Yellowknife lawyer Karen Wilford is the recipient of the nationally recognized Legal Aid Leader Award, handed out by the Canadian Bar Association.

“I was very surprised,” she said of last week’s announcement. “I had not been aware that I had been nominated, so when the announcement came out, it took me aback quite a bit.”

Wilford, the executive director of the NWT Legal Aid Commission, received the award for “long-term commitment to legal aid and to providing accessible and affordable legal services to the population.”

“I feel very humbled by being the recipient,” she said. “There are many, many people across the country who work away at legal aid, whether it’s frontline counsel or within management or support staff. There are a lot of people out there who do this work. It’s really important work.”

The accolade also serves as recognition of legal aid lawyers who have made a significant contribution in providing access to justice for people in need.

Wilford’s career started during her time in Ontario, where the firm she worked for was “progressive and community minded.”

“This worldview matched my own upbringing, which included a strong commitment to giving back and lifting up those less fortunate,” she said. “Even though the work was significantly less remunerative, it has always been important to me to bring action to those values.”

Overall, she has been involved in legal aid for more than 30 years.

“I have practised legal aid work in one form or another my entire career,” she said. “So when I was in private practice back in Ontario, I always made sure that a certain percentage of my work was dedicated to clients who were on legal aid certificates. And then in 2004, I moved from Ontario to Nunavut and, at that point, I became a full-time legal aid staff lawyer and worked within the Nunavut legal aid program until 2012… and here in Yellowknife, I’m a staff lawyer for legal aid. For about two years, I was the territory’s children’s lawyer and then I got enticed back to legal aid in the current role as its director.”

Since moving to Yellowknife in May 2012, Wilford has served as the executive director of the Law Society of the Northwest Territories for four years, including as president.

As well, Wilford is an NWT council member with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, where she has served as co-chair of the federation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Advisory Committee.

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