I was raised in Southern Alberta. I am from Japanese Canadian roots, the sugar beet farms of Southern Alberta being the destination of many families who were forced into internment camps during the Second World War. My Dad was a lawyer and had a “small town” practice. In the late 50’s and through the 60’s he was often the only lawyer in Taber. Being the sole lawyer in a small town had some challenges, continuously being stopped on the street, at the grocery store and at the arena one of them. As a result, we moved to Lethbridge where a little anonymity could be achieved. The Taber arena burned down a few weeks before we moved. A few years previous I set fire to a neighbour’s fence while playing with matches, so avoiding being targeted as an arsonist might have also prompted our move.
I attended high school at LCI in Lethbridge. I received an arts degree from the U of A and went to law school at Queen’s.
Where did you article?
Although many from Lethbridge who attended law school moved back to practice, I really didn’t think about that option. I articled at Beaumont Proctor in Calgary, in 1983 it was a “mid-sized” firm of about 20 lawyers. Articling was a bit different then, as I remember assisting a lawyer in party supply shopping, buying Christmas presents for another and picking up a partner’s BMW from the shop. That chore came to an end when I was introduced to a concrete pillar, while driving into the office garage. That said, I had great articles as I was in court 3-4 times a week and gained significant litigation experience.
What was your path after articles?
I continued on at what became Beaumont Church for a couple of years, practicing both civil and criminal litigation. I moved to Burnet, Duckworth and Palmer in 1987 and commenced an insolvency and corporate litigation practice. I have fond memories of my time at BDP and the mentoring I received from Brian O’Leary Q.C. and Justices Rooke, McIntyre and Nation.
In the fall of 1992, I started my own firm with friends Brian Evans and Pat Burgess. Evans Higa Burgess was primarily an oil and gas firm and we were thrilled to grow the firm to 13 lawyers. Our firm merged with Blain and Company to form Thackray Burgess in 2000.
Our family moved to Oakville for a couple of years, as my then wife was offered a great opportunity in the “centre of the universe”. So I started a new career as a stay at home dad, and becoming admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada to commence a “lunch” law practice.
You then returned to Calgary?
Yes, the boys and I came back a couple of years later. After being out of practice, I was looking to do something different and was offered a newly created management position at Macleod Dixon (now Norton Rose Fulbright). Macleod Dixon had a very unique and interesting presence, being a market leader in Western Canada but also having offices in Moscow, Kazakhstan, Bogota, Caracas and Toronto. I was involved in all areas of the global firm: liability insurance, conflicts and law society issues, lawyer HR matters, risk management, lawyer recruitment and firm accounting. It was an incredible opportunity and I truly enjoyed being involved in the fun and challenges of an international law firm.
Tell me about your involvement with the CBA.
I became involved with the Canadian Bar Association in the early 90’s and the CBA has been the most important factor and influence in shaping me professionally and to a significant degree personally. I have held many volunteer positions with the CBA both nationally and provincially, becoming President of the Alberta Branch in 2003. The CBA does not get anywhere near the credit it deserves for the extraordinary work it performs, as the voice and champion of the legal profession.
When did you start to think about becoming a judge?
I began thinking about applying when I was embarking upon my return to Calgary. For various reasons, I wasn’t considering a return to practice but wished to pursue another type of “legal” career. Prior to moving to Ontario, I was a member of the Provincial Court Nominating Committee. I was continuously impressed with the quality of the judicial candidates and the passionate, thoughtful and humble manner in which those individuals expressed why they sought a judicial appointment. Those sincere expressions motivated me to contemplate pursing a judicial career.
If you could give any advice to a young lawyer what would it be?
Work hard. Be humble. You are a legal advisor, not a cheerleader. And conduct all causes and matters faithfully and in all things conduct yourself truly and with integrity, just as you swore to do on the day of your call.
Gillian D. Marriott, QC, is a Past President of the CBA Alberta Branch. She is the Executive Director of PBLA, and practices family law with Widdowson Kachur Ostwald Menzies LLP.
The Honourable Judge Don Higa is a Past President of the CBA Alberta Branch, and Judge of the Provincial Court (Civil) in Alberta.