Bencher Profile Series: Ken Warren, QC

February 25, 2021

President-Elect, Ken Warren, QC holds the increasingly unusual distinction of practising with one firm for his 35-year legal career. The wealth of experience that he has gained by rising through the ranks, holding local and national leadership positions, and mentoring junior lawyers lends an important skill set and perspective to the Bencher table.

“I really enjoyed my first two years at the Bencher table. I appreciated the issues, the work and the people. The pandemic has had a significant impact on our profession and will continue to do so after we come through it. The Executive Leadership Team at the Law Society is very strong, we have a well-functioning Bencher table and I felt there was an opportunity for me to get involved at a higher level and try to do a bit more for our profession in a very challenging time before I end my career.”

Ken is a partner at Gowling WLG, where he practises in commercial dispute resolution with a focus on shareholder disputes, professional liability defence, executive employment law and mediation. Ken served as the managing partner of Gowling WLG’s Calgary office for nine years, stepping down in 2016. While Ken has been at the Bencher table for just over two years, his service with the Law Society dates to the early 1990s when he began 25 years of continuous service on a variety of Law Society committees. He has also regularly lectured in the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) program on practice management and ethics.

“What I learned early on through my committee work was how fortunate I had been in my formative years as a lawyer. I was at a firm where I had incredible mentors. I had people down the hall that I could ask questions of regarding substantive law or ethical questions and who guided me in building a very solid foundation to my legal career. I’d taken that environment for granted and assumed that everyone had enjoyed that sort of start. The committee work opened my eyes to the fact that many members of our profession don’t get that same foundation. That’s one of the reasons that they end up in trouble and in front of the Law Society.”

Ken has taken these learnings from historical Law Society conduct issues and applied them to his work as Chair of the Lawyer Competence Committee. He is passionate about advancing the Law Society’s work as an innovative and proactive regulator, particularly as it relates to developing a new competency framework for Alberta lawyers. This serves a necessary precursor to establishing a new program for the first three years of a lawyer’s development, as well as revamping ongoing professional development for all lawyers.

“Overlaid on top of all of that is that we can do more to focus on lawyer wellness. There have been a number of studies in the US and there is a major study underway in Canada right now on lawyer wellness,” details Ken.

“We know that there is a high incidence of depressive illness and substance abuse among lawyers. This profession can be hard on people. We, as regulator, have not focused on the wellness component to a high degree in the past. We can do more to assist lawyers in managing their wellness in the profession. The pandemic has introduced new challenges and the post-pandemic world is going to be different for lawyers, as it will for everyone else. No one is quite sure what that will look like but it is quite clear that the toothpaste is out of the tube as a result of the pandemic and the profession will never look exactly as it did before.”

In his own practice, Ken regards himself as fortunate in managing a relatively painless adjustment to remote working, despite an initial technological learning curve. He knows that his transition does not mirror the more difficult experiences of many other lawyers who faced childcare issues, medical vulnerabilities, law firm and client pressures, and an array of other concerns. Ken is mindful of these circumstances and tries to bring these important lenses to his leadership roles. He admits that isolation is a feeling that many share now.

“The most difficult part for me has been missing all the personal interaction with people. That’s my partners, the junior lawyers in the firm, our staff and the guy, Cody, that I buy a coffee from in the morning. It’s all of those little interactions during the day. I’ve been downtown working for almost 40 years so when you walk through the mall at noon, you invariably see people and you have a wave or a chat. We’ve all been missing those important little connections for the better part of a year now.”

He also looks to one of his sons, a current articling student, for a direct point of reference when it comes to the unique struggles of young lawyers.

“Mentoring our young lawyers is harder. We don’t have the same face-to-face contact; you don’t just bump into somebody in the hall and discuss a point. People do not just wander into your office and ask a question. There will be a cost to that that we won’t be able to measure for a number of years.”

Ken also acknowledges a possible positive side to the pandemic, an acceptance of a mix of office and remote working environments. While some lawyers may be eager to get back to the office, others are enjoying no commutes and having some extra time for themselves and their family. He suspects that in the long term, that may help lawyers gain a better grasp on a healthier work-life balance, which has been an ongoing struggle for many. Through the thick and thin of it, Ken chooses to embrace the changes coming to the profession, either from the pandemic or through technological advancements and a rapidly changing legal marketplace.

“Change is inevitable, but the pace of change has increased remarkably. You have to be adaptable, flexible, and always prepared to learn new skills and technologies. The most important thing for a young lawyer to remember is that practising law is a privilege,” explains Ken.

“Stay well, look after yourself. Be cognizant of your mental health and the pressures you’re under. The Law Society is going to be there with you to help our profession through all of this. We hope to go forward together in whatever this brave new world looks like.”