Lunch with Marjorie Hickey: Practising with conviction
What is in the public interest? It's a question Halifax lawyers Jennifer Taylor and Marjorie Hickey often ask themselves. Taylor, a research lawyer just seven years into her career, and Hickey, a 35-year veteran, may be at opposite ends of their arcs as legal professionals, but they’re both committed to that age-old law school ideal of “trying to make a difference” in the world – and they’re able to do so in private practice.
The Expert: Marjorie Hickey, partner at McInnes Cooper in Halifax. Hickey’s practice focuses on regulatory and liability issues for professionals. She is also a retired Commander in the Naval Reserve and past Commanding Officer of HMCS Scotian.
The Apprentice: Jennifer Taylor, research lawyer at Stewart McKelvey in Halifax. Taylor articled at the Crown Law office – Criminal in Toronto. She clerked at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal after articling and completing her LL.M. She supports her firm’s advocacy group and has a special interest in aboriginal law and LGBQT issues.
Hickey had a drive to further social justice when she started her career in 1981, but decided to immerse herself in a general practice environment where she could feel her way around until she discovered her focus. She found it when she was introduced to regulatory matters while representing the Nova Scotia Nurses Association. The practice area steadily evolved into her specialty.
“It truly was more a case of happenstance but, ultimately, it matched my interest because a lot of work that is done in the regulation of professions, you’re always applying what is in the public interest,” Hickey says. “Whether it’s a registration issue or whether it’s a disciplinary issue, you’re always bringing it back to what is in the public interest. I just found that side of things really appealed to me.”
Her recent high-profile cases include representing the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society in its case involving Trinity Western University and acting as counsel to the Canadian Judicial Council inquiry into the conduct of Federal Court Justice Robin Camp during a sexual assault trial.
For Taylor, Hickey’s career is proof that a lawyer can maintain a thriving private practice while following a socially conscious career path. During a recent lunch in Halifax, she peppered her more experienced colleague with questions about how to create that balance in her career with a view to playing leading roles in meaningful projects like Hickey’s recent endeavours.
Hickey's advice: Allow a niche to develop organically, but find extracurricular channels such as pro bono or other volunteer work to keep public interest pursuits in focus.
“Sometimes you pick a path and other times a path finds you; you just need to be patient and it will evolve,” Hickey offers. “Once you’ve started down a road, it takes time to establish yourself but I think once you get a sufficient number of clients with a sufficient volume of work you can become a little more selective and that just comes with experience and time.
Taylor is in her fourth year at Stewart McKelvey in a unique role that allows her to immerse herself in a wide range of projects that are close to her heart. She has a particular passion for equity matters such as women’s reproductive rights, LGBQT issues and aboriginal law.
“The firm gives us a lot of freedom to be involved in the legal community and to do pro bono work, so this year I’ve taken some pro bono work on the refugee law side of things, for example,” Taylor said. “But I also do a lot of constitutional work so any time we’re doing that kind of litigation, I look at that as advancing the public interest.
“And for me in this research role, interesting cases walk through the door all the time, often when you least expect it. They can be separate from your traditional work with banks or insurance companies or whatever else. I don’t ever set aside my convictions to do a job.
“I think there’s always a way to balance both and give the best advice to your client that also understands the bigger causes and the rights and equity issues that may be at stake.”