While Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Susan Bercov worked as a bank teller, a waitress and a lifeguard prior to attending law school, a more likely second choice of career could have been as a teacher due to her natural inclination and lengthy commitment to all things educational.
From the time Justice Bercov – who was appointed to the Bench in Edmonton on Nov. 21, 2018 – was called to the Alberta Bar and began her legal career with Emery Jamieson LLP in 1985, she was very interested in teaching and did so for both young lawyers and law students.
“Education, especially the development of junior lawyers, was a focus of mine since my days at Emery Jamieson,” says Justice Bercov.
In fact, it must be in her DNA, as she not only grew up in a family of lawyers – with her grandfather, father and brother all being lawyers – but her father also taught legal ethics at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.
That is also where Justice Bercov graduated with her Bachelor of Laws with Distinction degree in 1984 and earlier earned her Bachelor of Arts degree.
During the 16 years she was with Emery Jamieson, progressing from articling student to associate to partner, Justice Bercov was the chair of the firm’s Education Committee and responsible for organizing and presenting courses to the junior lawyers.
She also volunteered for many years to teach the Client Interviewing and Advising portion of the Bar Admission Program, worked with others to improve the course content and material, and acted as an examiner for the program.
“I felt this was a very important course for articling students as it taught them the importance of understanding what clients want to achieve and then providing sound and realistic advice in terms of their options,” says Justice Bercov.
As well, she volunteered for several years at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law’s moot court program, acting as a judge for the first years and helping students prepare for the competitions.
Justice Bercov continued to organize and present courses on advocacy skills when she joined Alberta Justice as a senior litigator with the Civil Litigation Team in 2000 and, after being offered the position of Director of Civil Litigation in 2010, she remained very involved in teaching and training junior lawyers within the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General.
She also participated in designing and presenting seminars on ethics to government lawyers and presented the inaugural legal analysis and critical thinking course.
Justice Bercov – who was appointed Q.C. in 2014 – was a principal and mentor to many articling students throughout her 32 years as a lawyer.
During that time the married mother of two sons managed a wide array of litigation matters before tribunals and all levels of courts in Alberta, including commercial, insolvency, trusts, employment, insurance, professional negligence, personal injury and class actions.
She also found time to volunteer with Legal Aid, providing legal services to youths charged with criminal offences and pro bono civil litigation services to individuals unable to meet Legal Aid criteria.
When not working, she was very involved with her neighbourhood community league, assisting with fundraising and coaching both soccer and basketball.
As well, as the wife of an Anglican Minister, she lent a helping hand to the less fortunate, both locally and internationally, by participating in bake and garage sales, holiday gift and charity lunch programs and other philanthropic efforts.
Justice Bercov gained insight into the diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives from her experiences as both a lawyer for the government and the wife of a minister with exposure to and involvement with a mix of different ethnic and socio-economic groups, including the inner-city community, new Canadians, Indigenous peoples and individuals of different sexual orientation.
“I have come to understand that while Canadians may be diverse in their religions, cultures and perspectives, we all share similar basic goals and we will all face difficult challenges during the course of our lives,” she says, noting this understanding is essential for a judge.
“Insight is one of the crucial initial steps to empathy. Empathy is an important step to respecting the dignity of all human beings.”
With her vast counsel and teaching experience, Justice Bercov is certainly well-suited to meet the challenges faced by members of the Court of Queen’s Bench.