Lynn MacDiarmid: Providing trauma-informed help early on

Lynn MacDiarmid

Executive Director — Yukon Legal Services Society

Lynn MacDiarmid was always interested in the law, and loved reading and research during university, so decided to become a lawyer. Following her passion for advocacy she got involved in student legal aid, which confirmed her love for the practical side of the law, and from there she decided to do legal aid work.

In 1992, when legal aid in the Yukon mostly involved private lawyers working on contracts, Lynn began working with a small law firm that focused on legal aid work. She immediately began her role as duty counsel. In 2011, she left private practice and became a staff lawyer for the Yukon Legal Services Society. In 2020, she became the executive director. The office has 11 lawyers, all of whom share duty counsel responsibilities.

“Duty counsel are all local here,” Lynn says. “It’s not like in bigger jurisdictions where you phone a number and get someone from a different city. It’s all local and personal. We know the clients and we know most of the people in the system.”

Each lawyer in the office takes on duty counsel responsibilities four to five weeks each year. There is also one private lawyer who takes on some duty counsel responsibilities and answers night calls for legal aid.

In the Yukon, duty counsel play a number of roles such as assisting in criminal court, therapeutic courts — including the Domestic Violence Treatment Option and Community Wellness Court — child protection and family chambers. While duty counsel roles differ in each court, they provide legal advice and guidance in all courts.

In criminal court, duty counsel take calls from people who are arrested or in custody, assist with bail hearings, appear at docket courts and first appearances and help people get a legal aid lawyer. They also give preliminary legal advice and other legal support for self-represented individuals.

Lynn says her duty counsel responsibilities have always been one of her favourite parts of her job.

“You’re helping individuals who are dealing with one of the most difficult times in their life. The justice system is very confusing and often liberty interests are at stake. I like knowing that I’m helping someone through that process.”

Lynn says duty counsel clients often have mental health issues, cognitive issues, addictions, or other challenges, making it important for duty counsel to have empathy and compassion.

“In society we are generally concerned with victims and don’t have much empathy for those accused of a crime, but I think it’s important to recognize that most people who come into contact with the justice system are vulnerable and often marginalized. They’re struggling with addiction, poverty, homelessness and are often victims themselves. I believe that all individuals deserve our help.”

Duty counsel provide an essential service.  We are helping people make decisions and navigate the justice system during a highly stressful and emotional time.

“The power imbalance between the individual and the Crown makes it especially vital that people receive trauma-informed assistance at the earliest opportunity. I think it’s really important that we provide this service. I know most people are very thankful and appreciative of what we do.” 


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© 2021 Legal aid plans of Canada. None of this material may be commercially reproduced, but copying for other purposes, with credit, is encouraged.