As I move into my last decade of practising law, I look back and feel so grateful about how I accidentally fell in to this profession, and all the things that flowed from a career in law. I really never thought about becoming a lawyer; I dreamt of being a doctor until I flunked first year chemistry! I had a passion for political science, and was inspired by terrific professors like Charles Taylor who made me think that graduate work and teaching at McGill might be fun. But I’m an Alberta girl at heart, and knew I had to move back west. Law school at University of Alberta was supposed to be a stepping stone to somewhere else, but gee, here I am after all these years!
At law school in the ‘70’s I threw myself into SLS and enjoyed working on the Women’s Project (the heady days of fighting for matrimonial property laws, changes in the abortion law etc.), the Legal Reform Project, and the Environmental Law Project. Like so many couples, Jim and I met each other at SLS (him with long hair and grizzled beard; me with purple glasses the size of salad plates and wide bell bottom jeans) and we’ve been together for 35 years!
Jim and I were so lucky to get a full year of travelling through southeast Asia under our belts before we settled into private practice. Teaching for 7 months in New Zealand, hitchhiking through Malaysia, trekking through Burma and Nepal, and hosteling through Asia was a terrific way to start our life – knowing that work is never just about work – it’s also about saving enough money to go explore more parts of the world!
I was one lucky young lawyer when I was invited to join McBean Becker in 1983 and practise family law with an amazing group of women. I was encouraged, mentored, educated and supported every step of the way, and as a group we created a place of great freedom to tackle the challenges of family law, as well as become politically involved in whatever issues were important to us. There were important family law issues to be litigated, and laws to be changed. It was, by turns both exciting and exhausting, and when combined with a busy home life with two little girls, I sometimes wondered if I could hold it all together.
I remembered writing my first family law paper for a conference years ago, feeling nervous about whether or not I had anything to offer. It’s turned into a great side-line activity for me, and made me realize that there are huge opportunities for those who put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard!). When Jean McBean retired from teaching family law at the U of A Faculty of Law, I was eager to join up as a sessional, and have continued to teach since then. It’s been the source of great pleasure, and an ongoing connection to the Faculty of Law and all those interesting law students I meet every year.
As with many of us, I had no great design in mind as I moved through my career. Things just folded into one another and opportunities randomly presented themselves. I’ve had such great friendships and relationships along the way – those have been the best things about a life in the legal profession! Helping clients at a critical transition time in their personal lives has allowed me the privilege of seeing people change, survive, heal and move to a better place. That’s the hugely gratifying part of being a family lawyer!
Marie L. Gordon, QC is a senior practitioner at Gordon Zwaenepoel Barristers & Solicitors in Edmonton, where she has been practicing family law since 1983. Marie is also a session instructor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.