Ask an Alumni Anything: Koren Lightning-Earle, '00 BA(Rec/Leisure), '04 BA, '07 LLB

Lawyer and alumna Koren Lightning-Earle answers questions on law school, her career journey, her work to benefit the lives of Indigenous people and much more!

26 April 2021

 A Blue Thunderbird Woman, Koren is Cree from Samson Cree Nation. She is a lawyer with Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, vice-president of Kasohkowew Child Wellness Society, board member for First Nations Caring Society and acting commissioner for Alberta Utilities Commission. Previously, she was the Indigenous initiatives liaison at the Law Society of Alberta and the president of the Indigenous Bar Association.

After graduating law school, Koren was called to the bar in 2009 and had the honour of having her Bar Call on her Reserve by Chief Justice Wachowich and Federal Court Justice Mandamin. She received her master of laws, with a concentration in alternative dispute resolution, from York University. Her work focuses on working with Indigenous clients and supporting the revitalization of Indigenous Laws. She advises in the areas of Indigenous governance, Indigenous child welfare and Indian Act matters.

In 2019, she was awarded “Tomorrow’s Leader” Award from Women in Law Leadership Awards and was also awarded the Alumni Horizon Award from the University of Alberta in 2017. Koren is an alumna of the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, was an elected council member for Samson Cree Nation and was also co-chair of the First Nations Women’s Economic Security Council. She is a co-founder of Hub, a community mobilization program to help reduce crime, and am also a sessional instructor at Maskwacis Cultural College.

Q: Do you have any advice regarding finding a work/school/life balance?

A: I am a lawyer so work balance is challenging. I can work some really long days. But the work that I do feeds my soul, and you should do work that you love. That gets you excited to wake up to.

I also find you have to have interests in things that are not work-related and learn to step away from the computer and the phone. I try to make sure I do simple things like cook supper, watch movies with my kids, get outside and sleep in on weekends when my kid is not playing hockey. I make sure I schedule in fun not work things; I am always up for an adventure. 


Q: What's the most rewarding part of your job?

A: Seeing communities succeed. Seeing my clients have confidence in themselves. I like to see people engaged in the law. My goal is to empower and support Indigenous communities. So it brings me great joy when I see them asserting their inherent rights. 


Q: What's the biggest difference between working in Indigenous law versus working in other areas?

A: I follow Indigenous laws everyday, that's the biggest difference for me. I do follow Canadian Law because I swore an oath to uphold it. But I was raised to respect Indigenous laws and values. Those are laws that I follow and guide me in how I carry out my practice and live my life. So when I work with Indigenous communities in revitalizing and restoring their Indigenous laws, it breathes life into earth, it is a step in restoring so much that was taken away.  


Q: When did you apply for law school during your bachelor's degree? And do you like being a lawyer or have you thought about changing your career at one point? 

A: I never started out wanting to be a lawyer. In high school I was big into theatre and actually ended up auditioning for a school in New York, but I couldn’t read music so I never made it in. Then I did a recreation undergrad and taught high school physical education for 2 years. It wasn’t until my second undergrad at Augustana that I thought about law. I love doing what I do, but yeah, there are some days I think " else can I make money, maybe being a professional crafter or moving to a tropical island, I am sure they need lawyers there." 


Q: Any tips for studying for the LSAT?

A: It's a timed test. Do the practice exams. Think fast.  


Q: What's setting up your own law firm like?

A: It worked out best for me and my schedule. I wanted to always be there to drive my kids to school and pick them up. I was able to work hours around being a parent and it worked out so well. It definitely has it challenges, I am my own worse assistant some day, but it is also very empowering. 


Q: Who/what inspired you to go into law? 

A: When I was in my sociology degree at Augustana I took some courses on criminology and social justice. Those courses inspired me to think about law school. The confidence I gained at Augustana helped me believe that I could get into law school. I also received a lot of support to think critically about the world around me from my professors at Augustana. 


Q: Are there certain parts of your job/law that you wish more people knew about? 

A: I wish people knew more about how to access justice. Sometimes I think the law is set up in a different language so people get confused. 


Q: How was it working with the Indigenous Bar Association? What type of work did you do there?

A: Indigenous Bar Association (IBA) is a national non-profit association comprised of Indigenous lawyers (practicing and non-practicing), legal academics and scholars, articling clerks and law students, including graduate and post-graduate law students. Our mandate is to promote the advancement of legal and social justice for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the reform of laws and policies affecting Indigenous Peoples.


Q: I've always been interested in law, but I have no clue what to even expect from law school if I were to apply. How did you find the experience and do you have any advice? 

A: I would say to talk to student services and attend any open houses to get information on application process and deadlines. Law school is intense and requires a lot of reading. I enjoyed law school but it was also very difficult. I met some great people.


Q: What's something you've done in your work to help revitalize Indigenous laws?

A: I have worked on the development of constitutions for communities entirely in their traditional language. It was great to work with the Elders and listen and support them by drawing out the law. I do a lot of listening.