I've been writing of my experience in attending the most recent CBA National Immigration Law Conference in Vancouver last month and speaking with some of the leading practitioners in this area. The audio is coming; I'm not up to speed on podcasts the way the Mark Holthe is, but we're working on it. All of the lawyers were asked the same basic questions; to introduce themselves, how they came to the practice of immigration law, what they find most rewarding and finally what advice they would give to their younger selves or to lawyers just starting out.
Here, I caught up with my friend Peter Edelmann of Vancouver. Peter is a bit of a kindred spirit to our office as he's been at the forefront of immigration advocacy and litigation in regards to enforcement, which is something that we do at our office as well. Bjorn has a very short list of individuals that he respects; Peter is on that list. Both Bjorn and I have reached out to Peter on several occasions and have always benefited from his wise counsel. His sagacity has been recognized by others; he's spoken on more than one occasion to our elected representatives. He's held the government to account, and I think that's a vital aspect of our role as lawyers.
I think this interview is a fantastic insight on someone that has crafted precisely the practice that was intended. Finally, another theme that is emerging from these interviews is the fact that practice in immigration law is incredibly rewarding as it has a direct, positive impact on an individual's life.
I'm Peter Edelmann. I practice criminal defense in immigration law in Vancouver. I do a lot of overlap between the criminal and immigration areas, extradition, admissibility, deportation defense, and then a lot of prosecutions that are border related or related to the citizenship act, the customs act, the immigration legislation.
I originally went to law school to become a criminal defense lawyer, I articled in criminal defense. It was actually in law school that a friend of mine was volunteering with the [inaudible 00:00:42] which is an organization which works in the detention center in Montreal. It was a Tuesday where he was going out and they were going to go out to do a detention visit and I was like, "Oh sure I'll come along for the ride". I met this Colombian guy who didn't speak a word of French or English.
I spoke Spanish ... and I sat down with him and [they had] given him this big stack of forms in French to fill out. He had 28 days to do it and I thought this can't possibly be the way the system works and it turns out it is the way the system works. By the end of law school I was going out twice a week ..I then articled in criminal defense and gradually moved into immigration law ...Our office does primarily immigration, primarily immigration related work or border related work.
I think there's victories that are great and rewarding from a legal perspective going into the federal [court], the court of appeal, supreme court, but I have to say that the most compelling victories I've had have been with individuals where you see the impact on somebody's life and most of them are refugees in my experience where you have to see the transformation of somebody who lives under the stress and trauma of prosecution, comes to Canada and is awaiting a decision as to whether or not their life is going to continue. Once that decision comes in and it's positive, I've seen a transformation in people like I've never seen before.
One in particular sticks out in my mind. He was a man who had been brutally persecuted in his country and was from a country that was perceived as not being a refugee producing country by certain people. We had a very difficult board member and there was a lot ... He from the beginning, he used to wear very dark clothes. He'd wear a hat that came down over his face. He had trouble interacting . He had not even disclosed the core piece of persecution which was a violent sexual assault for cultural reasons until he had been with a psychologist for months and months, and hadn't disclosed it willingly to boost the claim in any way and in fact would have not disclosed it.
I'd never seen him wear color, I had never really seen his eyes look me in the eye and after the decision he came in two weeks later and he was wearing a red cap. The cap was high on his head and his head was held up and he now has a successful business buying and selling cars in Vancouver. His wife and child are here. That transformation in two weeks is something that I have just never seen in any other area ...
I think that it's one of the things that I would have learnt much earlier in my career and to a certain extent you only learn it by, you learn it the hard way is learning to say no. There's an unlimited amount of work. There's an unlimited amount of cases especially very compelling cases out there of people who need help and areas of law where people show up with a lot of money to ask you to represent them. You can very quickly become that DUI lawyer, or that child porn lawyer, or that corporate business lawyer, or the telecommunications lawyer, or whatever it is based on the first files that come into your office with a job that you managed that you happen to get.
Its hard to say no to that because somebody is asking you for your help, they're interesting cases and next thing you know you've got 10 DUIs on your plate. You got 20 DUIs on your plate and then you're having a 20 year career doing DUIs because you're now the guy. Say no early in your career and go out and find the stuff that you want to do. Don't wait for it to show up at your door because the stuff that you're truly passionate about and interested in isn't magically going to show up at your door. Go out there and find it, whatever it is and say no the other stuff because if you don't say no you're not going to have time to build that practice that you actually want to have.