CBA-NT – Women Lawyers gone wild

  • January 16, 2019
  • Karin Taylor

Eleven women lawyers dropped in the middle of the remote northern wilderness.  It sounds like it could be a terrible movie plot. But in fact, it was the setting for the CBA-NT Inaugural Women Lawyer’s Forum Retreat. We had left our usual responsibilities behind, and committed to a weekend of connection, discussion, learning, and lots of laughs too.

We flew in on a Twin Otter, landing on the frozen lake outside Blachford Lake Lodge. Blachford is one of those “bucket list” places for many people, and we were excited to see what it was all about. The lodge is warm and welcoming, and they had the perfect space set aside for our group to meet.

We started our retreat with an excellent discussion about career paths. This was such a great opportunity to hear from other lawyers about the career choices they’d made (or that were made for them), and how those look different for everyone. A lot of really engaging discussion flowed from that panel, which took us into the social part of the evening.

A few members of our group had a nice relaxing evening in the wood-fired sauna, others enjoyed a chat by the glowing fire.

Some of us stayed in the cozy cabins, which are a short walk from the lodge. Another excellent learning opportunity arose during the night when we realized we had absolutely no idea how to keep a wood stove going all night. It was winter survival at its finest. We managed to stay warm and also gain some fire-building skills in the process.

Saturday started with a session on human rights law and family status. Many of us practise in this area and it generated a really interesting discussion about administrative law, social impacts, and duties on employers in this ever-changing landscape.

We didn’t want to work too hard, so we followed our morning session with some free time. Some of us hit the trails for a run or hike, some cozied up by the fire, and others tried their luck at ice fishing.

After an amazing meal prepared by the Blachford staff, we heard a presentation about marijuana in the workplace. This took place before cannabis legalization was passed. The presentation was engrossing and flagged a lot of the unknowns that will come with legalization. We determined that if you want a new practice specialty, marijuana law might be the ticket.

We also talked about #metoo. The conversation started in the context of advising clients who may be involved in a sexual harassment or sexual assault case, but eventually took us into more personal territory – talking about #metoo in the context of law schools, law firms, and workplaces generally.

After all that serious thinking, it was time to break out – hikes, skis, fat bikes (and naps) – time to enjoy the day! A few of us followed this up with some pretty serious time in the hot tub. Lots more great discussion, but also Prosecco delivery. I cannot say enough about this service. Needless to say, we did not emerge until we were sufficiently pruned.

That evening we had dinner paired with a discussion on anxiety, depression, and mental health. This was an unplanned addition to the agenda, but it was a really powerful discussion. I think it would be fair to say that everyone in the room was affected, and I am thankful to everyone who was courageous enough to share their experiences.

Saturday night was a beautiful clear night. The sky was glowing with stars. The air was still and the temperature was mild. We were able to sit out and stare at the sky, which was filled by a big orange moon. To top it all off, later in the evening we got a beautiful aurora show. It felt like a tourism commercial. #spectacularnwt

On Sunday we packed up, enjoyed breakfast, and were able to get out for one last activity – it was the perfect sparkly day for a nice ski – before our plane took us back to Yellowknife.

The weekend was a wonderful way to connect, learn, and foster our sense of community. The women who came together for this event are all inspirations to me in their own ways. I am so grateful we had this opportunity.

Karin Taylor is legal counsel for the Government of the Northwest Territories