Edmonton lawyer posthumously admitted to the bar 40 years after her death

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Iris Barry Yake was posthumously admitted to the bar in a ceremony Friday.  (Submitted by Susan Yake Phillippe - image credit)
Iris Barry Yake was posthumously admitted to the bar in a ceremony Friday. (Submitted by Susan Yake Phillippe - image credit)

For more than 30 years, Susan Yake Phillippe brought her mother's inspiration to work with her.

The retired Crown prosecutor would wear her mother's black robes to court until she was appointed to Queen's Counsel and received silk robes in 2014.

"I've had a really interesting career, and I don't think I would have had it if I hadn't had the example of my mother," she said.

More than 40 years after her death, Yake Phillippe's mother, Iris Barry Yake, continues to inspire.

And on Friday, Yake was recognized for her achievements with a rare honour.

Susan Yake Phillippe spoke at Friday's ceremony for her mother on behalf of her family.
Susan Yake Phillippe spoke at Friday's ceremony for her mother on behalf of her family. (Nathan Gross/CBC News)

Yake was posthumously admitted to the bar in a ceremony at an Edmonton courtroom.

It is the second time ever in Alberta courts for someone to be recognized posthumously.

Before Friday, that honour had been given once before in 2018 to 37 aspiring lawyers who died in the First World War.

"I think that she'd be grateful that everything that she worked towards is at least recognized, whether or not she got to carry on in the capacity of a lawyer," said Yake Phillippe.

"I think she'd be very happy. As my sister says, she's smiling from somewhere."

'Why can't I do something more?'

Yake had big dreams.

When she was in her 40s and her five children were older, Yake enrolled in university and obtained a master's degree in education in 1973.

She was passionate about human rights and wanted to become a lawyer.

"What she said to me was, 'Why can't I do something else? Why can't I become a doctor or a lawyer? Why can I do something more?' She was a very aware person," said her daughter.

"She just thought she needed something more meaningful to do."

Before donating her mother's robes, Susan Yake Phillippe had a dedication put onto the robe.
Before donating her mother's robes, Susan Yake Phillippe had a dedication put onto the robe. (Moira Váně/Twitter)

Yake applied for law school and was initially rejected. She hired a lawyer and was successful in her appeal.

Yake Phillippe said few women were in law school at the time, and even fewer people were in university while in their 40s.

"It wasn't common at all. And so she set an example and she gained the respect of a lot of people that were in her situation," Yake Phillippe said.

Her mother inspired others to pursue a career in law, including three of her children.

Yake's marriage ended while she was in school and she became a single mother with three children still at home to take care of while pursuing a law degree.

She set an example and she gained the respect of a lot of people that were in her situation. - Susan Yake Phillippe, daughter of Iris Barry Yake

She continued toward her dream of becoming a lawyer, studying for hours each day in a den she built in their home's basement, said Yake Phillippe, who was working in Calgary at the time.

Her younger sister Pamela would often bring their mother meals while she studied.

Cancer diagnosis

Yake was in her third year of law school when she was diagnosed with final-stage skin cancer.

She finished law school but did not immediately find an articling position.

Yet, she was able to get special permission from the Law Society of Alberta to start the bar admission course.

"That's very rare," said Yake Phillippe. "She was extremely dedicated."

Justice Tamara Friesen presided over the posthumous bar admission of Iris Barry Yake on Friday. This was the second time in Alberta court history of someone posthumously admitted to the bar.
Justice Tamara Friesen presided over the posthumous bar admission of Iris Barry Yake on Friday. This was the second time in Alberta court history of someone posthumously admitted to the bar.(Nathan Gross/CBC News)

With only a few months of articling, Yake passed the bar exam in April 1977.

"After she passed the bar exam, her health did physically start to fail. And my sister Pam, who was 16-years-old at the time, assumed care of her on a daily basis," said Yake Phillippe.

"She continued her journey and continued to fight."

Yake purchased her black robes for her bar admission ceremony but she would never wear them in court.

She became too sick to attend her bar admission ceremony. She died on Jan. 12, 1978, at the age of 49.

"Nobody could have worked harder to try and then make a difference to society. She had already put her children on a path where they should be successful and she just wanted to contribute more. And cancer robbed her of that opportunity," said Yake Phillippe.

Called to the bar

Yake's story of determination caught the attention of those in the law community last year, when Crown prosecutor Moira Váně decided to start a robe bank for young lawyers unable to afford the black robes needed in court.

Váně asked Yake Phillippe, a former colleague, if she had robes to donate.

The retired lawyer offered her mother's robes and told Váně about her mother's journey and how she was deprived of the bar admission ceremony.

Váně was touched by Yake's story and named the robe bank after her.

Crown prosecutor Moira Váně started a robe bank for young lawyers who cannot afford the robes needed in court. She has named it the Iris Barry Yake Memorial Robe Bank.
Crown prosecutor Moira Váně started a robe bank for young lawyers who cannot afford the robes needed in court. She has named it the Iris Barry Yake Memorial Robe Bank.(Moira Váně/Twitter)

Soon after, Yake Phillippe and Váně applied for posthumous bar admission for Yake with the Law Society of Alberta.

"We're really happy to grant the request to honour and celebrate this amazing woman," said Darlene Scott, president of the law society.

"Really an inspirational story for all people. But for women in particular, I think."

At Friday's ceremony, a junior lawyer attended wearing Yake's donated robes.

Yake Phillippe and her siblings are grateful for the honour bestowed on their mother, whose legacy continues through the robe bank.

"She was an unsung hero, preserving in the face of incomprehensible personal tragedy and tremendous challenges," Váně said Friday.

"The type of woman who carries us all on her shoulders."