For Primrose Watson, her journey to Nova Scotia was the first big step toward fulfilling her lifelong dream of being a lawyer.
Primrose Watson has a simple message for everyone she interacts with: “Live your best life.”
It’s a motto she tries to embody every day.
Originally from Sri Lanka, Watson was born into a civil war. She was also born into the ethnic minority, which came with added challenges.
“The civil war was very present in my life,” Watson says. “There were military checkpoints everywhere. The threat of suicide bombers was always near and, because my family was part of the minority, we were subjected to a lot of scrutiny.”
Despite such hardships, Watson credits some of her most influential life experiences as being products of this chaotic time.
“There are two events that really shaped my life,” she explains. “First, when I was just one-year of age, I bit into a live electric wire. I had no heartbeat. My grandfather was present, and came to my rescue, reviving my heart. Several years later, my mother walked into a war zone to get my sister and me out. We were living in the war zone because, at that time, it was safer to live in the war zone as an ethnic minority member. But things were getting bad, so my mom, who had been out of the war zone, walked back in to remove my sister and I from these living conditions. It took her over two days. My father never made it out and was a civilian killed during the war. I was five years old when he died and I have no memories of my father.”
Although she was too young to recall these experiences first-hand, these early traumas – and the loved ones who protected her during this time – have had a significant impact on Watson’s life.
“Early on, since I was eight-years-old, I knew that I wanted to become a lawyer. I never wanted to feel vulnerable and at the mercy of someone else again. Growing up during a civil war, I saw first-hand the injustice that can result from not knowing your rights. As a lawyer, we gain knowledge about rights and freedoms, and how to protect them. Turning to my work as a corporate and tax lawyer, I love that I can help my clients and outline the best course of action for their circumstances. It’s rewarding to speak to them about the law, their obligations and options.”
She enjoys helping clients figure out how best to plan their future. “They say, ‘Plans may not always work, but planning does.’ I’m a planner and I like helping people plan. That’s part of why I chose tax law. I also love numbers and making sense of them. It’s like solving a puzzle.”
Watson worked hard to finish her education and move closer to her goal. Education, even during the war, has long been a priority in Sri Lanka, which still boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
“There was some normalcy amongst the chaos,” Watson says. “Children attended school, and people continued to carry on with their lives.”
However, after completing her secondary schooling, attending university was not an option for her due to financial difficulties. There is no student loan program in Sri Lanka. For that, she would need a way out of Sri Lanka and an opportunity to fund her schooling. With the help of her uncle, who sponsored her application through the Nova Scotia Nominee Program, Watson immigrated to Nova Scotia in 2007. Watson was actually the first applicant under this particular immigration stream, which had just been introduced at the time.
Watson has never questioned her move to Nova Scotia, even though it meant leaving her mother and sister in Sri Lanka. She never felt nervous or sad about her choice.
“I was equally excited for a new life in Nova Scotia as I was determined to help my family relocate. Canadians, and specifically Nova Scotians, made me feel welcomed. My sister secured a student visa to Australia just after I came to Canada.” She spent several years in Australia before following Watson’s immigration path, gaining Nova Scotia residency in 2011. Thereafter, Watson sponsored her mother to move to also Nova Scotia, where they reunited in 2013. “I am very fortunate to have my immediate family in close proximity to me. It brings me joy to see them thrive in Nova Scotia.”
Watson went on to complete her commerce degree at Dalhousie University in 2013 before applying to Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law. However, it would be still several more years before her dream of attending law school would be realized.
“Early on, since I was eight-years-old, I knew that I wanted to become a lawyer. I never wanted to feel vulnerable and at the mercy of someone else again.”
Passing the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) and being accepted into law school – especially to a student’s primary school of choice – is a significant achievement. “It takes a lot of self-discipline and grit; you have to do the work,” says Watson. “For many, acceptance (into law school) is not granted right away. You may need to rewrite the LSAT several times before achieving a desirable result.” Watson was among those in this group. “At one point, I became so discouraged that I gave up on my dream of being a lawyer and instead, pursued a career in underwriting,” Watson says.
A career in underwriting was a living and she did well in her new career, but Watson knew something was missing.
“I was not fulfilled by my career choice,” she says. That is, until she made a pivotal decision.
“I decided to give up on ‘giving up’”. Watson went on to complete the LSAT twice more, setting a personal goal to secure an interview with the admissions team at the law school.
Her persistence paid off. “I was never nervous until that point, but I was nervous that day because the outcome of that law school interview would determine the rest of my life,” Watson says.
Her interview went well and she was placed on a waiting list in 2015, gaining entrance shortly before the next semester began. Finally, she was on the way to achieving her dream. She was met with early success in law school, securing a job with McInnes Cooper during her first year of study.
“As a first-year law student, I heard a lot of talk about the difficulty of securing work in the legal field,” Watson says. “I was 34 when I began law school. I credit being a mature student in helping me be able to adapt and prepare for my first summer placement.”
“Every member I met at McInnes Cooper, whether they were a lawyer or not, were genuinely interested in getting to know me.”
She focused her efforts on gaining the attention of two prominent law firms in Halifax that were looking to hire first year students. She took every opportunity to build her network; attending firm-hosted events, learning about the legacy of each firm, and speaking with lawyers about the types of law they practiced. Her efforts landed her interviews and subsequent job offers from both firms.
She joined McInnes Cooper in 2016 as a summer student, and is now a lawyer with the firm, practicing in the areas of corporate and tax law.
“I chose McInnes Cooper because I felt they were progressive. I felt part of their family,”
Watson says. “Every member I met at McInnes Cooper, whether they were a lawyer or not, were genuinely interested in getting to know me. They were very easy to talk to. The firm’s Collective Social Responsibility (CSR) program also peaked my interest early on because they were ‘walking the talk.’ Across the firm, we engage in activities concerning community service, environmental stewardship, and pro bono legal services. To work at a firm that is very organized by having a dedicated CSR team had a significant impact on my decision to accept McInnes Cooper’s offer over the other offer I received.”
Today, Watson is also the Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group at McInnes Cooper. “I am very happy to take a leadership role to propel the firm’s diversity and inclusion vision. I am also very involved in the recruitment process for law students because I want to help students see that the firm, at its core, is a family.”
It took her more than 10 years of hard work and setbacks to become a lawyer, but Watson says it’s all been worth it. Along the way she met her husband, Andrew, and started a family. She is now living what she considers to be her best life.
Watson’s career path has been shaped by unique life experiences and a personal commitment to follow her dreams. She encourages others to take action in building the life you want to live.
“Believe in yourself,” she says. “You can make this choice every day.