This profile was written by Alannah Jensen, a law student at the University of Victoria.
In law school, were you told that working at a small firm would be unprofitable or unchallenging? Diann Castle was, but she did not listen.
Diann was born in Oxbow, Saskatchewan and raised in the small ranching community of Cochrane, Alberta. She was the first in her family to obtain a post-secondary education. Diann earned a Diploma in Psychiatric Nursing from the Alberta Hospital Edmonton and a Diploma in Rehabilitation Counselling from Red Deer College. She then worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Foothills Hospital while completing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Calgary followed by a Juris Doctor at the University of Windsor.
Through her education, Diann learned that every legal matter is unique, and all clients are deserving of careful attention.
Before being called to the Alberta Bar in 1988, Diann was given the same messaging and pressure around future legal careers that is still given to law students today. She was discouraged from working at a small practice, because it would be “uninteresting”, and she was told that she would not be able to make the kind of money that her colleagues would make at corporate firms. Throughout her training, Diann was never encouraged to provide services to vulnerable populations, or to consider the independence and moral fulfillment that could come from creating her own unique career path. From the start of her legal career, Diann did things differently. She started out at a small firm, Ouellette Turner Castle, and in 2004 Diann ventured off on her own. She formed her own firm, now known as Castle & Associates, and over the past 30 years, Diann has become a respected senior litigator in the Calgary area.
Representing Legal Aid clients from marginalized communities has always been an important part of Diann’s work. Diann began representing clients with complex cases that were often refused by other counsel.
The wining and dining as well as the pay cheques promised by bigger firms might have drawn some of her classmates in, but Diann was never in the legal-game for status or wealth.
Throughout her career, Diann has developed a comprehensive understanding of family law, litigation, and appeals. She has taken on demanding and challenging legal work. This is evident by the fact that she has over 100 reported decisions at all three levels of courts—the Provincial Court, the Court of Queen’s Bench, and the Court of Appeal. These include landmark decisions that have contributed to the development of law in the province of Alberta and the country.
Running her own practice has allowed Diann to contribute to the community and to legal scholarship in other ways as well. She donates her time and legal expertise to vulnerable populations, amateur athletes, and Indigenous communities. Through her firm, Diann donates Calgary Flames tickets to underprivileged families and sponsors disadvantaged children so that they can play minor hockey. She has been able to help some of her current and former employees by paying for as much of their education as possible to further their careers in all kinds of professions and industries. Diann has also taken on more than fifteen articling students, all of whom are now successful in law or other fields.
Creating her own unique job inside of her own small law firm has allowed Diann to have a lucrative salary.
Contrary to what is often taught in law school, lawyers at boutique law firms can make more than partners at large corporate firms. In fact, Diann’s income is in the top 0.5% of Canadian women. Unlike in a large corporate setting where a partner would give a significant percentage of their receipts back to the firm, Diann is able to keep most of the money she earns from her receipts. Further, the other lawyers working at her firm can keep larger portions of their earnings as well.
Diann’s salary has allowed her to pay for her children’s education and travel extensively. Diann has two daughters and has done her best to raise strong women that are productive members of society. Her oldest daughter is a pediatric resident, and her younger daughter is currently a law student. Diann has traveled to over 90 countries with her family and friends. Travel has enriched her understanding of the world and has strengthened her ability to empathize with people from unique backgrounds and different cultures.
Taking the path less travelled or not yet travelled can be scary, but Diann is proof that adventure pays off in many ways.
It is possible to run a small law firm, help vulnerable people, and afford a nice lifestyle for yourself and your family – Diann has done it! In doing so, she has gained independence and moral fulfillment that could have only come from creating her own career path. Contrary to what she was told in law school, her work is both interesting and challenging as well as profitable.