It has been a surreal week for Lorianna Bennett, who is preparing for a new chapter in her legal career as a provincial court judge in her hometown.
“It feels like I’m going through an out-of-body experience right now,” Bennett said of the changes in her life as she winds up her law practice.
Effective June 7, Bennett will be the newest provincial court judge in Kamloops. The appointment will fill the judicial vacancy created by upcoming retirements and help to address a backlog of cases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The family and personal injury lawyer has enjoyed a 23-year legal career at Paul and Company — a law practice she has with her older brother of 10 years, David Paul.
She started in 1998 as an associate and, in 2012, bought into the firm that she is now leaving.
“We always joked he was the Paul and I was the company,” Bennett said.
While some may not wish to work with family, Bennett said she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Nobody would have been as flexible and as caring and as selfless to teach me the skills and everything he knew” Bennett said of her brother. “I think he had a vision for me beyond the vision I had for myself.”
Bennett’s family couldn’t be prouder to see her on the bench.
“I feel like a huge part of me has been cut off, but at the same time I’m as happy as I could ever be for Lorianna because she will serve the people of British Columbia in an extraordinary way,” said David, noting his sister’s work ethic.
Their mother, Dora Paul — who immigrated to Canada from Italy at age 15 and didn’t have the same opportunity to pursue higher education — said she is very proud of her daughter.
“She was very hardworking. She’s going to be more hardworking now,” Dora said, noting she wishes her husband was alive to see his daughter’s accomplishment.
“When she was born, my husband said he won a million dollars,” Dora said.
Bennett’s niece, Natalie Paul, who is a new lawyer, said her aunt has been a great role model to her.
“Definitely have some big shoes to fill,” she said.
Bennett’s love of the law, encouragement from others and decision-making work on the Employment and Assistance Appeals Tribunal and Health Professions Review Board during her career led her to pursue becoming a judge.
She first applied when she was just 38 and secured an interview, which galvanized her latest application three years ago, which has been successful.
Bennett, 48, said she is feeling energetic about the new endeavour and is looking forward to being involved in criminal law, noting issues such as mental health, racism and drug addiction that are often in the media and play a role in court.
She will also be one of the youngest judges to serve, being under the average age of early to mid-50s for such a position.
Born and raised in Kamloops, Bennett graduated high school from St. Ann’s Academy and completed her bachelor of sciences degree at the then-University College of the Cariboo (now TRU) in 1994 with a major in animal biology.
Bennett had received a full scholarship to the University of British Columbia to complete a masters of science, but had also applied to law school — a career she had been encouraged to pursue since the days of her undergrad while doing janitorial work at her brother’s law practice.
With a decision to make, her brother tipped the scales when he signed her acceptance letter on her behalf while she was in Europe doing some post-university travelling.
Bennett moved to Edmonton for three years to attend law school at the University of Alberta and was called to the bar in B.C. in 1998.
She said she felt compelled to give law a try, knowing she had a place to work in her brother’s practice and a desire to live in a familiar place.
“And I didn’t look back,” she said.
In addition to law, Bennett has a love of fitness and her family — including husband Sean Bennett, CEO of the Bonaparte Indian Band, and their three children. They maintain a ranch outside of Kamloops.
The Ministry of Attorney General said the appointment decision takes into account a number of factors, including the needs of the court, the diversity of the bench and a candidate’s expertise.
In addition, judges and justices must devote themselves exclusively to their judicial duties. No judge or justice may hold any other paid position or engage in any business enterprise.