The 90 years of combined experience for three LAA lawyers celebrating three decades in the profession includes diverse backgrounds and an undying passion to help the disadvantaged and vulnerable.
Wayne Webster will be the first to acknowledge that working as JP Bail lawyer might seem tedious to some.
“But I Like it,” he says. “I roll up my sleeves and get to work every shift – I like to be as productive as I can.”
And there’s plenty of work to do. LAA provides JP Bail service across the province 16 hours per day, seven days a week, with JP Bail lawyers working in shifts from 8 a.m. until midnight.
“There’s no shortage of crime. The police make many arrests every day. And most nights it’s like being a waiter in a busy restaurant – you’re run off your feet. But I’m in my glory. That, to me, is what makes this job appealing. It seems like the shifts go by in the blink of an eye.”
“I give full credit to lawyers who do major cases but being a duty counsel lawyer – it’s in my blood.”
Webster comes to the comparison to being a busy waiter honestly. Born and raised near Toronto, he was drawn to Alberta as a young man, and worked as a waiter in the Banff Springs Hotel in the early 1970s. He fell in love with the province. Later, as a law student, he’d return to the national park to work as a park warden during the summers.
A graduate of the University of Ottawa, Webster was called to the Ontario Bar in the Spring of 1990 and almost immediately made the move to Alberta, being called to the Bar here that Fall. From 1993 to 2002, he operated a solo general practice in the Town of Banff. He returned to Ontario and worked as a roster duty counsel lawyer with Legal Aid Ontario for eight years, before moving back to Alberta.
He joined Legal Aid Alberta in 2018 and feels he’s in his own element as a JP Bail duty counsel lawyer.
“I like doing work that’s fast-paced and at the end of the day you see what you’ve accomplished,” he says. “I give full credit to lawyers who do major cases but being a duty counsel lawyer – it’s in my blood.”
For Andrew Holko, “the practice of law has been a vocation in addition to a career choice.”
Holko was born and raised in Ontario and earned two distinct degrees at McMaster University, in Economics and Labour Studies. Following graduation, he worked in management for a firm in Toronto for two years. However, the desire to become a lawyer was always present so Holko wrote the LSAT and attended law school in the United States, where he obtained his JD. During this time, he also clerked for the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.
Upon returning to Canada, he clerked at a downtown Toronto law firm, until accepting Articles in Alberta. Holko articled and practiced as an associate in the general practice of law at Valens and Fotty in Fort Saskatchewan for four years. This provided him the opportunity to serve rural-based clients as well as be involved in the community through various sports and the Boys and Girls Club as a Board Member.
“People working here genuinely believe in making a difference in society, and that opportunity arises every day.”
Before joining Legal Aid in 2009, Holko was a partner with Wachowich and Co. for 17 years. During this time, he received two Appointments in Counsel. Firstly, having sworn the judicial oath as a Presiding Justice of the Peace, for 10 years Holko was appreciative of the role required to render objective decisions pertaining to bail, child protection orders, search warrants, and apprehension orders, including EPOs. “At the time, many new programs were being developed, including the introduction of CCTV and a 24-hour JP service to all communities and police detachments in Alberta.”
His Appointment in Council and quasi-judicial role of Vice Chair of the Mental Health Review Panel for eight years “required special consideration for people with serious mental health issues and the daily struggles family members face with their loved ones.”
At LAA, Holko has served as duty counsel and in other roles including management. While challenging, the initiation and development of new projects such as the “Original Bail Project,” Extended Duty Counsel (and thereafter its various evolving iterations), and Mental Health Court have been both personally satisfying and interesting to contribute to. As Holko says, “the opportunities keep coming along.”
“I have always been proud to be associated with Legal Aid. People working here genuinely believe in making a difference in society, and that opportunity arises every day.
“There are highlights and sometimes low points, but if you remain true to your original ideals of why you chose to become a lawyer it brings you focus and satisfaction and reminds you that you are providing a public service.”
The longer you work in a profession the clearer you become on the aspects of it you enjoy. For Legal Aid Alberta duty counsel lawyer Murray Shack, that means being in court dealing with criminal matters.
Shack earned degrees in Canadian Studies (’85) and Law (’89) from the University of Calgary, articled with Gerig – Nufeld in Red Deer, and for 15 years ran a general law practice in his hometown of Hanna, Alberta. Eventually, he began to focus on work he found the most interesting and rewarding.
“I used every opportunity to be in a courtroom. I always felt at ease in a courtroom.”
“I don’t know how to explain it but over time you figure out what you’re good at and I found I liked being in a courtroom,” he says. “I used every opportunity to be in a courtroom. I always felt at ease in a courtroom.”
As he was beginning to close more of his files and focus exclusively on criminal law, a position opened with LAA as a duty counsel lawyer in Red Deer. Shack fit the bill and moved to Red Deer in 2008.
“I was plunked down into a very busy docket court that was running five days a week, with no support. I was in court every single day.”
Things have changed. Shack now works with three duty counsel colleagues and together they handle a small circuit as well as handling Warden’s Court and DC Triage.
The 30 years since being called to the Bar “have gone by fast,” he says, adding that he and his colleagues work hard to never let the repetition of their work lead them to making assumptions about clients. In every docket court there are repeat offenders who are unable or unwilling to address underlying challenges they are facing in life – but recently Shack’s attention to detail made a difference. After looking into the charges and information around a case, he realized “it was a case of mistaken identity,” and the charges were dropped.
“I try to never prejudge a situation,” he explains.
“The biggest challenge we have as duty counsel is we are time stressed. We have to make snap decisions and we have to be efficient. But I try to treat everyone to the same standard of care. I work as hard as time permits for everyone.”
Learn about Canada’s Duty Counsel Day