Interviewing the Top Immigration Lawyers in Canada: SSH Law Podcast Series: Ottawa Immigration Lawyer Ronalee Carey

Hiring a lawyer is a tough decision. Most seek out the advice of trusted friends or relatives; many don’t have that luxury and sometimes that advice can be outdated. Hiring a lawyer is an informational based decision, but a lot of what’s available (especially on-line) can be inaccurate. There’s an unmet need: immigrating to another country is one of the biggest decisions one can make and should not be made based on an experience our neighbour or cousin had with a practitioner; we thought it would be beneficial to hear from some well regarded immigration lawyers – what drives them, what motivates them and what brought them to the practice of immigration law. Hence, the SSH Law Podcast Series.

Who would we hire (if we couldn’t hire ourselves?) if we needed sage immigration counsel?

Raj and Bjorn were at the most recent CBA National Immigration Conference in Vancouver and while Bjorn was busy getting ready to deliver his presentation on best practices before the Refugee Protection Division, Raj had the opportunity to catch up and chat with some of the top Canadian immigration lawyers. All of the lawyers were asked the same basic questions; to introduce themselves, how they came to the practice of immigration law, what they find most rewarding and finally what advice they would give to their younger selves or to lawyers just starting out.

Here, we caught up with Ronalee Carey of Ottawa. Reading her list of accomplishments and contributions to the community is inspiring! Ronalee also has an excellent immigration newsletter – it’s a fantastic resource – she is a great writer (see, for example, “Today I Become a “Zero”: How Age Affects Express Entry Scores”). One key take-away from this interview is Ronalee’s advice to lawyers returning to the practice; another was her difficult experience in a refugee hearing when she was ill (there no such thing as a sure thing in refugee practice!).

RC    My name is Ronalee Carey and I practice immigration and refugee law in Ottawa. I started out my career as a family law lawyer. After that I took some time and stayed at home with my …children, and immigration sort of fell upon me. I was offered a part-time position which was perfect for maintaining a balance with my young children and reentering the practice of law after a long absence. I’ve never looked back. Family law was fun, but immigration law is amazing. I do study permit applications, work permit applications, lots of spousal sponsorships and express entry. Express entry has been great for me because I started out on the same field as everyone else. Everyone else didn’t have any experience, so I was no different than anyone else. The fact that I had taken time out of my practice didn’t hurt me in that respect, I got learn along with everyone else.

Being a member of the Canadian Bar Association has been absolutely great. I don’t think I could have practiced and started a practice as a sole practitioner without the support of my colleagues. It’s an amazing bar.

RC    The very first time I had to go and do a refugee claim, and this was when you could still do them in Ottawa, now we have to travel to Montreal, my son gave me stomach flu the day before and I was up most of the night. Went to the hearing first thing in the morning not even sure that I was going to be able to make it through the hearing. It was a case of a young family who are from Somali and the women in the family had been horribly gang-raped. It was a very difficult case emotionally, but I didn’t expect to have any trouble with the board member. The evidence that we put in, in advance was very clear and I thought, surely, this was a case that required some sensitivity on the part of the board member. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way, the questioning went on and on, I was required to give summations when I was expecting [a bench positive]. I kept it together, I didn’t have to go throw up the whole time.

I won which was great, they were successful, but it was certainly a reawakening that you have to be there. Immigration board will not give you any adjournments, you have clients who’ve been waiting for a hearing, that whatever is going on in your life you just have to go and make it through. I’m glad it worked out as well as it did. Hopefully I’ll never get stomach flu before a refugee hearing again.

Raj    [Advice/insights from the practice of immigration law]

RC    I guess I have an unusual position because I did do a practice change. I hadn’t taken immigration or refugee law in law school because it wasn’t something I thought I would want to do. With the support of my colleagues and doing a lot of self-study, it was possible to learn immigration law. I think a lot of other people who are interested in immigration law have the same problem because it’s really hard to get articling positions in immigration law. You’re coming into it having to start from scratch, and it is possible. Also for any woman who is interested in taking time out of your career to stay home with your kids or to drop down and work part time, it is possible, you can come back.