It was a pleasure attending the most recent Canadian Bar Association National Immigration Law Conference in the most beautiful city in Canada, Vancouver. While I was there, I thought it would be a good idea to record a few conversations. I wanted to get the insights into the practice of immigration law from some of the top immigration lawyers in the country and the conference was an ideal opportunity to do just that. This was a fantastic opportunity, and I hope that the series that will follow will be of assistance to a lots of individuals, from clients that are seeking immigration lawyers in their city to young lawyers starting out and want to hear some words of wisdom.
Have a listen to our inaugural podcast.
Below is the transcript of the chat with Lorne Waldman, one of the top and perhaps greatest (there's only one or two other names in the stratosphere that Lorne occupies) immigration lawyer in Canada today.
Before I met Lorne, he seemed to be a mythical figure. Even as immigration officers, Bjorn and I we knew who Lorne was. As Alan Dershowitz has noted, lawyers have a tendency to hero worship. This is true.
Lorne did of course, write the book on immigration.
When I started private practice, my first judicial review/Federal Court file happened be an emergency stay application. This is not, to put it lightly, the best or easiest start to Federal Court practice. All I had to guide me was a precedent from another immigration practitioner that had graciously provided it (Tina McKay, a lovely woman, friend and skilled counsel, and now, for many years with the Law Society of Alberta) and the information contained in Canadian Immigration & Refugee Law Practice, written by - you guess it - Lorne Waldman.
Growing up then in immigration law, I wanted - probably like many others today - to follow in the footsteps of Lorne. Imagine my surprise and gratification when I was honoured enough to be asked by Doug Saunders to provide a counter against Lorne's position (always difficult I imagine) in the Globe and Mail, and presenting and speaking with him to the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Practitioners in Vancouver a couple of years ago. Having a glass of wine with one of your heroes is a special experience.
All of the interviewees were asked essentially the same 4 or 5 questions; who they were, where they practiced and for how long; and why they started down the path (or whether the path chose them); the memorable highs or the ignominious lows; and finally the advice they would give their younger selves, or the advice they would give to young lawyers.
LW: I'm Lorne Waldman. I'm an immigration lawyer in Toronto. I've been practicing immigration law for 36 years, something like that.
LW: When I started in law school. At the time, there was a poverty law office in Toronto called Parkdale where we represented people who couldn't afford a lawyer and the legal aid plan really was in its infancy, and there was no legal aid coverage for immigration at all. All the people who couldn't afford a lawyer who had immigration problems would end up in these clinics. I did a semester there and ended up working in immigration, and that's when I started meeting the clients. I really liked the work, identified with the people, and so I continued through university representing people at hearings. When I got my call, I set up my own office and have been doing that ever since, representing people at hearings and then it developed into the Federal Court and Federal Court appeal and Supreme Court, and all of that.
[Challenges and Victories]
LW: The last 10 years was pretty difficult for all of us who were in immigration law. We confronted a sophisticated Minister of Immigration who had a plan and it was a plan that really was not in keeping with I think our values, so it was very difficult, but the way we fought the plan was with litigation, challenging the constitutionality of some of the more egregious measures. We were successful in interim health challenge, in the DCO challenge, and the Niqab ban challenge, so I think we were able to contribute to some extent to the sense that what they were doing was wrong and the recognition of a need for change. I think the last 10 years in general were very difficult, and were the most difficult of my career, seeing a lot of people deported and really feeling that there wasn't a lot you could do.
LW: In terms of the highs, well the victories, challenging, the victory in the challenge to the cutbacks to refugee health care, the victory in the challenge to the Niqab ban. I guess the other highlights would include cases like Arar. That was a pretty incredible experience to work on that file.
[Advice to a Younger Self/Young Lawyer]
LW: Well, I think the only thing that maybe I feel would have liked to have done differently was sort of try and find a better work-life balance, but the problem is when you feel passionate about what you do and love what you do, you sort of get drawn into doing it, and so that's been the history. The advice I would give to young lawyers would be to make sure you like what you're doing, because if you don't like what you're doing, you probably won't do it well and you're not going to be happy.