Phyllis M. Kenney, KC—In the Spotlight

Practice Point


This month’s spotlight is on Phyllis M. Kenney, KC, longtime contributor to CLEBC’s family law courses and BC Family Practice Manual.

How did you first get involved with CLEBC?

I have been on the receiving end of CLEBC for as long as I can remember. When I first started practising in the family law area, I was in a small town and really appreciated having access to material that was generated by counsel who had the opportunity to focus their practice on a single area of law. CLEBC is such a valuable and essential service for lawyers outside of the GVRD. My first experience of actually contributing to CLEBC was in 1995. I was asked to organize a segment for CLEBC on “children and divorce” for a family law conference which led me to invite an expert in that area, Dr. Joan Kelly, to speak to family lawyers. That introduction really changed my practice and my thinking about family law. Since that time, Dr. Kelly has been a powerful influence on family practice in BC, and I was delighted and enriched by seeing how that evolved over time and to be a part of many CLEBC courses with her.

What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?

Most recently I worked on editing chapters for the BC Family Practice Manual. It seems like it’s going to be a small task until you start working through every line and every case cited and thinking about the information you think is essential for other lawyers to have.

You are very active in the legal community including involvement with CLEBC, the CBA, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), and North Shore Women’s Centre pro bono legal clinic. What motivates you to contribute your time?

I first started contributing my time out a sense of obligation and giving back to the community. What I have found over time is that I am rewarded (personally and professionally) by any contribution I make. There is a huge need for pro bono work. And it’s not just a once a year kind of thing.

People/organizations are so incredibly grateful if you volunteer any of your time. In addition to the drop in the pond which I contribute to pro bono work, I actually find myself working hard to improve how I deliver advice to people that I might not see again and how I think about a case. It forces me to be more pragmatic about the solutions I suggest and to think about other resources that might augment a family case.

What inspired you to focus your practice on family law?  

Honestly? I suppose you could say my inspiration was “I needed a job”. Then I found it was an area of law that fed my curiosity about people.

Tell us more about why you are a champion of collaborative practice and how it has impacted your family law career.

I have to give all the credit on this one to Nancy Cameron, KC. We started our own firm together in 1993 and there were frequent long conversations in the hall about “doing things differently” partly because family law is – well –  different from other kinds of practice. “Families” live on well past the time we close our files. We were looking for a way to lessen the conflict and impact of divorce on the family unit.  Nancy found an article on “collaborative practice” with two lawyers working together on building a settlement rather than lobbing missiles at each other. She followed up with a lawyer in California who had “converted” to collaborative practice, then we started inviting other colleagues to join our discussions. Collaborative practice has to do with changing language, finding solutions not arguments, and listening to the other person’s point of view.  It was sometimes hard to convince lawyers to change, but the public was hungry and more than ready for this style of practice. My personal contribution to this was to invite our mental health colleagues to join us. They are a pretty constant feature in any divorce file now. Not every family file is suitable for collaborative practice, but I find very few people want to go to court these days.

How has it impacted my career? I don’t think I would be practising law if collaborative practice hadn’t infiltrated the scene. These days, most practitioners show a much stronger degree of collegiality and cooperation than I could ever have imagined when I first started working as a lawyer.

You were one of the original professionals who brought the role of the Parenting Coordinator to BC. In your experience, how have Parenting Coordinators changed BC’s family law landscape?

Like so many things in family law, there is a symbiotic relationship between social change and developments in the law. With divorce being so prevalent, it’s inevitable that children will be involved. Lengthy involvement in court processes robs parents of their emotional and financial resources. Court orders don’t change a difficult personality. Bottom line: Parenting coordinators work with very difficult situations long past the time of settlement. They work hard to reduce conflict that involves children and they help keep people out of court.

Other than law, what are you passionate about?

I was going to say “my husband” who is such a super supportive partner; he says “that’s corny”, but it’s true.

Anything else you would like our readers to know?

I feel really privileged to be a lawyer. Please contribute your talent to pro bono resources.