Evelyn Ackah is the founder and managing lawyer at Ackah Business Immigration Law, which currently has offices in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. People and relationships are at the heart of Evelyn’s work, which is why she’s so passionate about immigration law. Learn more about Evelyn, her work and what inspires her.
You graduated from law school in 1997. Looking back now, what would you say was the highlight of your time here?
Back then, there were only four black students in a school of over 550 students. There is a certain element of closeness that grows from being outside of the norm or mainstream culture; being outside that place together. They continue to be my closest friends to this day. I think what truly made my time at UBC so special was all the wonderful people that really advocated and supported me, such as the amazing Professors: Marlee Kline (who I worked for as a law student), Claire Young, Susan Boyd, Joel Bakan, and my friend and classmate Debra Parkes (currently a Professor and Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at the Allard School of Law).
What has kept you interested in in this area of law?
I love my practice area. I think I’m so passionate about immigration law because I practice “Happy Law”. Working at a law firm on Bay Street as an articling student, I remember sitting in boardrooms full of litigation files that were taking 8 -10 years to complete, and I couldn’t believe I’d never actually get to finish a file during my articles! My work as a corporate immigration lawyer allows me to find a sense of completion in relatively short period of time - days, weeks, months and at most two years – and we have a very high success rate. It’s “Happy Law” because we help our clients reach their goals and they are very appreciative. Whether it’s an executive coming to Canada to build their dream business, an immigrant family coming to start a new life for themselves or a foreign student coming to Canada to advance their education to return home to support their family. I feel both grateful and lucky that I get to be a part of their journey.
With so many unique and exciting ventures on the go, what would you say has been the highlight of your career to date?
I think one of my favorite files (and favorite client) was a case that a large corporation had brought to me a few years ago. An immigrant man had come from the Philippines to work in Canada as a gas station attendant/cashier. While on the job, he was seriously injured during an armed robbery. He had no family support in Canada, not to mention his tenuous immigration status at the time. My client (the large corporation) stepped in, even though they weren’t even his employer, and that’s how I became involved in the process. We were able to bring his mother to Canada from the Philippines to help care for him during his recovery. We were able to provide him with both mental and physical support to help his recovery process. I filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate Application—which I don’t normally do—and we were able to eventually get his Permanent Residency status. My client even helped him secure a job in a different line of work so that he could begin a new life for himself. It was such a heart-wrenching tragedy that we were able to transform into something wonderful and positive. To this day we keep in touch, and I will be there when he is granted his Canadian citizenship. While this practice can be a lot of work, it’s these touching files that really keep me passionate about what I do.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing you’ve faced in your career to date?
I developed as a lawyer in Big Bay Street firms which was great training. It also presented challenges for me as I worked to make partner. At that time, it was not common to be a woman of colour working toward partnership. Even in Toronto, the most diverse city in the world, diversity at Bay Street firms was rare. For me, the challenge was that I always felt I needed to show up and be excellent and I often felt that I carried the entire Black Canadian community on my shoulders. It was a long slog to get to where I am today, and I am so thankful for all the amazing mentors that supported me along the way. Another challenge that’s come up since opening my own practice, is learning how to balance the legal practice and be an entrepreneur. That is my current challenge in my career – and I am constantly pivoting and learning.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have two young kids, 8-year olds that keep me very busy during my free time. We like to hike, bike, play games, and swim whenever we can. I also feel very privileged to be able to travel with my family – something I didn’t much when I was growing up in Vancouver. I believe in the importance of showing my children as much of the world as possible, it is a great education. For example, last year we were able to take them to Ghana to meet their 94-year old grandmother. It was truly a transformational trip for them – they came back so proud of where I come from and of their heritage.
In an alternate universe, if you had not pursued law, what would be your dream career?
Probably a Jazz/R&B Singer! When I was in law school, I jammed with many friends including Professor Joel Bakan sometimes - although now I only sing to my kids or in the shower. I remember my father telling me that music was great as a hobby, but that I should go to university so that I could truly be independent. Looking back, that was good advice. However, I do think it’s very important to hold on to your passions and hobbies as you move through life. Staying healthy, pursuing passions outside of work and enjoying time with family and friends all help keep us balanced, especially in a field where you can be working 16-18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week! I’m a big advocate for ensuring we prioritize health, whether that’s exercise, vacations and eating healthy. When these things get pushed to the side, everything suffers. I believe you must do things every day that bring joy and make you happy because law (and life) is all about endurance!