental health issues, but I think it is gradually getting better. More people are recognizing mental health issues in themselves and others, and are becoming less afraid to speak about them publicly. By actively prioritizing mental health, we can continue to dismantle the stigma – and hopefully that will lead to improved mental health as we understand it is okay to seek help and it does not mean we’re weak or incapable of doing our jobs.

 

Lou Pesta, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

Book-  Aliceland, A Guide to Ease living with Dis-Ease by Alice Pesta. A very personal look at and unique philosophy respecting coping with disease written by my wife.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

100km walk with my brother Tom Pesta and my best friend, Donald Wong, fundraising for the Kidney Foundation of Canada which subsequently inspired me to donate one of my kidneys.

How do you deal with stress? 

Keep client issues in perspective and never take them home or accept them personally.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Keeping a life balance is critical to maintaining both physical and mental health. This includes taking at least two vacations per year.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Absolutely. Mental health is critical to a lawyer’s well being and competency.

 

Cal Johnson, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

Favourite movie – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch – Having read the Solzhenitsyn book, I was prepared to be disappointed by the movie but I wasn't.  The movie captured the brutality of a Soviet gulag prison camp but also the adaptive behaviours of the prisoners and how important attitude was to their survival. 

Favourite Book – Endurance by Alfred Lansing -  a very different survival tale of the attempt by Sir Ernest Shackleton to cross the Antarctic starting in 2014.   An amazing story of perseverance in the face of unbelievable adversity and the critical role that his leadership played in their survival.  The most inspiring novel I have ever read. 

Favourite Song – Statesboro Blues – The Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East.  This album introduced me to the Blues and started a life long addiction.  This song remains a standard that was a cover by the Allman Brothers and has been covered many times since.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Tough question to answer, given how much I have enjoyed being a Bencher.  However it would probably be my role as a Director and then Chair of Vertigo Mystery Theatre.  I arrived at the Board at a time of existential crisis as we had an operating deficit, a new Artistic Director and only a skeleton staff to deal with many issues. We returned the theatre to economic stability, implemented ongoing and important fund raising initiatives, evolved from an operational to a strategic board and developed a professional staff that helped to move the theatre into a much broader range of productions which challenged our audiences and scared the heck out of us as a Board.  But what an exciting ride for someone who has had a life long love for live theatre.

How do you deal with stress?

Multiple ways.  Exercise and sports have always been primary.  I tried to never let my career override my health.  Hockey, snowboarding and hiking have been the mainstays.  All of them take you out of your headspace and obtain some perspective.  Riding a motorcycle always demanded a laser focus and forced me to leave the office and all its concerns behind.  Most important of all – I had a very supportive spouse with more emotional intelligence than anyone I have ever known.  She was always a rock of stability in an ocean of confusion. 

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Perspective and support.  Lawyers are by nature insular and self-contained.  Control over every aspect of their lives is often their undoing. Perfectionism is inculcated into their psyches in their education and their practice.  These are toxic combinations. Well-being involves a recognition of these forces and how to mitigate the impact on health, family, career and self-esteem. It requires providing lawyers with the tools to identify the areas of their lives that are dysfunctional and then assisting them with the people, resources and support they need to live a balanced and fully self-aware life. With these supports, it would be my suggestion that well-being would be evidenced by a lawyer who can put their career in proper perspective in terms of family, health, community engagement and spiritual pursuits.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Absolutely and obviously.  The recent sharing, by prominent individuals, of their struggles with mental health has made a huge contribution to moving mental health from a point of stigmatization to a recognition that it shares common ground with physical health and deserves the same supports and emphasis.  Anyone who has at any time struggled with mental health knows that it can paralyze you as effectively as any traumatic physical injury and should be accorded the same urgency and resources. 

 

Rupert N. Joshi

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

My favorite movie is “My Cousin Vinny” because it portrays the role of lawyer in a humorous manner.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

The most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity I partake in is teaching children and adults karate and seeing individuals develop both physically and mentally over the years.

How do you deal with stress?

I deal with stress through regular attendance at karate and having a good laugh.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Lawyer well-being is of utmost importance from a physical and mental perspective in order that you are effectively able to navigate the rigors of daily professional life.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Mental health is an absolute priority and is critical to one being in a position to effectively represent their clients’ interests on a day-to-day basis.

 

Kene Ilochonwu

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

The 5 Love Languages.

It teaches a very practical concept that guides our thoughts, words and actions in personal and workplace relationships.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Setting up a busing program for my kids’ school in 2015.

Since its inception in 1998, the school did not have a busing program, and parents had to drop-off and pick-up their kids every day at the school. Having worked in transportation procurement, I saw the need and opportunity. I worked with the school, parents and a busing company to provide a year of subsidised busing. After the year, once the system and ridership were established, I transferred management of the busing program to the school.

How do you deal with stress?

When I am stressed, I am intentional about taking time off to unwind, and spending time with my family.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

To me, lawyer well-being means creating an environment that sustains work-life balance and having an awareness of the importance of self-care.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Yes, I believe mental health should be a priority, because it affects all facets of our lives, and also impacts our relationships, productivity and decision making capability.

 

Robert Philp, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

A recent song by Tim McGraw "Humble and Kind" has recently caught my imagination and in these difficult times it is really an anthem for good. Favorite movie "The Way We Were. Favorite book EXODUS by Leon Uris . 

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Over the years I have engaged in many volunteer activities and I can not single out a single activity as the most rewarding. 

How do you deal with stress?

Generally in dealing with stress I usually disengage from the activity that generated the stress. Reading, movies, and physical activity all help in stress reduction.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Lawyer well being means possessing the necessary competence so that we are healthy in body, mind, emotion and soul. With out the necessary competence in our field of practice we are not likely to possess the skills that will keep us healthy.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

In this time of COVID maintaining our mental health is critical. It may be a very long time until the current pandemic is under control so we must look after each other. 

 

Edward Feehan

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

Although I am very passionate about all three pastimes, I do not have an absolute favorite book, song or movie. I enjoy a variety of different genres. I read about 12-15 books a year. I loved Three Day Road (Joseph Boyden); A Gentlemen in Moscow (Amor Towles ); Half-Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan) ; A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) and A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens). My musical tastes are definitely stuck in the 60s, 70s and 80s. My favorite bands are U2; Dire Straits; Roxy Music; Supertramp; Fleetwood Mac; Elton John; Queen and The Who. As for movies, I loved Apocalypse Now; The Godfather; Chicago; Parasite; Slumdog Millionaire; and Pulp Fiction.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I really enjoyed my time on the Royal Alexandra Ethics Board. The board consisted of a very wide range of disciplines, which naturally approached issues differently. The other Board members taught me to consider other perspectives and backgrounds, which I would have never thought about, before arriving at a conclusion.  

How do you deal with stress?

I deal with stress by openly talking about issues that cause distress and jointly trying to minimize stress through dialog. In addition, I believe healthy physical and mental regimes helps in minimizing stress. Humour, exercise, meditation, down time, leisure activities and open dialog all reduce stress and triggers of stress.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Practicing law is very stressful and pre-occupying. If you permit it, the practice can consume your life. Both physical and emotional well-being is critical for enduring contentment and happiness. This means making time for emotional relaxation and exercise. It also means reaching out for help when you need to talk.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

In today’s world, mental health is a top priority. People need to focus on emotional health in order to stay physically well and productive. We cannot continue to ignore or minimize mental health as it the most important component of our over-all health and well-being. As we prepare for winter and a second wave of Covid-19, the Assist program will be come an even more essential tool for helping lawyers deal with mental health issues.

Michael Swanson, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

The Bible is my all-time favorite.  My second choice is a whatever biography (usually political) that I am reading at any given time.  The Bible, because I have been reading and studying it since I was a child and I still don’t know it well.  Political biographies because they give insight into politicians and public servants and what makes them think.  I am currently reading Beverley McLachlin: “Truth Be Told”  It provides fascinating insight into the former Chief Justice.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I served as volunteer coordinator for Inn From the Cold for nine years.  The experience served as a valuable lesson in terms of putting the commandment “love thy neighbor” into action.  It also served to remind me of the dedication and sacrifice that defines volunteer spirit.

How do you deal with stress?

It depends upon the source of my stress.  If it is related to work, I roll up my sleeves, get to work and get it done.  If it relates to an interpersonal relationship, I walk down the hallway or pick up the phone and engage in meaningful dialogue.  In my experience most other stress is frivolous.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Living a happy and healthy life defines lawyer well-being.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Mental health is central to lawyer well-being and should absolutely be a priority.

Linda Long, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

Forest Gump – I connect with the theme of the feather floating through life and the successes that an honest heart can bring.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I have chaired two refugee sponsorships over the years and continue to be a respected member of the extended family of several generations of new Canadians.

How do you deal with stress?

I garden, grow plants, hug my dogs and cats, mentor young people, focus on friendship with my husband, and support my family in my private life and my work family. Try to sleep well. I don’t drink, do drugs, smoke or look for substances to divert me. But good food, well that is a whole other thing, lol!  And did I mention caffeine? I also curse in private.  I have an old vocabulary from my military days.  I have read research that says that people who swear have less overall stress. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. 

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Being a well-rounded person, taking time to step back when tired, staying connected in positive ways with family and work family, and community. Good holidays. Dog love.  Being a giving spirit. Mentoring. Finding the kindness.  Laughing.   Not winging it in my work. Trying to be properly prepared so confidence can be maintained that I can deliver a quality product. I feel well when I am prepared and have not taken on more than I can realistically handle.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Absolutely. Without good mental health, good lawyering is not possible in the long term. Burnout cycles can be avoided by focusing on staying healthy, stepping back when tired, reaching out for supports from others, finding life balance, and being kind.    

 

Zukhraf Baig

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

My favourite movie is Gladiator. I love a good underdog story. The amazing direction and epic soundtrack made it all the better.

Favourite Song: All Along the Watchtower (Hendrix Cover). I love Jimi Hendrix and even though this was a cover, Hendrix’s guitar and vocals gave it magic.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Pro Bono legal clinics. I enjoyed volunteering for Calgary Legal Guidance and also working for CLINIC in Saskatoon when I was still in law school. I have enjoyed volunteering my legal knowledge whenever possible.

How do you deal with stress?

I have a 10 month old son, spending time with him helps me de-stress. When he is asleep I enjoy playing my guitar.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Being of healthy mind when providing legal services. This profession has a tendency of being very stressful and could take a burden on a person’s mental health. Lawyers need to find ways, which could include working out, vacations, etc. to continue to be of healthy mind when providing legal services.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Yes, mental health should be a priority for all individuals. In our society mental health still has a negative stigma and more work should be done to promote mental health wellness for lawyers.

 

Sandra Petersson

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

"Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison. I've loved this song since I first heard it on a mixed tape a friend made for me. It's instantly singable (lots of sha la la la la te da) and danceable. My daughter and I don't quite have brown eyes but this is now one of our songs.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

When I did my coaching training, I did pro bono coaching hours with the CEO an inter-national charity and several local lawyers. Being able to create that safe space for really listening and seeing the greatness people can achieve when they have been heard was humbling and inspiring.

How do you deal with stress?

My approach, firstly, is to not create more of it for myself. I plan for the expected so I'm not triggered into crisis mode because I can't find my phone when I head out the door. Self-awareness and being able to identify when I'm stressed are key. Then I can consider if I am truly in a stressful situation or have just been falsely triggered by something minor. Big stress will happen but I will be better able to work through those times if I haven't wasted my energy fighting non-fires.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Quite simply, it means having the capacity to succeed. Without physical and mental health, I am not good at my job or my life.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Absolutely. With one in three of us likely to experience mental illness, looking after our own mental health and looking out for each other has to be a priority. As mental illness can have an impact on our thoughts and ability to accurately assess our own situation, we also need to be willing to accept help. As a wise friend of mine once said. "If you're crying in the parking lot, everything is not ok." One in three of us not being ok is not ok.

Kenneth Warren, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

I don't really have a favourite song, movie or book.  My tastes are eclectic.  My wife tells me that I am a music snob(I worked part-time in a record store during university), pre-Covid-19 we loved going out to the movies and my book list, both hard copy and Kindle, is all over the map.  Over the past few weeks my turntable, CD player or internet streamer has pumped out music by: Ray Lamontagne, Billy Eilish, Miles Davis, Frank Ocean, Joni Mitchell, Post Malone and Wilco.  Movies that I enjoy on repeated viewings include:  The Mission, Blade Runner (both versions), Moonlight, The Constant Gardener, Dunkirk, Whiplash and Parasite.  I read at least as much non-fiction as fiction.  The former category would include anything my Malcolm Gladwell, The Art of Possibility (Benjamin Zander), When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi) and Being Mortal (Atul Gawande).  Good fiction for me has included everything by Rohinton Mistry, The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), Istanbul (Orhan Pamuk), Gillian Flynn’s novels and on the lighter side The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared (Jonas Jonasson).

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I was on the board of CUPS for several years.  It hosts an annual  Christmas Dinner in January for Calgary's homeless community.  Recognizing that there are many charitable events for the less fortunate in the weeks leading up to Christmas, CUPS stages its Christmas Dinner in mid-January when there is less to look forward to.  The board members and other volunteers serve a fantastic Christmas Dinner (courtesy of the Hyatt) to hundreds of homeless men, women and children.  We serve the meals, we clean the tables and we help the attendees with donations of clothing and hygiene supplies.  I have continued to volunteer since I left the Board and am humbled every year by the grace and gratitude shown by the individuals and families who attend.  It is a reminder to be thankful for my good health and good fortune and to be generous with others.

How do you deal with stress?

I really don't get stressed much but many of those around me may describe me as a carrier.  Perfectionists can be hard on those around them. One of my life rules is don't worry about what you can't control.  I tend to assimilate information, analyze the issue, make a decision, move on and then recalibrate if necessary.  If I need to clear my head, I head to the gym or hit the road on one of my bikes, now that my running career is over.  I am also blessed to have the most supportive, sensible spouse I could imagine.  When I need help or a sounding board, she is always there.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Lawyer well-being means enjoying what you do when you practice law and enjoying what you do when you aren't practicing.  Truly, having a complete blast, loving what we do is aspirational for most of us.  It’s great if you can find that but you don't need it to enjoy well-being.  When I taught in the Bar Admission Program, I told countless students that as lawyers, we all have the occasional bad day when the world seems to unfairly rise up against us.  We may also have the occasional bad week and even more seldomly, a bad month.  However, if you find yourself repeatedly having week after week of bad days and you hate the thought of going back to work on Monday, you need to find something else to do.  It may be a different area of practice, it may be a different firm, or it may be throwing cappuccinos in a coffee shop, but you have to find something that you enjoy, that makes you happy.  Well-being to me requires balance between your physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs.  It is an innately personal determination.  Your good balance may be someone else's nightmare.  If you and your closest loved ones are genuinely happy with the balance struck, you are in balance.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Mental health absolutely must be a priority.  Surveys in the United States, currently being replicated in Canada, show staggering rates of physical deterioration, substance abuse and other mental health illnesses among lawyers.  People who get into and get through law school are high achievers.  We enter a profession that then demands excellence and high ethical standards.  The pressures on any lawyer can be daunting.  Until recently, the inability to cope, signs of depression or other mental illness or admissions of substance abuse, all of these were viewed by many, both those suffering and those looking on, as acknowledgements of weakness.  Fortunately, leaders like Justice Clement Gascon and my partner, Michael Herman, have recently shared their mental health struggles very publicly.  They have highlighted the benefits of confronting their illness and the support they received from their colleagues. Their examples are demonstrating a long overdue recognition that lawyers, our law firms, our employers and our regulators need to prioritize the issues of mental health and wellness among our profession.

Afshan Naveed

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

Book: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho – the book carries a simple but powerful message that has always resonated with me.  Movie: The Silence of the Lambs or any movie by Stanley Kubrick – Hannibal Lecter is a fascinating character and Anthony Hopkins brought him to life perfectly. Kubrick is amazing.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

This is a difficult one to answer because every volunteer opportunity is an opportunity to give back to the community that I’m a part of. If I had to pick, it would probably be the PBLA work I do.

How do you deal with stress?

(1) working out; and (2) alone time with my thoughts to reflect on what is important to me.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

The ability to know when you need help or a check-in and then taking steps to get the help you need (whatever form that help may be – a friend, a time-out, counselling, a nice meal, a work-out, yoga, etc.)

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Yes, absolutely.  Especially now when normal social interactions are limited.  Everyone needs a check-in to ensure they are operating at their ideal level.

Tami Prince

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

For at least the last 25 years or so one of my favourite books has been “Jude the Obscure” by Thomas Hardy. When I first read it the idea that a young person of less than modest means and little opportunity could educate oneself and access real “knowledge” seemed so inspiring. Having re-read it just a couple years ago, the book now screams themes of futility, prejudice and oppression to me. I think I’ll wait another 20 years or so before I read it again.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I tend to be unable to do things (or, at least, unable to do things well) that don’t inspire me, so I have to say that all of my volunteer work has been inspiring and rewarding. I particularly enjoy volunteering with legal professional associations like The Advocates’ Society. Doing so gives me the opportunity to work with and learn from legal professionals from across the Province and with diverse backgrounds and experiences, all of which has made me a better lawyer.

How do you deal with stress?

Mostly by exercising, reading and hanging out with my dog. 

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Lawyer well-being is a goal, likely achievable from time to time, and not at all likely to be achieved 100% of the time. Having the ability to make tough decisions and time manage without inordinate or debilitating stress or anxiety seems to be a good indicator of lawyer well-being. Also, the ability to laugh every day, to find tiny moments of joy in one’s life, and to ensure enough time for family seem like good indicators of lawyer well-being. 

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

I think mental health is foundational to everything we do, and whether we like it or not, it is already a priority.

Stacy Petriuk, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

My favourite movie is “Napoleon Dynamite”. I love the completely hilarious, totally spot-on humour. I think I went to junior high with Napoleon Dynamite. I have definitely met his brother!

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I recently became a volunteer with the Law Society’s “Mentor Connect” program. I have just started mentoring a sole practitioner in Edmonton. Our firm has had a formal mentorship program for years, where all of the partners mentor an associate or 2. I have always enjoyed this part of being a lawyer. But mentoring someone in sole practice who was essentially a stranger before we met through this program has been very rewarding. I hope the lawyer I am mentoring is getting just as much out of it as I am. I am learning a lot and realizing how important this is for lawyers who might not have access to a natural mentoring connection.

How do you deal with stress?

I have a pretty good idea of what stresses me out, so I try to ensure that I do not create that environment. However, this cannot always be avoided. So, I try to take care of myself (I try to eat properly, get enough sleep, get some exercise, and spend quality time with my family). I recognize there is good and bad stress too. When I have too much bad stress, I try to come up with ways to give myself a break and I talk to someone. Sometimes I am just in my own head too much.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you? 

At a basic level, being happy and productive in your personal and professional life. However, there are certain traits that we, as a legal profession, reward that are not that great for well-being. The Law Society has a role to play in the well-being of lawyers. In the 2020 - 2024 Strategic Plan, the Law Society has included competence and wellness as one of the strategic goals.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Of course! People need the support, resources, access and ability to do what they need to do for their mental health. In addition to including lawyer wellness in its 2020 - 2024 Strategic Plan, the Law Society has also included an objective of reducing stigma related to mental and physical health issues by creating a supportive regulatory environment. To me, that includes support for programs like Assist, but also ensuring that the Law Society does not inadvertently negatively impact lawyers’ mental health through its actions and regulatory work.

Bill Hendsbee, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

I’ll go with a movie here. While it’s tough to narrow down to one film, I have to go with “The Shawshank Redemption.” Not only is the story captivating and the performances brilliant but the universal themes of redemption, hope and friendship resonate with me every time I watch the movie.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

This question is also hard to narrow down to one activity. Within the legal profession, being a Bencher has likely been my most rewarding volunteer activity. I have not only enjoyed giving back to the profession but I have found the work both rewarding and challenging. Outside the profession, acting as the organizer of the Don Andrews Memorial Golf Tournament over its 10 year run, with all proceeds going to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, was particularly near to my heart, having lost both of my parents to cancer.

How do you deal with stress?

Stress is a constant within our profession and it is vital to keep it in check. I do so in several different ways. First, and most importantly, I rely on the support and friendship of my spouse and my now adult children, who make me appreciate what is most important in life. I also try to stay active physically and mentally. And, finally, volunteer work also helps to keep my stress level down by allowing me to focus on the needs of others rather than focusing on myself.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you? 

Well-being is an all encompassing term that includes mental health, physical health, strong inter-personal relationships and a desire to make the world a better place. I have been a big supporter of the LSA’s plans to incorporate well-being into our new lawyer competence model, recognizing that well-being and competence must be considered as being connected concepts.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

In my opinion, mental health is associated with overall well-being. Mere competence in the technical aspects of the law is not enough if our members are not mentally healthy and feel supported by their regulator. As both a society and as a regulator, we have come a long way in de-stigmatizing mental health and addictions but I definitely support and recognize that we are still a work in progress in figuring out how to best move forward on this issue in a meaningful manner. Programs like Assist are a crucial support and I look forward to exploring ways to integrate this into our lawyer wellness initiatives at the LSA.

Salimah Walji-Shivji

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

My favorite book is The Sun Does Shine. This book takes the reader through Anthony Ray Hinton’s experience on death row. It is a true story that takes us through Anthony’s journey of the justice system. Very moving.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

As a family we make 100 sandwiches a week for Discovery House. This started as our pandemic service and has continued. To date, we have made over 2000 sandwiches for families residing in this second stage women’s shelter. It has been a way to give back as a family during this pandemic.

How do you deal with stress?

I spend time with family, friends and get fresh air. My children are young and we are a very active family – with biking, hiking and skiing/snowboarding!

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

It means the constant ability to give back and assist individuals who are in need of navigation, advice and a listening ear.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Absolutely. Whether you spend time with family, friends, exercise or meditate, it is vital to your performance and peace of mind.

Moira Váně

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

The Irish film “The Guard” is my favourite movie. It is a ‘buddy cop’ film that subverts the genre, there is extraordinary acting by Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle, and the many themes that run through the narrative are charming. After working in criminal law for close to two decades I enjoy how the film portrays both the police and criminals as people who ebb and flow through our concepts of good and bad. Nothing is what it seems and the enduring mystery note it ends on is unexpectedly satisfying.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

I have volunteered with Crossroads since the late 1990s driving around the inner city late at night to provide front line supports to sex workers. I find it deeply rewarding as I know the services provided are helping out some of our city’s most vulnerable people.

How do you deal with stress?

I like to take long walks in the river valley and spend time with friends. Fresh air and a good vent session with an empathetic person usually cures what ails me.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

It means being well physically, emotionally and spiritually. Doing work you enjoy, managing the stress that comes with all the responsibilities you carry, and feeling aligned with your values.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Without a doubt it should be priority number one. For too long in our society it has been relegated to the shadows and I am glad that it is being de-stigmatized (albeit too slowly). Without good mental health all parts of your life suffer. I have been a volunteer with ASSIST for close to a decade because I believe that we can help one another to get through the hard times.

David B. Mercer, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

The most recent and favorite book I have read is Leadership and Self-Deception (Arbinger Institute ) = the key to leadership is not what we do but who we are.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Volunteer Activity most inspiring or rewarding : two past activities Chair of Student Legal Services in Law School and being an Uncle at Large and Big Brother.

How do you deal with stress?

Stress = step back and engage in non-work activity (eg. for me is auto mechanics)  and exercise.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Lawyer well being = work/life balance.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Mental Health must be a priority because if you do not manage your mental health in a “healthy" way then you are on the path of self destruction usually in the form of addiction.

Ronald Sorokin

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers which is a story about an under the radar man who stepped up in his canoe to help people following the Katrina disaster. I liked this book because it shows how a person can make a difference quietly and humbly.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Delivering meals through Meals on Wheels which I have been doing weekly for the last few years.  

How do you deal with stress?

Through almost daily outside exercise and keeping in touch with my friends and family. 

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

Knowing when it is time to leave the office and being able to leave the work at the office. 

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Absolutely because it is a foundation for the rest. 

Lou Cusano, QC

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

My favourite book is Irving Stone’s, The Agony and the Ecstasy. It is a biographical novel of the life of Michelangelo. For me, the in-depth account of Michelangelo’s life and the time in which he lived facilitated a deeper understanding of the artist (his genius and his foibles), his work and of the personalities of the day.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

Coaching minor hockey. It was such a rewarding experience to witness the players grow as young people, improve as hockey players and come to appreciate the rewards of team play. The opportunity to oversee and even play some small part in these progressions was a privilege. I learned as much from those aspiring athletes as perhaps they from me.

How do you deal with stress?

Although music and sports are stress relievers for me, gardening (despite our weather doing its best to thwart my efforts) and exercise (cycling/spin) have been particularly helpful in not only managing stress, but also in maintaining general well-being.

What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

The practice of law places significant demands on us and finding ways to manage the related challenges and stresses is essential to our overall well-being. To me, lawyer well-being encompasses both physical and mental well-being. And as we know, physical and mental well-being are so important to fulfilling and balanced professional and personal lives.

Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

As noted by ASSIST:

Research shows that, when compared to the general population and other similarly-educated professionals, lawyers experience mental health challenges and addiction issues at much higher rates (more than three times the rate of the general population for mental health challenges and double the rate of the general population for substance use issues.) (https://lawyersassist.ca/about/)

No doubt, the pandemic creates additional challenges for us all, but this research underscores the advisability of continuing to be mindful of the mental health and overall well-being challenges faced by the profession. And efforts, such as those undertaken by the Law Society (including wellness as a competency in CPDs and Competence & Wellness as a strategic goal in its most recent strategic plan, as examples) and ASSIST (through the various resources made available to lawyers), in promoting wellness are important in helping the profession deal with mental health and wellness issues.

 

Arman Chak

What is your favourite song, movie or book & why?

My favourite movie is Inception. It’s a visually amazing film with a creative story about how to access our dreams.

The film builds on the everyday occurrence of dreams and takes the viewer on a journey. It is a great story with great acting.

What was the most inspiring or rewarding volunteer activity you have performed?

The most rewarding experience I have is when I provide pro bono services to those in need.

Pro Bono is a necessary part of our profession and we need to be able to expand it to ensure that law is accessible to all.

Aspects of our society have become increasingly complex to navigate and in many instances important individual and societal issues are decided by the judicial system. Lawyers are the gatekeepers for this process. Providing all people access, guidance and representation is necessary.

We need to stay committed to educating and supporting people. Laws provide important implementation of policies for social advancement. So we need all people to be able to have engagement, to ensure it is achieving those goals.

Lawyers challenge the institutions that create laws to ensure they are accountable and representative of all individuals, not only people who can afford representation.


How do you deal with stress?

Stress is a part of everyday life. I have a great network of family and friends in my life who I rely on to share and discuss my thoughts and feelings.

These individuals give me great comfort and help me to understand, reflect and then take meaningful action to manage my stressors.


What does lawyer well-being mean to you?

There are many difficult parts of our profession. We are very busy, and have numerous demands and expectations placed on us. Many times we are assisting individuals who are in a very challenging time themselves.

At the same time we have personal lives.

For this reason, it is so important to find a way to create balance with work and other aspects of our life.

Spending time with family and friends, taking care of my health and finding time to rest are very important.

This balance is so important and enables me to be a better lawyer.


Do you believe mental health should be a priority?

Yes, a high priority. Both for us as a profession and for our clients.

Lawyers should be encouraged and educated on available mental health resources. This strengthens our capacity to do our jobs and live full and balanced lives.

As well, the profession and the amazing institutions we are a part of needs to recognize our clients themselves are undergoing major life events and may require mental health guidance and resources.

This may mean having these resources and tools accessible and available at the outset of a legal interaction to ensure that the client is supported during the entirety of their legal process.

Mental health has now been recognized as a major aspect in employment law, human rights as well as criminal law. Recognizing when someone has a mental health issue requires an employer, policy maker or law enforcement to take steps to ensure the well-being of that person is paramount.

As a profession we need to recognize where we can encourage mental health awareness and implement expert advice for a better legal environment.