Charlotte Chamberlain

Charlotte Chamberlain

Finding Inspiration Across the Pond: From London Life to Beautiful British Columbia

“Finding things that inspire me, in both law and life, and finding motivation from a common purpose, rather than a person or a place, keeps me rooted and on track.”

Law was “sold” as a very linear career to Charlotte. She knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue this line of work but getting to where she is now was full of unexpected turns. Charlotte did not expect to be working in a boutique litigation firm. She did not expect to be researching international environmental and Indigenous rights law, let alone the application of these areas to the Arctic. Most of all, she did not expect to land across the pond in Vancouver, BC from Cornwall, UK, where she was born and raised.

Charlotte completed her LLB at the University of Bristol in the UK and, as the only lawyer in the family, had no idea how many options were available to her. In the UK, like in Canada, big firms dominated law school career planning conversations and events, so at the outset of law school, Charlotte imagined herself in the only legal careers she knew existed – a hard-nosed criminal law barrister or a corporate/commercial lawyer in a towering London firm. After all, the most competitive firms must be the best, right? Despite countless hours checking the boxes that big firms looked for, one thing was really holding Charlotte back from venturing further down this path. It just did not feel right. 

It was in third year of law school that Charlotte decided to take courses solely because they interested her, rather than because they would help lead to a certain end. She became particularly enthused about international child law, legal history, and media law. Having parted from the London life trajectory, a change in scenery was needed. Charlotte just had a few criteria for wherever she was to end up: mountains, ocean, and varied legal opportunities. As unsure and out of her comfort zone as she was, she ended up across the world in a country she had never been to before and where she did not know a single person: Canada.

“There are few decisions that we can make that are not reversible”. 

Charlotte spent a year living in Montreal, with her trusty companion – an old Dodge Caravan named Dodgy Betty (and her partner, Yohann too!). While deciding on her next move, Charlotte worked in restaurants to pay the bills and volunteered with the Montreal Women’s Centre and the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal. The West Coast (read: the ocean and her mother tongue) called to her, so Charlotte, Yohann and Dodgy Betty road tripped together to Vancouver, with an out-of-the-way stop in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia first in order to make it a complete East to West trek. In Vancouver, Charlotte obtained her LLM from the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she pursued her interests in public law and media law.

With her LLM complete, Charlotte articled at Fasken. There, she was able to put her theoretical interests into practice, diving deeper into her interests in public, environmental and Aboriginal law. 

Following her articles, Charlotte jumped on the unique and unexpected opportunity to work on the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in BC for a year and a half. She also threw herself into pro bono work with Access Pro Bono and into litigation related to the Fairy Creek protests on Vancouver Island where she worked with inspirational (and certainly not average) counsel, including fellow happy lawyer Phil Dwyer. There she found a perfect intersection of all her legal interests – civil litigation, Indigenous law, environmental law, media law, and human rights. She continues to build on these areas, working with West Coast Environmental Law’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund

A seemingly unusual decision that just “feels right” may lead to exactly where you didn’t know that you wanted to be. 

In 2020, Charlotte commenced a graduate International Human Rights Law degree at the University of Oxford, with a focus on international environmental and Indigenous rights law. The thought of being too niche crossed her mind, but Charlotte did not let it deter her from an area that she felt so drawn towards. She spent a couple of months back in the UK in the summer of 2022 studying in-person in Oxford. While there, as a member of the inte-disciplinary Oxford University Polar Forum, she co-produced a podcast series on Indigenous rights in the Arctic – coming soon on Polar Pod.

Charlotte is keenly aware of the importance of mentorship and learning from like-minded lawyers. When she saw that Olthuis van Ert (OV) was hiring, she was excited about the opportunity to work with lawyers with unique and interesting backgrounds and experiences in public law and, equally importantly, in life. Charlotte is very grateful to her colleagues at OV who continually support her in her studies and professional life, and is sure that support from her employers and mentors has been, and continues to be, integral to her happiness and professional success. In hindsight, Charlotte attributes this to working out what it is she wanted to pursue professionally, and being up-front with this when searching for legal jobs. The worst that someone can say is “no”. 

“In the words of my greatest inspiration (my dad, Simon), “give yourself a chance to fail, but don’t fail trying to be something that you are not””.

Since starting at OV, a typical weekday for Charlotte is full and varied. She wakes up bright (thanks to her Lumie sunlight clock at this time of year!) and early to work on her dissertation on the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before taking a walk on the North Shore. She finds that this mental break helps her compartmentalize and juggle her study with her practice. In office hours, Charlotte is busy with firm civil litigation and public law files. There are times when she works outside 9-5 hours, but Charlotte is happy to do so (within reason) as she is genuinely passionate about her work. In the evenings, she sometimes dedicates an hour or two to pro bono work, but this is balanced equally by evening spent cooking and reading. Despite inevitable overtime, Charlotte tries her best to keep her weekends mostly free, preferring to work evenings if necessary to make this happen – her first few years of practice have taught her that it takes her a full day to really rest and recharge for the week ahead. When she doesn’t take this time on the weekend, she notices a palpable nosedive in her zest for law and life in the coming week! In the summers, Charlotte uses her weekends for backcountry exploration (egged on by her partner – a wildlife photographer), island hopping and sea kayaking. In winter, she is equally excited about getting up to the mountains, as she is about snuggling up with a good book or some watercolours and discovering new music on Spotify Radio.

Moving to Canada was a risky decision for Charlotte, but it also ended up leading her down the most exciting path of her life, filled with opportunities that she could not have conceived of. Instead of dwelling on what others might think, or trying too hard to second-guess the next step, Charlotte has learnt to take the time to figure out how to practice law and life as authentically as possible – pausing as often as needed to ask who she is, what she values, and what kind of lawyer she wants to be. 

Charlotte is guided by the words of American author John A. Shedd who said:

“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”.