Phil Dwyer

Phil Dwyer

Why trade in your saxophone for a barrister’s robes when you can do both?

Although Phil spent the first 30 years of his career entrenched in music, he always had an interest in social justice and the law. From his junior high years in Qualicum Beach Phil spent hours captivated by Eddie Greenspan and George Jonas’ radio show The Scales of Justice which focused on Canada's infamous criminal cases and trials. 
His passion for social justice stemmed at home with his family. 

His household was often filled with spirited debates on many social justice issues including colonialism, labour practices, and environmentalism. It was no surprise that Phil’s sister ended up working as a lawyer at Mandell Pinder LLP, a firm that specializes in helping Indigenous Peoples. 
While law was still in the back of his mind throughout high school, Phil’s musical talent with his saxophone started gaining traction and led to paid gigs. Once he graduated high school, he was able to fully support himself with a career in music. His dreams of a career in law were put on pause but remained an itch needing to be scratched.
For several decades, Phil performed as a saxophonist and pianist, as well as working as an arranger, producer, and composer. The notability of his success can be highlighted as the recipient of multiple Juno Awards and even membership in the Order of Canada. His career in music was not only a passion but a very lucrative and viable career that enabled him to support him and his family in Toronto. 
Though in many ways he was at the peak of his music career, Phil decided it was time to change things up in his forties because he wanted a new challenge. He also started feeling environmental guilt from all the air travel for shows. Since he always sensed a calling to social justice, he figured why not give it a try.
Although he had taught university courses and lectured throughout North America and Europe, Phil had never completed any post-secondary education. This presented an obstacle when applying to law school. After much convincing advocacy, and maybe a little begging, Phil enrolled at the University of New Brunswick and was ready to start a new chapter in his career. Having been out of school for over thirty years, Phil was trepidatious at the prospect of returning to a traditional learning environment. 
When it was Phil’s turn to pursue law, his sister reminded him that they had spent their entire childhood training to form and defend arguments. He eventually got a hang of the pace and structure of law school and was called to the bar in December 2018 around his 53rd birthday. 
After gaining experience with small firms in in Port Alberni and Nanaimo, Phil wanted to start something for himself from the ground up. While he had gained valuable experience at long established law firms, he wanted to work somewhere that aligned with his own goals and allowed him to build systems that incorporated new technologies and approaches to practice. 
A passion for social justice and helping others led him to a mixed grill solo practice

When he was involved with the Wet’suwet’en blockade file and the Fairy Creek file, both multifaceted files with moving parts, the different areas of law that Phil was interested in were brought together. He was exposed to Indigenous leadership issues, RCMP conduct, environmental concerns, etc. These two big files led to more environmental files but also led him into child protection work with First Nations clients and communities. 
Although Phil is fulfilled working in law and in music, he also finds joy outside of “work”. He has made a conscious effort to delineate his work from his personal time to ensure he lives his life to the fullest. Having experienced first-hand a serious mental illness, Phil knows how important it is to foster well-being in his legal practice. Making time for the things he loves outside of work promotes a healthier lifestyle especially for someone with dual careers. 
At the beginning of his career in law, it quickly became evident that the legal field stigmatized mental health matters. Phil landed on the realization that if people had a problem with who he was it was their problem not his. For Phil’s practice, his experience with mental health and addiction helped him better understand and support his clients. Because of his experience, he was aware of the triggers and warning signs that some of his clients faced. 
Through his experience with mental health, Phil learned to be kind to himself and not judge himself based on ideals. For him, this means that he puts his best effort into his work with the circumstances he is dealing with. He accepts the outcome of his effort whether it be a success or a lesson to take going forward. This mindset is especially important as a lawyer. When starting out, a senior litigator told Phil that lawyers can have the best argument and have done everything right and still lose. Coming to terms with this outcome helped Phil overcome his fear of failure and subsequently his trepidation of mental health. For those interested in learning more about self-acceptance and coming to terms with things out of your control, Phil recommends reading Victor Frankl’s memoir Man's Search for Meaning
In line with self-awareness, Phil stresses the importance of being conscious of your own perspective and prejudices when working in law, especially in child protection and Indigenous law. 

No matter how aware one is of their privileges, we cannot help but look at a situation through our own lens. Although Phil can empathize with what another person might feel, it is often difficult to imagine what it is like to be in some of the situation’s he faces at work. To be mindful of his lens, Phil tries to create a space where his client can share their story in a safe space without interruption. 
At the same time, for his own well-being, Phil makes a conscious effort to not take too much of it on. When dealing with traumatic and emotional cases, he makes his best effort to support his client without internalizing the underlying issues faced.
Phil’s personal and professional experience with mental health has also led him to advocacy work. Alongside Brook Greenberg and Alison Luke and other committed members and support staff, Phil advocates for change with the LSBC Mental Health Task Force by bringing forward issues and providing policy recommendations. Phil also strongly supports the work done by Derek Lacroix and other team members in the Lawyers Assistance Program
Phil highlights the importance of not labeling people who are struggling. Everyone, especially lawyers, are faced with difficult subject matters and can take too much on their plate sometimes. 

When we acknowledge that struggling is not a weakness and simply human behaviour, we can better support each other and create a more inclusive and healthier environment.