KATIA OPALKA / FROM NAFTA TO PROMINENT MEMBER OF CANADIAN ENVIRONMENTAL BAR


When Katia Opalka finished a BA in history at the end of the Cold War, she threw three balls in the air: grad school, foreign service, law school. She missed the deadline to write the GRE for Yale, where she was going to produce a biography of Felix Cohen, who had taught there and is the author of the Handbook of Federal Indian Law. (Not to worry, someone else has since written the book).

She wrote the foreign service exam and did an internship at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. In the end her IQ wasn't high enough to land an interview at Foreign Affairs and in any event, she concluded that the foreign service is like spending your whole life at summer camp: exciting at first and then somehow depressing. She got her LSAT score, knew it was enough for McGill, became a lawyer then a parent, settled her family in Montreal and tried to find good work on the side.

She became very knowledgeable about environmental law, policy and practice and ended up becoming a prominent member of the Canadian environmental bar, principally because she wrote and spoke a lot, saying things that her peers either know and won't say in public or simply don't know. In the end, she is more interested in the connection between government policy and public opinion than in environmental protection per se.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I FEEL IS TO BE OPEN TO WHAT COMES ALONG. PROFESSIONALLY, ACADEMICALLY AND ALSO IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE. BE OPEN TO IT AND TO KNOWING THAT THINGS WILL PROBABLY TURN OUT DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU EXPECTED AND IT’S GOOD - IT’S FINE. THAT WAY, I THINK YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET SATISFACTION BECAUSE YOU’LL SAY TO YOURSELF I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE STORY WAS GOING TO BE, BUT IT ENDED UP BEING THIS AND THAT’S PRETTY GREAT
Katia lecturing on the Canada-EU free trade agreement at the annual congress of the Quebec Mining Association in Quebec City in 2015

Katia lecturing on the Canada-EU free trade agreement at the annual congress of the Quebec Mining Association in Quebec City in 2015

WHEN I WAS AT NAFTA I WAS WORKING FROM 9 TO 5. IN A WAY, THAT IS HAVING IT ALL. BUT IT ALSO DEPENDS ON YOUR PERSONALITY AND HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THINGS... YOU’RE AWAY FROM YOUR KIDS FROM 8 UNTIL 6! TRUE. AND I WOULD SAY YEAH BUT THAT’S NOTHING COMPARED TO WORKING AT A BIG FIRM. IF YOU’RE BILLING 200 HOURS A MONTH YOU ARE BASICALLY NOT SEEING YOUR KIDS DURING THE WEEK
Katia at McGill Law circa 1996

Katia at McGill Law circa 1996