Calgary's First Female Managing Partner

Jan 26, 2011

by Marzena Czarnecka, Lexpert.ca

On January 1, 2011, Maureen Killoran made history. The 45-year-old energy litigator became the new managing partner of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP's Calgary office ― Calgary's first female managing partner.

That this milestone has been reached by the Calgary outpost of a Bay Street law firm is telling. Osler's Toronto office has a solid history of female leadership, at managing partner, executive and practice leader levels. So much so that when news of Killoran's new role broke at the firm, the reaction from her Toronto litigation colleagues was, “I can't believe it ― another litigator in leadership, that's so great,” she recalls. The gender of the newly minted partner did not draw a reaction.

Not that it is likely to draw much of a reaction – positive or negative – in Calgary. Neither Calgary's legal market nor the energy-focused business clientele it serves spend much time pondering gender issues, or noticing that compared to markets such as Toronto, women lawyers in leadership roles in Calgary are few and far between.

Killoran herself is unarguably a product of the market's meritocracy, already considered one of the top energy litigators in the city, and the go-to relationship partner for clients such as ConocoPhillips and Encana. She shares the spotlight at Osler with several other powerhouse women lawyers, notably Noralee Bradley, a leading Calgary corporate lawyer, and Janice Buckingham, co-chair of the firm's energy practice.

All three women are, to a large extent, textbook examples of Calgary's meritocratic paradigm, taking charge of their careers and steering them towards ambitious goals without either asking for or waiting for institutional or cultural change at their law firms. But it's no coincidence that they are filling their current roles of leadership and power at Osler. All three started their careers at Calgary's Bennett Jones.

Killoran's appointment, currently, is an exception ― in the private practice arena of the Calgary legal marketplace. Among law firm clients, however, gender has a much more equitable face. Many of the women lawyers who exited private practice in the 1980s and the 1990s – often because of unspoken cultural and institutional barriers to their careers within law firms – moved into the legal departments of the oil and gas companies that form the bulwark of the legal client base in Calgary. The most talented of these are now reaching the “vintage” at which they get to call the shots.

“We're taking over,” says Angela Avery, General Counsel with ConocoPhillips. There aren't very many cowgirls among the engineers and geoscientists, and the C-suite that's dominated by those professions is still mostly male. “But in terms of the law function, I look at oil producers and there are women everywhere,” Avery says. At ConocoPhillips, the global legal department is headed up by Janet Kelly. Joanne Alexander, a Conoco alumna, is Vice President, Legal and Corporate Secretary at Precision Drilling Corporation. Ann Shenkenberger is Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.'s General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, and the list goes on: Jina Abells Morisette at Silverbirch Energy (formerly of UTS), Lee Peters at Oilsands Quest, Trudy Kern at Canadian Oil Sands Trust. And that doesn't include the younger women like Avery, who currently fill more junior roles, but are poised to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder.

And they now have a female managing partner to hobnob with. Cool.