Laurelly Dale, 36, is a criminal defence lawyer with Dale Law Professional Corp. in Toronto and Kenora, Ont. In being one-quarter Métis, she has an interest in working with First Nations bands. Ms. Dale is a semi-elite runner using training time to prepare for court and for two more marathons for The Abbott Six Star medal.
Born and brought up in Kenora, I never truly left. I went to French immersion when it was true immersion, 30 minutes of English a day so my brother and I became bilingual, our parents couldn’t help with homework. I was a 100-per-cent nerd, doing homework in the dugout rather than participating. I wanted to do something in a public forum, so I engaged in debates and speech competitions, I was an ornery teenager and loved arguing with my mother. I read true crime novels, knew I wanted to be a criminal defence (CD) lawyer. I fast-tracked through school, doing a double-major, three-year degree in two at the University of Winnipeg.
The first book we read was [a high-profile case]. I was so interested in the lawyers, and wanted to be a part of that world. That’s where I belonged, in the administration of justice for cases dealing with awful crimes. I went right into University of Manitoba’s LLB.
I couldn’t wait to get in that courtroom, put my robes on. I’d no idea how hard the first five years would be. Once you get over that, gain confidence and a reputation, it’s worth it. Opening my Toronto office, I sought [the counsel of that book’s case], to align with reputable counsel. Cases are like crack; we’re obsessed with details. We want to talk about the judgment, issues – we eat it up. Being a CD lawyer is almost like entering the mob. You never leave it.
You accept you’ll be vilified. My core disposition is contrarian by temperament. I adopt traditionally unpopular things. I almost think I most embrace when people are upset by that. The question I’m asked most often, being a lawyer for 13 years, is how I represent people accused of heinous crimes: I’m not the judge, not friends with clients and I’ll represent them to the best of my ability. Since #MeToo, for the first time, I’m being requested to represent those accused of sex crimes – because I’m female.
I’ve always had cases out of Kenora; it’s close to my heart. I get calls or e-mails saying that one of my young female aboriginal clients killed herself; 15 now, by suicide, overdose or murdered. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s so sad and tragic, like Pikangikum First Nation, where the lives they lead result in suicide. The issue is more complicated, a lot relates to negligence and causes of criminal behaviour, addictions to intoxicants that’s led to this breeding ground of extremely vulnerable women.
The best advice I received was from lawyer Greg Iwasiw: “Ask for help and consult with senior counsel.” Great lawyers talk to one another about cases. I advise junior lawyers, “Don’t let your body go to trash.” In law school, I was malnourished, smoked a pack of cigarettes daily, was addicted to caffeine. When I became a lawyer, I picked up running. Being very Type A, I need the greatest achievement as quickly as possible. In my first full marathon, I decided I’d qualify for Boston.
An epic disaster. I trained on my own, that morning I was so sick I couldn’t even hold down water; 30 degrees, a super hilly marathon. Passing my mother, she didn’t recognize me because my skin was grey. The finish line in sight, my legs gave out. On the ground, bleeding, medics rushing to me, I put my hands out, motioning, “Stop!” The photos are of me crawling over the finish line. I woke up in the medical tent. The first thing I asked was, “Mom, what was my time?” I missed qualifying by three seconds.
Preparing for marathons and trials both require hard work and preparation, humbling because there’s no room for error. When you win and get out of court or finish a race, no drug can replace that. Running brings me away from being tethered to my trial prep notes; I think about how the judge will respond to submissions, how the witness might answer. You’re always trying to figure out a way to properly convey your defence theory on behalf of your client. Clarity, being able to step away from being in your own head, is very helpful.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.