The Roots of Experience

BD&P’s Jody Wivcharuk on what community involvement brings to a law office and why she’s stayed at one of Calgary’s leading firms

Brian Harder

While other firms have pursued the megamerger route, Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer, LLP (BD&P) has instead played to its strengths and deepened its roots in Calgary by focusing on relationships and community involvement. Partner Jody Wivcharuk says those factors make BD&P a great place for its lawyers and clients alike. She recently sat down with Advantage to share what makes the respected firm thrive.

You specialize in energy transactions, and the firm has a broad range of services. But what is BD&P really known for?
Jody Wivcharuk: First, we punch above our weight class, and by this I mean we complete a higher volume of deals than any other firms our size. In fact, we do a greater volume of deals (in terms of numbers and dollar amounts) than most of the national firms, who have a lot more lawyers than we do. I practice in the energy/commercial transactions and competition/foreign investment law groups, and I have been fortunate enough to advise on the structuring and implementation of some of the biggest conventional and nonconventional resource joint venture projects in Canada. Second, we are known for our people. We welcome individuality and creative thinking, and we place a huge value on giving back to the community.

Did you always want to practice law?
Not right away. I studied political science and thought I would end up in the foreign civil service. Now I’m working with oil and gas companies, but I’ve found that being corporate counsel gives you the opportunity to shape public policy.

How so?
Two ways. The first way is through clients. There develops a mutual respect between clients and lawyers, and those clients often ask for more than legal advice as you get more senior. Questions often take on more of a business aspect than a purely legal one. Secondly, I do competition and foreign investment regulatory work. Some of these transactions give me a chance to point out where the policies aren’t working or where they’re not clear. On larger or more sensitive deals, I get to meet with public officials or industry personnel that advise federal ministers. In those discussions, they’re listening, and that’s the chance for someone like me to demonstrate where the Canadian government can make some changes.

Energy and related industries change quickly. How do you stay current?
Working on different transactions naturally keeps you current. You work your way up in terms of experience as you go through the firm. But really, experience comes from the demands of clients. Clients may expand into new areas of business or do deals in which they encounter new issues. That’s the lawyer’s opportunity to learn. Canada now is on the cusp of becoming a global liquefied natural gas (LNG) player, for example, so I have learned that business. There are so many big LNG projects in the permitting and approval stage, and we’ll soon be building facilities in this country.

What’s the firm’s culture like?
We are a top firm in Western Canada, but we’re still regional. We’re one office, and that’s done with purpose. We’re proud of what we do, and we get a lot of top clients because of the reputation we’ve built over time for the strong relationships we build by staying committed to Calgary.

But what does that mean for you as a lawyer?
It means that the people who make the decisions in my firm are in our offices. I walk down the hallway and talk to them face to face.

Do you collaborate a lot, then?
BD&P is very entrepreneurial. The firm encourages people to find their own way. We have some great talent and access to leading experts in quite a few areas of the law, and we do collaborate because our clients get better results. I can literally walk into an internal boardroom and bump into John Brussa, who created the first energy trust. Everyone shares their expertise.

There’s also a tradition of community involvement at the firm. Why is that important?
The firm’s founders set the firm on that course, and we haven’t deviated from it. We support local charitable endeavours such as Habitat for Humanity Calgary, the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Calgary Inter-faith Food Bank, Pro Bono Law Alberta, Vertigo Theatre, the University of Calgary, and others. On top of all the commitments the firm makes, individual lawyers also devote significant time to their own individual causes. It’s not just lip service for us; it’s something we really believe in.

What’s next?
What’s kept me here so long, besides the people, is that I find the work interesting and I find it challenging. I think that’s the key to sticking with anything. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow and helping to develop the next projects I work on.