This month’s spotlight is on our long-time contributor Valerie Dixon, in-house counsel at the City of Vancouver. Valerie co-chairs CLEBC’s Employment Law Issues During COVID-19 on April 17, 2020 and our Employment Law Conference on September 17 and 18, 2020.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I was fortunate to start my career with a firm, Clark Wilson LLP, that highly valued involvement in CLEBC so I had opportunities to get involved even as a summer student. My first contribution was during my summer articles: I assisted in preparing a paper titled “The Mould (Litigation) Epidemic: Third Party Mould Claims in Canada” for the 2002 construction law conference and during my articling year I co-wrote the “Leaky Building Litigation Update” for the 2003 Construction Law Update. At the time I thought these were incredibly interesting topics (now, not so much) and I was chuffed to see my name on the papers.
In addition to helping to write presentation papers, I attended CLEBC conferences from the time I was a very junior lawyer. For a number of years after I was called to the bar my practice was really varied and included estate litigation, insurance and employment. It was very difficult to keep current with developments in the law in so many diverse (and almost totally unrelated) areas of practice. Attending CLEBC conferences was absolutely key to ensuring that my knowledge was up to date, as well as keeping me engaged with other practitioners in those areas.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
In 2012, I made a decision to narrow my practice. Since then, my focus with respect to CLEBC has been the Employment Law Conference which is an annual two day conference. I may be biased but I think it’s one of the best conferences that CLEBC provides, in no small part because of the great job the CLEBC staff does to organize and keep the event running smoothly.
I’ve spoken at that conference four out of the last five years and I served on the conference planning committee last year. In 2017, Martin Sheard and I also did a half day course directed at non-employment lawyers about ending the employment relationship. I’m very excited, and honoured, to take on the new challenge of co-chairing this year’s Employment Law Conference!
How did you decide to focus your practice on employment law?
Throughout my career I’ve generally been inclined towards the areas of law that involve subject matter that is a part of almost everyone’s lives. Work is certainly one of those subjects. I’ve also always valued long-term, ongoing relationships with clients. Acting for employers (and the odd repeat-customer employee) has given me the opportunity to really get to know my clients’ businesses and work cultures, allowing me to provide more holistic solutions.
That was actually a huge driver with respect to my decision to leave private practice and go in-house with the City of Vancouver: I now have the ability to fully immerse myself with my clients and gain a much more comprehensive understanding of how all of the moving pieces work together. It’s also very satisfying to be able to see first-hand how my work impacts the organization (hopefully for good).
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received?
This isn’t really a piece of advice that I received so much as an observation that’s come into focus over the last 15 years: only do what you enjoy and don’t be afraid to change gears when you don’t enjoy it anymore. The lawyers that I’ve looked up to and have had the benefit of mentorship from are passionate and happy in their practices because they’re engaged and challenged by the area of law they practice in, they respect their clients, and they have support and collegiality in the places they work. And when they didn’t have one or more of those things, they pivoted to something else. It’s really a matter of firmly adhering to your personal values and not letting your ego get in the way of making choices that will ultimately serve you best in the long run.
You are very active in the legal community including contributing to the People’s Law School. What motivates you to give back to the profession?
Aside from the fact that I think it’s our duty to give back to our profession, I do it because I like it. Contributing to the legal community helps me feel engaged and connected. I think it can be too easy sometimes, especially for those of us who do litigation, to have mainly adversarial interactions with lawyers outside our own firms or professional circles. Being involved in organizations like CLEBC provides an opportunity to interact with other members of the bar in a collaborative and constructive way. That benefits everyone.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
It may be somewhat of an oxymoron but I’m quite passionate about balance. For me, happiness comes with doing a little bit of everything and not putting all of my energy into one particular pursuit. There are lots of things I like doing, and I’m not necessarily great at any of them, but I enjoy them all and that’s the most important thing for me.