Bencher Profile Series: Margaret Unsworth, QC
Having spent her more than 30-year career working with and for the Government of Alberta, Margaret Unsworth, QC, has seen the legal community grow and change. Now serving her third and final term as Bencher, Margaret has been able to combine her work in the public service with serving in the public interest at the Law Society, broadening her understanding of the practise of law – and the lawyers who practise in different circumstances.
Margaret serves as General Counsel for the Assistant Deputy Minister’s Office for the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General. As a legal advisor to the Government of Alberta, Margaret has provided legal advice to all government Ministries on a wide range of issues and has represented the Attorney General of Alberta at all levels of Alberta Courts with numerous appearances before the Supreme Court of Canada.
“I have always worked in government; the work can be highly specialized and, in some ways, disconnected from the general practise of law as experienced by most lawyers in Alberta,” says Margaret. “When I first ran as Bencher in 2014, I was looking for a way to reconnect with the profession and give back.”
After throwing herself in headfirst in her first term as Bencher, Margaret found her knowledge was valuable in both governance and adjudicative matters, but that her own perspective on private practice was broadening as well. Her work as an adjudicator gave her a different look into the legal profession.
“Within the Government, we have enough lawyers to have our own professional development framework and systems of support and collegiality. For many individuals working in small firms or as solo practitioners, issues around practice management, client relations, and the logistics and challenges of running a small business can supersede any additional support that may be available. The Law Society has made progress in helping to support small firms with the Practice Management and Early Intervention teams, but it remains a persistent issue.”
The diversity of experiences of law – and their subsequent reflection on the population of the Bencher table – has given Margaret the opportunity to learn and share her unique perspectives with her colleagues, particularly during more contentious conversations.
“Working for government has taught me to consider all sides of an issue and to keep an open mind to other viewpoints,” says Margaret. “I have learned that operating with ethics and civility, regardless of outcome, are how you succeed long-term.”