Does anyone remember what job Nancy Drew’s father had? What about the type of car he drove? Well, Kyla Lee’s passion for criminal law stemmed from her late nights reading Nancy Drew novels.
While other young readers were inspired by the brilliant kid detective, Kyla was inspired by Nancy’s father who drove his banging banana yellow Cadillac to his office, where he worked as a criminal defence lawyer.
Kyla may not be a character in a series of detective books (yet), but thousands of people follow her as she tweets about her life as a criminal lawyer. After completing an Arts degree at UBC
with a major in First Nations Studies, Kyla was accepted into Allard Law
. While in law school at UBC
, she was interested in both criminal and Indigenous law. Because of her interest and Métis background, Kyla considered going into a career focusing on Indigenous law. Once she learned that lawyers who practice Indigenous law typically work on only a handful of cases throughout their entire career, Kyla decided to focus her course selections on criminal law because of the variety of cases and challenges it presented.
As a law student Kyla threw her hat in the ring for traditional law jobs. In response, she received a stack of rejections and zero interviews. Things only got worse for Kyla during job recruitment when she got H1N1 and was quarantined. While she recovered, isolated at home, Kyla realised she really was not disappointed by the rejections. Her heart wasn’t into a traditional firm practice. For the rest of her confinement at home, Kyla shifted focus to reaching out to as many criminal lawyers as she could. Her motivation and dedication paid off when she received and accepted an articling position at the very same office she works at today, Acumen Law Corporation
Kyla’s practice focuses solely on driving offences, but don’t let that fool you into thinking she is on cruise control. Kyla starts her packed days early. The work is demanding but Kyla loves her job and the interactions she gets to have with her clients, who come from all walks of life. She jokes that she is only 50% of the time acting as a lawyer while the other 50% of the time she is a social worker. Her job diverges from more traditional legal jobs because she is always on her feet running around between multiple courthouses a day. The rules and customs are more flexible in criminal law because things are so unpredictable. Kyla loves that her work keeps her on her toes.
On top of the chaotic schedule of a criminal lawyer, Kyla faces a wall of discrimination as a woman criminal lawyer. The public typically associates criminal lawyers as large brutish types, and she is often disrespected and underestimated.
Instead of shying away from public opinion, Kyla has run full speed into the scrutiny as a marketing challenge, which she successfully participates in almost daily through her use of social media channels. There is no controversy or issue that Kyla won't tangle with on Twitter
and whether you always agree with her stance or not, her bravery and drive is admirable. And it is clear that people want to hear what she has to say. Kyla’s twitter account has nearly 20,000 followers and she is often asked to comment on the law by numerous news agencies.
Kyla’s use of social media also contributes to making her more accessible to clients. She spends time online educating the public as much as she can whether she is creating YouTube videos with tips, tweeting helpful information, or answering direct messages. Putting yourself out there in the way Kyla does comes with rewards and risks. She is able to make a positive impact in the lives of many people; most whom she will never meet or speak to. But this also opens her up to trolls, backlash, and negative comments.
Kyla’s experience in court has helped to give her confidence to shrug off the haters knowing that she is helping people makes it worth it.
Access to legal services also includes financial accessibility. Traditional legal costs have increased to a threshold where many cannot afford legal help. Many of Kyla’s clients cannot afford big law firm fees but also do not qualify for Legal Aid. At Acumen, she is given the authority to set her own prices and she bases her prices on the least she can charge for the work that needs to be done. Kyla is putting the call out to young lawyers that there is an abundance of work in her area and that there is opportunity for lawyers to fill this gap and help the public. Kyla has tailored her practice around her clients’ needs. Using a less traditional cost model and focusing on social media presence have jointly contributed to her success in criminal law.
Kyla’s advice for a fulfilling career in law is to pick a practice area that you are passionate about. Passion will carry you through the hard times (and there will be some, like Twitter trolls or a stack of rejection letters) and will also drive your success.
People take notice of others who love and are passionate about their jobs - which leads to connections, support, and success.
The more you put yourself out there professionally, the more opportunity there will be for people to try to knock you down. But for Kyla, the payoff is worth it.