Posted on: September 30, 2016
2016 TRU Law grad and Edmonton native Kelly Melnyk knew by the end of first year that she was interested in staying in the BC Interior after graduating. Having enjoyed spending many summers in the picturesque Okanagan area nearby, Melnyk began researching communities and firms in the region.
After learning that Lumby was a qualifying community for the CBABC Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) Program—an initiative that addresses the projected shortage of lawyers in rural communities—she reached out to Deuling & Company to schedule a visit to the firm. Once funding from CBABC was approved for Deuling & Company to have a summer student, Melnyk was hired. At the end of that summer job after second year, she was offered a position to return as an articled student upon graduation.
We caught up with her to chat about her small town experience.
Set the stage for us. Tell us about your role at the small town firm of Deuling & Company.
The firm is a general practice firm serving the community of Lumby. I perform a number of tasks at the office including meeting with clients, drafting separation agreements, attending court for certain criminal matters, reviewing contracts and preparing civil litigation files. With the firm being more generalized, I am exposed to a broad range of legal issues and I have been included in many of the files moving through the office so that my time articling is well-rounded.
I love the variety and range of experience. Because our firm is serving clients with diverse needs, I am able to really see the different areas of law that affect the community. Rather than focusing in too tightly on one specific area of law, I am forced to continually learn and grow to help the members of my community. I also really love that we have a fun staff in the firm and that we have great connections with the Vernon Bar, which has been very welcoming to me.
You’re from Edmonton. What is the draw for you to a small town in the BC Interior?
After moving to Vancouver six years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted to stay in BC and so it was fitting to attend TRU Law. We both fell back in love with the Interior so I began making inquiries into Okanagan firms that may take on students, and we looked at towns that fit the bill for us to settle into. Lumby ticked all the boxes that we were looking for—proximity to an airport (Kelowna), proximity to a court house and a generally nice, affordable place to live. Also, it was a Hockeyville community!
I visited Mr. Deuling in November of second year to see the offices, the town, and get an understanding of what the firm handles. These types of informational interviews are essential when reaching out to small or rural firms and this was impressed upon me by members of the Kamloops Bar that understood the concerns that small communities have with hiring students. They want to know you are committed to the community, not just the firm. It is an investment for the firm to have you but it also raises expectations of community members that they finally have a new lawyer.
What do you enjoy most about working in a small community?
The obvious things to love would be the cost of living and the work-life balance. But I also wanted to get the most out of my articling and there has been no shortage of interesting files for me to work on (with supervision of course), which is something that is harder to come by in bigger firms. I am fortunate to have a great Principal who takes every opportunity that arises to teach me. Additionally, working in a small town provides an opportunity to really integrate into the community and give back where I can.
What types of skills and experiences at TRU Law best helped prepare you for your current role?
TRU Law was a great experience and there are many points to look back on that I enjoyed. What really stands out is the faculty and student body. The faculty really care about the students and that came across in every class, every office hour extended and at every social function. The student body is incredibly supportive of each other and I think that is something that has developed organically and has been fiercely protected by every new group of students coming into the program. We want to see each other succeed but not at each other’s expense, and this mentality extends beyond the school and into the professional realm.
There are many classes that taught me the skills to prepare for practice but one of the most impactful for me was Katie Sykes‘ Lawyering in the 21st Century course. This is because we went through the exercise of billing hours, drafting a client memo and critically assessing the methods and processes in current practice. Some of these critical assessments are ones that I use to try and create change in the way I work in my firm.
I was also really engaged as a student, which provided me with many opportunities to learn and apply my skills, for example as academic director of the Society of Law Students (SLS), doing volunteer research for Charis Kamphuis’ Justice and Corporate Responsibility Project (JCAP), speaking at the Canadian Elder Law Conference in 2015 with Margaret Hall and doing directed research with Tesh Dagne on Geographical Indications and the Okanagan Wine Industry.
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