When Bernadette McMechan was a little girl, she dreamed of
participating in big conversations – really big conversations that shape
government policy on issues like reconciliation, international conflict and
The daughter of school teachers, she trained in
international development and then got a teaching certificate.
“I loved teaching, but it wasn’t my dream.”
At age 35, she decided to head back to school at the
University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law.
“I was seeking a deeper understanding of what rules govern
our society – what is the framework for how we live together and who makes
those rules,” McMechan said. “Being in law school gives huge insight into how
we structure the rules and principles that we live by as a society.”
McMechan is the 2019 winner of the Law Society of Alberta
President’s Award, which is given to a graduating student who demonstrates the
professional and ethical responsibility and leadership that exemplify the highest
standard of conduct the Law Society of Alberta expects from its members.
The award is endowed by Justice Anne Kirker (LLB ‘91,
University of Calgary, B.Sc. ‘87, University of Alberta), past president of the
Law Society of Alberta and now Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta,
with the support of her husband Scott Kirker, a U of A Law grad.
"Bernadette's unconventional path to law school and her
inherent passion for service fuelled a dedication that enhanced the life of the
Faculty and her fellow students' experience at law school throughout her three
years," said Dean Paton.
"As Canadian Bar Association student representative and
liaison to the legal community, in her foundational work with the Dean's Women
in Law Speaker Series, in her commitment to Indigenous students and legal
issues, in Law Show, and in so many other ways, she has made a tangible
difference,” said Paton.
“Enormously respected by her peers, Bernadette models the
best of what the Law Society President’s Award seeks to recognize."
McMechan said she is humbled to be chosen for the award.
“It means that I must understand, recognize and honour the
role that I have as a lawyer in society,” she said. “I have a responsibility to
continue learning all the time, to really listen to my clients, and to have the
courage to have tough conversations.”
McMechan cites numerous highlights during her time at law
school, including taking a course on Indigenous law from Cree elders who taught
Cree legal principles through the tanning of a moose hide.
McMechan gives credit to her law school mentors – the Dean,
professors and peers – and her spouse, Michael, for supporting her.
She thanks her parents for showing her how to have the grit
and dedication to follow a dream. They realized their ambition to live off the
land as much as possible, raising four children in the small town of Burton,
“They built their log house with their own two hands. We had
goats for milk and chicken for eggs and a huge garden for freezing and
canning,” McMechan said. “If the apocalypse comes, I would definitely go
McMechan will article with the Federal Department of Justice,
rotating through departments focused on aboriginal, environmental and tax law,
prosecutions and civil litigation.
“Law school teaches clarity of thought,” said McMechan. “It’s
not about who’s right and who’s wrong.”
“It’s the ability to really understand where someone else is
coming from and what is of value to them, in order to find meaningful
connections and move forward to resolve conflict.”
“I feel very confident that this is exactly where I need to
be in life,” she said.