By Tara George, criminal legal aid worker in Hastings-Prince Edward County
I was 17 when I started with LAO as a co-op student— my high school counsellor told me I could get four credits for a semester.
I’d always known I wanted to do something in the legal field, but I didn’t give it much more thought than that. Then, that May, just before I graduated from high school, I was offered a position at LAO as support staff. I decided to wait a year before college and see what LAO had to offer.
Joined LAO at 17, hasn’t looked back
About six months later, I was offered a full-time position as assessment officer—now called a district triage officer.
I haven’t looked back. This year, I’ll be celebrating 22 years at LAO.
I like helping people—that’s key. I like working with people who need support—and I know a lot of what happens at LAO and how to navigate through the justice system.
I’ve been given opportunities to advance, and there’d be more if I chose to use them. I was an acting office administrator at one point and was encouraged to take on more supervisory roles after that. But I don’t feel that type of position is for me. I like being on the front line, and assisting people is my forte.
Accepted at Belleville consolidated courthouse
For the past five years, I have been the criminal legal aid worker for Hastings and Prince Edward Country, working out of the Belleville consolidated courthouse.
I’m happy doing this job. I was the first person from LAO who came to the Belleville court, and the staff here have really accepted me. After working with most of them for many years, I have a good rapport with everyone.
My regular duties are to liaise between people and the justice system. That involves working with per diem and staff duty counsel in bail court, contacting and interviewing sureties, updating counsel for remand and bail court, keeping track of who’s coming back to court, acting as the go-to person for clients and private lawyers with adjournment requests, taking applications for legal aid from in-custody clients, preparing the duty counsel schedule, and much more.
On top of all that, I have implemented a justice on target office in Picton, started the Criminal Law Information Centre in Belleville, and helped create an Aboriginal Justice Committee in Belleville.
LAO’s Lean In circle
On the personal side, my family is here, so I choose to stay in Belleville.
Work-life balance can be tricky for everyone, but my managers have always been fantastic. When I returned after my two maternity leaves, for instance, I was always afforded time to get up to snuff. And if I have to run because my kids need me, it’s never a question. We’ll always figure it out on the back end.
This past year, the organization began sponsoring Lean In circles. I went to the first session and was impressed that our CEO was there the whole day to show his support.
I felt empowered when I left.
Before that session, I had never really thought about any differences between what men and women do. In my home life, for instance, there’s no power imbalance. My husband and I have always shared responsibilities. After that session, I began thinking, why do the children come to me with this and that, but not their father?
I’ll continue to go to Lean In circles at work, and I have a feeling it might encourage me to do things I wouldn’t have done before – such as taking on a bigger role at court or putting myself out there more.
Whatever it is, it’ll be at LAO.
Tara George is a criminal legal aid worker in Hastings-Prince Edward County