In addition to being a criminal defence lawyer, Mark Gervin is a Lecturer at the Allard School of Law and Director of Legal Services for the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic (ICLC). For the past 25 years, the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic has played an important role in the Indigenous community throughout the province. The ICLC provides free legal services to those in need while also providing students with practical work experience.
We recently chatted with Mark to learn more about him, his time at the Clinic and his passion for criminal defence.
What led you to law school?
I was blue collar for a long time. I worked 13 years on the oil rigs, and for BC Hydro, but I was bored to death so I decided to get my Grade 12 education. I took Philosophy and got a top mark, which has never happened in my life, so I started taking college courses. A friend encouraged me to apply to law school, and I got accepted to UBC.
I showed up to law school in cowboy boots, full beard, very long hair…quite different from everyone else!
What is your fondest memory of law school as a student?
I met some of my best friends in law school, and they worked hard to get me through it. Every single one of us is a criminal lawyer still, except one, who is a judge now. They’re a fantastic group of wonderful human beings. I was also heavily involved in LSLAP, and was a Student Representative on the Admissions Committee. It was stuff I really enjoyed.
I loved doing LSLAP. I loved going to court. I knew immediately on my first day going to court that “this is it, this is for me”. I was at the Provincial Court, led down by Crown to room 101. I remember being so scared. It was chaos everywhere. There were 20 lawyers and all the public seats were full. It was so noisy. I didn’t understand a thing and I was mind-blown, but I had such an adrenaline rush that I haven’t had in a long time. First time in years I felt that visceral thing.
The judge called me up and thanked me for coming down from the law school. I thought, “Wow, some senior judge is thanking me on one of the best days of my life!” That was six weeks into law school and I haven’t looked back.
You are the Legal Director of the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic. What is your favourite part of this role?
We Canadians committed genocide against a group of people. We go to court for our clients, which is not going to change the fact that they have all this history and oppression against them, but we will change something for them that day. And that’s important. I don’t believe I can change the world, but I do believe that if I make one person’s life different in some way, that’s important.
I was a student here 23 years ago. My principal was Renee Taylor, who started the clinic. She was an amazing woman. I can’t begin to understand how she began this place and ran it with one assistant and a whole bunch of law students - all by herself. So coming back to the clinic as the legal director makes me feel super lucky.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
There is no criminal defence lawyer who does it all on their own. I’m proud to be surrounded by people that inspire me everyday: my students, my clients, my colleagues.
Students now are smarter than we ever were. They’re coming down to the Downtown East Side to experience something they’ve never seen or experienced. They’re so bright, dedicated, and caring – whenever my enthusiasm flags I just look at them and think I’m lucky to be working with them.
I’m exposed to things here I would normally not have exposure to as a criminal defence lawyer. We have around 700 clients per year with all kinds of issues. They never fail to amaze me – they’re survivors of an enormous genocide and they are all kinds of people. And many are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I feel lucky being able to assist people who are truly in need and are grateful that they allow some white guy in a three-piece suit to assist them.
The folks that I get to work with, I’m so lucky to work with. They really care and are so smart on a level that I don’t even comprehend. Sometimes we have a conversation and I just nod along.
What advice would you give future law students?
Try to enjoy it as much as possible. Law school is just one step along the line. Enjoy your life day by day. Get help if you need it. So many students suffer in silence, it is not necessary. There is always somebody willing to help you out. One thing about practicing law – there’s no black and white, good or bad. It’s all grey, and it’s all about people. Do what you love. It’s what my mom told me, and she’s right.
Originally posted in the January 2020 Peter A. Allard School of Law Monthly eNewsletter.