Kevin Westell—In the Spotlight

Practice Point

Kevin Westell—In the Spotlight

This month’s spotlight shines on Kevin Westell of Pender Litigation.

How did you first get involved with the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia (CLEBC)?

I’ve been attending CLEBC events since my articling year. I can recall attending several criminal law programs and, eventually, the Winning Advocacy Skills Workshop and found them tremendously helpful as a young lawyer.

I’ve been involved as a course co-chair and presenter on many programs since 2016. Highlights include co-chairing the Criminal Law Perspectives conference in 2016 and 2017, instructing at the annual Winning Advocacy Skills Workshop, and participating as a member of the organizing committee for a recent program called Confronting Racism in the Criminal Justice System: Identifying Racism at Every Stage of the Process.

What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?

Along with my co-chair, Grace Oh (Crown Counsel, BC Prosecution Service), and Raymond Lee (Program Lawyer with CLEBC) I’ve been planning and organizing an upcoming program called Criminal Law Practice 2022, set to be held on Tuesday, June 7.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

I was a student-athlete (basketball) in high school and university and so I was attracted to the competitive aspect of litigation. A trial, like any athletic contest, requires skill, preparation, planning, and the execution of your strategy. There’s always an opportunity to win and always an opportunity to learn from mistakes and ultimately get better at what you do. I still love that part of the law.

What inspired you to practice criminal law?

I had a family friend growing up who was a criminal lawyer, and I was always fascinated by stories from his practice. As well, I have always been drawn to helping those who face the vast power of the state through a criminal prosecution. Whether someone has ultimately committed wrongdoing or not, the task is the same — to advocate zealously for an accused to ensure that they receive every lawful and ethical opportunity to advance a strong defence to the state’s accusation and mitigate any punishment that may come due. I feel fortunate that my clients entrust me to fulfill that role for them.

You are very active in the legal community both as an author and as a speaker. Your contributions also include being a Law Society of British Columbia Bencher. What motivates you to give back to the profession?

It’s been rewarding to engage with colleagues and peers as a guest speaker and author on continuing legal education projects. There has always been a proud tradition of giving back to the public and the profession within the criminal bar that I’ve tried my best to honour.

Several of my legal heroes, including Richard Peck, KC, and Ian Donaldson, KC, are former benchers (and now, Life Benchers) and have devoted enormous amounts of time and energy during their careers to that endeavour. They remain an inspiration.

The public deserves a legal profession that is responsive and in alignment with its interests. It’s a tremendous privilege to contribute to that goal as an elected Bencher and not one I take for granted.

What advice would you pass on to a newly called lawyer?

I’ll give two pieces of advice.

First, look for ways to engage with the profession other than the paid work you do for your clients. Whether it’s pro bono work, CLE instruction, mentorship, or committee work, there are many ways to contribute. I view these as essential aspects of being part of a profession, something different and more meaningful than simply working a job. While giving back takes time and energy, it’s almost always rewarding.

Second, I’d encourage any newly called lawyer to think critically about how they want their law practice and their life to look as they move forward. Legal work is demanding. And there are many ways to practise law. Don’t allow yourself to simply ‘go with the flow’ and fall into a career path designed by someone else. For example, that you may have landed an articling position at a big corporate firm, doesn’t mean you should necessarily spend your whole career at that same firm. Think critically from the very beginning of your career about how you want your career and life to look 25 years down the road.  Consult mentors, friends, family, and colleagues, and make deliberate and thoughtful choices. If you do, you’ll increase the likelihood of a happy life and career.