Bernadette McMechan wins Law Society of Alberta President's Award

Former teacher finds true direction at law school

Gillian Rutherford - 07 June 2019

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 environmental degradation.

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, B.C.

"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 there."

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.