July 28, 2015 – Recently called to the bar, Jessie Ramsay is looking forward to developing her legal career in Chilliwack, where she grew up and spent most of her childhood. After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in First Nations studies from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Ramsay went straight from her undergraduate studies to law school. Indeed, law school was the only option for Ramsay – there wasn’t a backup plan.
“I always knew I was going to be a lawyer for some inexplicable reason,” says Ramsay. “However, in law school, I saw that being a lawyer placed you in a position to help people, and this became my motivation.”
Ramsay decided to go to UBC Law after attending a meet and greet at the school. There, she recalls meeting Aboriginal law professor Darlene Johnston, who emphasized the school’s connection to Aboriginal heritage and its location on traditional unceded Musqueam territory. Being Metis, Ramsay was drawn to the extensive Aboriginal law courses that were offered, and describes her decision to go to UBC Law as one of the best she has made.
By far the most rewarding law school experience for Ramsay was participating in the UBC Indigenous Legal Community Clinic in third-year.
“The Indigenous Legal Community Clinic was about working with people who are not able to navigate the legal system, and helping law students understand how much they can help, and how they should not take anything for granted. Being a lawyer means you are in a service industry, and it is through helping people that makes it work.”
“I am part of a group that has historically been discriminated against, and I kind of have to push through that.”
Ramsay’s undergraduate studies equipped her with the skills to be critical in engaging with the law. Ramsay also found that certain experiences in her life allowed her to be more cognoscente of issues facing Aboriginal people today.
“I am part of a group that has historically been discriminated against, and I kind of have to push through that. There is still a lot of misunderstanding regarding many issues facing Aboriginal people today,” explains Ramsay. “I try to help others understand these issues and eliminate any prejudicial preconceived notions.”
During her time in law school, Ramsay was also involved with the Indigenous Legal Students Association (ILSA) in an executive role. She recalls putting on a number of events to engage the student body, such as Metis Day and Aboriginal Awareness Week, and raising awareness on issues such as the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Indeed, when Ramsay was not studying, she was volunteering for ILSA, and this experience shaped her outlook on how she wants her career to develop. Ramsay resolved to help the Aboriginal community at large, whether in her role as a lawyer, or in a different capacity.
Faculty members such as Professor Gordon Christie, Associate Dean Benjamin J. Goold, and staff such as Indigenous Legal Studies Associate Director Dana-Lynn Mackenzie, are credited for their positive contributions towards Ramsay’s experience at UBC Law, and their support of development of ILSA.
Upon graduation in May 2014, Ramsay articled with a law firm in Chilliwack, where she is an associate today. Ramsay landed her job having participated in UBC Law’s on-campus interview process, with an interesting twist. Her firm offered her a position almost immediately, after just one 17-minute-long interview.
For Ramsay, the plan was always to practice in Chilliwack: “I absolutely love being in Chilliwack. Working in a smaller community means you get to know a lot of the lawyers and judges very quickly, and this shapes how you practice.”
Ramsay credits law school for teaching her to work hard, which has served her well given the steep learning curve during articles. In her downtime, Ramsay unwinds by dragon boating at Harrison Lake, and practicing mixed martial arts.
Currently, Ramsay practices family and personal injury law, and is working on establishing an Aboriginal law practice. Ramsay is excited to be a part of the economic development that is already happening in the Aboriginal community in Chilliwack.
“Sto:lo businesses are growing and expanding, and it is a great time for Aboriginal people in Chilliwack. I would love to help in any capacity, helping people grow or handle resource development issues – it is important that everyone has access to proper knowledge and understanding of the law, and if I can be a person to help in navigating this complex process, it would be my privilege.”
This story is reprinted with permission.