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A curious legal mind

A love of research led Melanie Bueckert away from litigation and to a lifetime of outstanding legal service

Melanie Bueckert
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Receiving a prestigious award for a lifetime of outstanding service and professional achievement is an occasion to reflect on one’s career and the choices made along the way.

For Melanie Bueckert, the recipient of the 2024 Louis St-Laurent Award for Professional Excellence, there were paths not taken, including academia and law reform. While admittedly a little shocked by the recognition of her work, she has no regrets about the decisions that led her here.

The Winnipeg native has spent most of her career as legal research counsel with the Manitoba Court of Appeal. She is happy there because “the cases I’m working on are real cases with real people. And it makes a difference.”

Bueckert has been a guest lecturer at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law since shortly after her call to the bar. She co-founded the Manitoba Bar Association’s Legal Research Section in 2008, which she still co-chairs.

"That’s a great way to stay up on what’s happening,” she says, emphasizing the desirability of creating such a section at the national level.

Her long list of publications, professional development material and presentations also attest to her dedication to teaching and knowledge sharing.

Becoming a lawyer wasn’t a lifelong dream or Bueckert’s way of honouring a family tradition. On the contrary, she is the first in her family to graduate from university.

“My parents divorced when I was in Grade nine. And I found one of those books where you record things like what you want to be when you grow up. I had written lawyer.”

This set her on her path, and along the way, Bueckert met Garth Smorang, K.C., recipient of the 2024 Manitoba Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award, at a career fair at Fort Richmond Collegiate.

“I remember the impact that had on me, that someone from my neighbourhood could become a lawyer,” Bueckert says.

As she went through law school, she started thinking about her post-graduation options.

“I thought I was going to be a solicitor. I lined up all my third-year classes in corporate, advanced corporate tax and all these things.”

But by the end of the year, she realized it wasn’t for her. While she enjoyed supporting litigation, her true love was—and remains—research.

Bueckert began her career at Pitblado Law in Winnipeg, which had about 60 lawyers at the time. She became well-versed in several areas of law.

“I recall thinking I was really proud of the fact that at the end of my articling year, I’d worked with 58 different lawyers.”

This professional versatility has benefited her greatly throughout her career.

Bueckert has been a very active member of the Canadian Bar Association and the Manitoba Bar Association. She thinks what attracts jurists to the two organizations is professional development, including the opportunity to participate in creating courses to help ensure they remain relevant and useful for the work lawyers do.

That said, for her, the sections are the best part of belonging to the CBA.

“Right away, you have a community of people that you’re plugging into, with the same interest as you,” Bueckert says.

It also gives her access to people working in other parts of the profession and helps her avoid the isolation of a silo where it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening beyond it.

“There’s nothing else like it,” Bueckert says. “It’s a great way to stay connected and feel a part of the profession.”