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Profile on The Honourable Justice Alice Woolley

Jan 14, 2021

Justice Alice WoolleyQB Justice Alice Woolley loves to write and has never struggled to find something she wants to write about.

As a professor at the University of Calgary and, as her mother would certainly add, likely right from the moment she first learned to communicate, the Calgary-based Justice expressed her views on a wide variety of subjects.

That included using online avenues such as Twitter, the University of Calgary Faculty of Law Blog site ABlawg, and Slaw, Canada’s online legal magazine, as well as occasional opinion pieces in the National Post and the Globe and Mail.

Of course, as jurists are expected to only speak through their judgments and don’t typically comment publicly on topics that might come before the Court, Justice Woolley’s fingers are judicially tied, so to speak.

However, that has not stopped her inner writer from emerging, as she continues to write internal blogs for the Court on ethics and judging, and to have a solid presence on Twitter. Where, no surprise, she also follows the Court’s Twitter feed @QB_Alberta.

Justice Woolley, who was appointed to the Bench on November 21, 2018, grew up in West Vancouver with parents Peter, a teacher and accountant, and Lois, a gardener and homemaker, and her sisters Rachel and Frances. She describes the family dinner conversations focusing on politics, public policy and how to live a good life as formative and says those conversations taught her to engage with these issues and that her opinion mattered, even as the youngest person at the table.

As a child, though, Justice Woolley focused more on athletics than academics and never considered a career in law. She says she didn’t know any lawyers, admired her mother’s life as a homemaker and recalls that her dad thought she – and everyone else – should be an accountant.

She applied to law school in her last year of university at the encouragement of her first husband, only discovering after she arrived there that it included everything she found most interesting – the human experience and condition, the rules societies create to govern themselves and philosophical questions about how we ought to live. 

After earning a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Toronto, Justice Woolley graduated with an LL.B. from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law in 1994, where she received both the Gold Medal and the Dean’s Key. In 1995, she earned an LL.M. from Yale Law School, and in 1995-1996 she was a law clerk to the Right Honourable Antonio Lamer, who was then the Chief Justice of Canada.

After completing her clerkship, Justice Woolley moved to Calgary with her fellow law clerk boyfriend (and now husband) and, she says, discovered her true home. Until 2003, she practiced law in the areas of civil litigation and energy regulation. In 2004, she was appointed as a professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

During her time at the University of Calgary, she became a nationally and internationally recognized scholar of lawyers’ ethics and professional regulation, with publications considering a wide range of issues including the lawyer as advisor, lawyers’ fiduciary obligations, the good character requirement, access to justice, regulation of civility, the independence of the Bar, and the theoretical foundations of the lawyer’s role.

From 2015 to 2018, she was President of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics, and from 2016 to 2018, she was President of the International Association of Legal Ethics.

Since her appointment, Justice Woolley continues to work pro bono on the casebook, Lawyers’ Ethics and Professional Regulation, and, with new co-author Professor Amy Salyzyn, her textbook, Understanding Lawyers’ Ethics in Canada.

She twice received the Howard Tidswell Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence and was also twice named one of Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers. In 2016, she was named the City of Calgary Council’s first Ethics Advisor.

While working as a law professor, Justice Woolley wrote 100 blog posts on ABlawg and Slaw between December 2007 and July 2018 and had a substantial number of readers. No wonder, with provocative titles such as Regulating Lawyer-Client Sex and Law Schools’ Dirty Little Secret.

In an interview following her appointment, Justice Woolley said she would miss blogging and engaging in the public square, but reports that she has found the work of a judge to be deeply satisfying. She says she feels honoured to be trusted with the responsibility to make such important decisions about people’s lives and finds the work to be interesting and fulfilling.

She says she particularly enjoys the challenge of writing her decisions in a way that can be understood by litigants and the public, while also reflecting the complexity of the law and subject matter. As well, she notes that fellow judges have turned out to be the best possible work colleagues and are both warm and supportive.

While emphasizing that she is focused on the work of a trial judge, Justice Woolley says she also hopes to eventually bring her writing about judging and judicial ethics to a broader audience.