Nicole Stewart for Bencher
As a Bencher of the Law Society of Alberta
I will be strongly committed to enhancing public confidence in the legitimacy of a self-regulated profession by listening to members and key stakeholders, to incorporate their views on important issues, such as post-Covid remote practices, lawyer independence, and retention of young lawyers.
I will prioritize support for women in private practice, and in the profession generally, to promote equal opportunity and career sustainability.
I will be a voice for access to legal services, to ensure that we regulate in the public interest, so that those who are marginalized have meaningful inclusion.
I have been a criminal defence lawyer with Pringle Law in Edmonton for ten years.
I act for both adults and youth charged with serious criminal offences. In addition to a well-established private practice, I regularly represent and advocate on behalf of individuals who are underprivileged, have significant mental health issues, and struggle with socio-economic disadvantage.
I have conducted over 75 trials in the Alberta Court of King’s Bench and Court of Justice, both judge-alone and with juries. I’ve conducted hundreds of bail and sentencing hearings, some of which I’ve done in French. I have acted as counsel in more than 30 administrative tribunal and professional disciplinary hearings, including as counsel for members of the Edmonton Police Association. I often provide independent legal advice for complainants and sureties. I have also represented appellants in criminal appeals in the Court of King’s Bench and the Court of Appeal of Alberta.
I obtained my law degree from the University of Alberta, graduating with distinction and on the Dean’s List. I received the President’s Scholarship in Law, the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association Prize in Evidence, and The Chief Judge Buchanan Memorial Scholarship in Litigation.
For seven years, I’ve been a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Law. I teach the law of Evidence, and also created and co-taught the first Gladue Indigenous Sentencing class in Canada. I was nominated in 2018 as sessional instructor of the year. I have also sat with Alberta justices on a committee responsible for administering scholarships for Indigenous law students.
I am a long-standing member of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association and Legal Aid Alberta. As part of my contribution to public service and the legal profession, I’ve worked on many restorative justice committees. Since 2012, I have sat on the Northern Alberta Gladue Committee, the Edmonton Indigenous Court Committee, and the Restorative Justice Committee in Enoch First Nation. These groups are dedicated to learning about intergenerational trauma, rehabilitative outcomes, reduction in recidivism and alternatives to jail for Indigenous accused persons. Given my focus in this area, I have also been invited to speak to Crown prosecutors and at LESA seminars about the law of sentencing and Gladue principles.
I try to keep active outside the office and in my community. I have been President of the Lawyers & Judges Curling League for the past eleven years. Recently, I was appointed Fun Lunch Coordinator at my daughter’s school to create a strategic plan for all students to have access to the monthly hot lunch, regardless of financial circumstances. I am an avid runner, and love camping with family and friends.
Importantly, over the last decade, I have also nurtured a stable family as a proud mom of three kids, who have taught me how to patiently listen. I married a supportive, non-lawyer who has a career in IT. I am thankful for his guidance in the new remote legal world, as well as helping me kill a few less trees.
Input from Members and Stakeholders
A BALANCED APPROACH TO IN-PERSON vs. REMOTE
Our profession faces an unprecedented juncture, with a massive transformation in the delivery of legal
services, due to new remote practices.
We have a unique opportunity to provide a balanced approach
and get it right. I am strongly committed to enhancing public confidence in the legitimacy of a self-regulated profession by listening to members, our clients, and key stakeholders on how to effectively
and competently deliver remote legal services…
MENTORING & RETAINING JUNIOR LAWYERS
Like medicine or dentistry, we are in a profession where many lawyers are essentially running a business
right out of law school with little to no training. Most junior lawyers have not dealt with clients, billing,
or trust accounts. We need the critical thinking and academic focus from law school to be supplemented
by early mentorship on the practical realities of being part of a law firm. This aligns with the Law
Society’s commitment to innovative and proactive regulation...
A Balanced Approach to In-Person vs. Remote
Especially since Covid and the new infrastructure to support more work online, we need to find the appropriate balance for flexible work environments.
For me personally, it is incredibly helpful that I can appear remotely in Fort McMurray and Calgary within an hour and without two full days of travel. That said, we need to make sure we do not sacrifice quality of service for efficiency. Teaching at the University offered me experience in adapting the delivery of my courses, shifting from pre- to post-Covid times. Being part of a now paperless firm (following years of carting files back and forth), I’ve gained further insight on transitioning to effective remote workplaces. I will always need productive office days, and face-to-face time with clients and colleagues, but the fact that I can look at a file on my phone during swimming lessons is invaluable.
While I hope my own experience in adjusting to remote practices will lend a helpful perspective for regulating in the public interest, I am committed to ensuring that members of the public, profession and legal stakeholders have a voice on these important changes.
Mentoring & Retaining Junior Lawyers
I am strongly committed to being a voice for the profession on what senior lawyers want and what junior lawyers need when it comes to mentorship. Maybe for big firms it means less regulatory oversight to make more space for their own programs. Perhaps for small, rural firms, it means more access to training in the areas of client management and effective billing practices, prior to be called to the bar. Either way, the goal is to retain and support new lawyers, as well as instill public confidence when hiring a junior lawyer.
As a small firm of 9 lawyers, many of us are incorporated and run our own practices. Our articling students and young lawyers have excellent legal research and writing skills, but are repeatedly telling us, “we need more guidance on how to deal with clients”. I’ve heard from partners and senior counsel that new lawyers have the academic and legal background, but “there is a gap in how to competently and ethically manage a practice”. The younger generation has a lot to offer the more senior members of the bar with respect to technological efficiency. In return we need to better equip them with tools to navigate the early years of practice.
Part of the LSA’s strategic plan is to engage in dialogue with the public and profession about how we can “increase practice management and client relationship management skills”. I wish to align myself with this as a priority, and believe I could provide a helpful voice in delivering this mandate. The direct goal of more practice management training early on is to achieve a higher level of public service and trust in our junior lawyers, and to make the early years of practice less daunting. Indirectly, it will hopefully have positive effects for long-term financial planning and fewer ethical breaches.
Women in the Profession
Women are leaving the legal profession, especially within the first five years, at an alarming rate.
These numbers are even higher in private practice. It is a profound loss of talent. Being a new lawyer often coincides with starting family, so we need to ensure the rules and norms promote women, not hinder their ability to have both.
The LSA’s strategic plan for 2020-2023 within Equity, Diversity and Inclusion supports removing barriers and increasing lawyer retention. I would love a seat at the table to continue advancing this cause when the next plans are put into action. As a mom of three kids under the age of 10, most of my early career decisions overlapped with having a young family. I was lucky to be in a unique, supportive and flexible small firm environment. Many of my classmates and colleagues have not had the same experience.
The narrative from many lawyers with families is the same: “I work efficiently, meet targets and provide an excellent work product, but I don’t want to miss my child’s holiday concert.” We need to ensure that being a competent lawyer, and a family member who is present, are not mutually exclusive. Success at both work and family life should be attainable, so that career changes are chosen, not forced because the profession did not provide adequate support.
For instance, transitioning back into the practice of law after being on leave is difficult. We are hearing time and time again that, “When I came back from maternity leave, it was so hard to rebuild my practice.” Our rules, fees and regulations need to be accommodating and flexible so that returning to the profession is less overwhelming. I am encouraged to see the Law Society’s commitment and recent changes to better accommodate lawyers going on leave. I hope to provide a new perspective for continuous improvement and meaningful change for women in the profession.
As a criminal lawyer, I am constantly reminded of a massive access to justice issue for those who are marginalized in our community.
While access to justice is a fundamental value as a criminal lawyer, access to legal services is crucial in all areas of our profession. Affordability is key, but so too is reducing unnecessary regulatory barriers so that the public can access our services when and where they need them. A large majority of my practice is in rural areas, and I have seen first-hand how those outside city limits have increased barriers to accessing legal resources.
I represent many Indigenous accused whose overrepresentation in the criminal justice system is exacerbated by the fact that the nearest courthouse is hundreds of kilometers away, making compliance with court orders difficult. I often act for vulnerable individuals who do not have access to a phone or email, are battling with mental health issues, or may communicate in a different language. Sometimes the main struggle is simply how to fill out a form or knowing where to look online for services. These are all access issues which are crucial to how the Law Society regulates and delivers competent legal services.
Access does not need to be a stand-alone goal separate to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, as they compliment one another. With my restorative justice background and experience as a criminal law practitioner, I believe I would provide a valuable contribution in advancing the LSA’s mandate to “increase diversity and inclusion” while also “removing barriers to access” in delivering Law Society programs and services. As the current strategic plan runs out this year, I am committed to listening to the views of those who are marginalized when implementing new initiatives, to ensure all goals continue to incorporate a strong voice for access and inclusion.
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