Duty counsel – Northern Legal Aid Office
Sworn into the profession in 2001, Me Yan Massé joined the Northern Legal Aid office in 2004 in the administrative area of Abitibi-Témiscamingue in the province of Quebec. Initially hired for a fixed-term contract on a 1-year special project, he closely worked with people issued from the native communities from Waskaganish to Salluit. Between 2006 and 2008, he briefly worked for the Montreal Legal Aid office, phone duty counsel and criminal division. He eventually made his way back to work predominantly with clients coming from the coastal James Bay Cree Nation communities. He is currently exercising in penal and criminal law for adults and youths and also in youth protection cases. Here is what he has to say about his profession:
“From the onset of my career with Legal Aid, I have been struck by the fact that despite the great cultural diversity of Aboriginal territories, the practice remains substantially the same from one region to another. Being part of the travelling court, for which all participants travel during court week, work has never been a dull thing. Dealing with people from all ages, trying to help them go through what could otherwise rapidly become an ordeal for them, has brought its fair share of joy and deception, but the experience, I believe, is unique and definitely something to be lived rather than told. It definitely helped me forge the lawyer I am today.
For me, being a duty counsel boils down to making people know we understand their predicament and that we are there for them. That we have remedies to suggest for the issues at hand. Above all, it is very important that they feel confident and know that the suggested remedy will only be adopted once they have fully understood and accepted it. We are the frontline in what could otherwise be a figurative, and sometimes literal, judicial nightmare. We are the voice of those who otherwise could not be heard, the shield against rights violations and questionable procedural practices for the most vulnerable members of our society.
My services as duty counsel are never as important as when a person has just been arrested and is in need of immediate counsel. Such person is often stressed beyond their wits, in doubt, scared about what is to come and what she/he might expect from police officers and the Courts. It is our job to try and relieve them of some of that anxiety, knowing all too well that we cannot extinguish it completely.
At the end of the day, satisfaction arises when I believe I’ve made a difference, be it ever so little, in a client’s life; it’s what keeps me going case after case, year after year.”