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Civil Litigation, Criminal

Laurelly Dale: an advocate who aims to protect people's rights

The month of April has been exciting for Toronto criminal and civil litigator Laurelly Dale. The week after she expanded her practice by hanging out her shingle on Bay Street in downtown Toronto, she ran the Boston Marathon for the third time, earning a personal best in the notoriously challenging race. 

While running may seem to offer a break from work, for her it feeds it. 

“I have the most clarity when I’m running,” Dale, principal of Dale Legal Firm, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “I come up with the best strategies. I think being removed from the files, taking a step back, allows me to look at things from a macro perspective, and determine how others will view my strategy.”

Marathon running is of a piece with Dale’s legal ambitions, which propelled her to accelerate high school, finish a three-year undergraduate degree in two (with a double major), and graduate from law school at the age of 22. 

“Everything was on the fast track to getting to law school and becoming a lawyer as quickly as I could,” she says. “I just wanted to be a part of that.”

A criminal defender who also takes on civil cases, Dale’s primary practice area often elicits the same question as her marathon running: Why would you want to put yourself through that? 

Dale’s answer is simple: “Because it’s what I was meant to do.” 

After her studies at the University of Manitoba, she mentored under several lawyers who are now judges of the Ontario Court of Justice and Ontario Superior Court in the northwest region. When interviewing for an associate position, she recalls being asked why someone so young would want to be a lawyer.

“I said, ‘I can’t wait to get into court because that’s where the true advocacy and the application of the law comes to life.’” 

As part of that job, Dale flew around Northern Ontario in “little cigar planes,” defending a range of cases, including theft, Controlled Drugs and Substance Act charges, assault, and fraud.

She also helped to set up a mental health court there and assisted in several homicide trials. 

The stakes were high, the case load heavy. 

“The only breaks I took were to go for runs,” she says. 

Dale says she has the right sort of constitution for litigation, including the toughest criminal cases. 

“There’s nothing about any of my files that I take personally,” she says. “I’m able to separate myself from them. It’s not my job to judge, but I feel very strongly that my role is to contribute to due process and the rule of law. I firmly believe my role will help protect the accused and their rights.”

About six years ago, wanting to expand her litigation portfolio, Dale moved to Vancouver, working first as in-house counsel for Dye & Dunham, and then as litigation services manager with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. In Vancouver, she learned skills such as drafting contracts and litigating.

A year and a half ago, she moved to Toronto to take a job as director of content development, including litigation, for LexisNexis Canada, while still maintaining her own roster of clients.

“I immediately fell in love with Toronto. It feels very right,” she says. “The city is one of opportunity. I’m so excited to have an office here.”

Dale says she's a strong believer in taking on new challenges.

“I didn’t want to become stagnant because that breeds cynicism and complacency," she says. "I feel my law degree is a window of opportunity that allows me to learn about all aspects of law.”

Dale’s headquarters are shared with John Rosen, who has represented more than 300 individuals charged with homicide offences including Paul Bernardo. Dale has a second office in her hometown of Kenora, where she travels every month or two. As part of growing her practice, she’s hoping to hire an associate in the northern office, which would allow her to focus on more serious criminal and civil cases.

She is also interested in being part of advancing and modernizing her profession. 

“There’s a new face of law,” she says, one that defies the stereotype of the old boys’ clubs of the past. “You can do it on your own, and you can do it differently.”

Among this next generation of lawyers, Dale sees a move towards streamlined administration, and more use of technology. Billing structures may be more flexible, and marketing often bucks the formality of traditional legal advertising.

She is inspired by fellow University of Manitoba Law classmate, Alisa Mazo, who is also representative of the new profession and the owner/operator of a PI firm in Toronto.  

Dale recently spoke at a technology conference about a paperless registry. While the legal profession can be quite traditional and conservative, it is also evolving, she says.

“The beautiful part of law is it's ever-changing,” Dale says. “There’s always new law and different cases. So, it’s easy to diversify, and there are always new challenges.”

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