The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 5, December 2010

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Legal Icon Marks 70 Years of Service

By Derek Sankey

Maclean (Mac) Everett Jones, QC is a veteran of the legal sector in Alberta who carried on the traditions of the firm that bears his name, Bennett Jones, following in the footsteps of his predecessors and mentors.

MACLEAN (MAC) JONES decided when he was in Grade 8 that he was going to become a lawyer. When he moved on to high school, he joined the Western Canada High School debating team and it solidified his career goal.

“I pretty well made up my mind that’s what I was going to do,” says Jones, now 94 years old. “But I never really did get to the point so that I could talk on my feet. I had to plan and work like hell to get anything ready.”

For a man who admits he was not a born courtroom litigator, he sure did very well for himself as a lawyer. After completing his law degree from the University of Alberta in 1939, Jones was lucky to land an articling placement at the law firm founded by R.B. Bennett (Prime Minister of Canada, 1930-35) and partners. It was May of 1939, following the depression, and just months away from World War II breaking out later that year in September.

He was called to the bar in Alberta in 1940 (and later, Saskatchewan in 1959), but left to serve in the war in the Royal Canadian Navy, serving on convoys across the Atlantic for three years. To this day, he still has a wooden carving he made of the frigate he served on sitting on a credenza in his office. He also remembers his first day at sea.

“I was sick as a dog,” he recalls. “I was hanging over the rail for a couple of hours, so I went down to the canteen and bought two Coca Colas. I went back up and drank one of the bottles straight down and about two hours later, I was all better. It never worked for anybody else.”

When he came back to Calgary in 1945, he returned to the same law firm, known then as Bennett, Hannah, Nolan, Chambers & Might, and picked up where he left off. His passion was always in business law. “I didn’t have any interest in criminal law or family law or any other areas,” he says from his Calgary home. He still remembers being at his first partners’ meeting on Jan. 2, 1952.

EJ Chambers, Harry Nolan, Orrin Might and the firm’s most senior partner, Alexander Hannah, were all there at the meeting, along with Jones. “The purpose of the meeting was to divide up the pie for the coming year,” says Jones. “I got what was left over.” When the meeting was just about to be adjourned, Chambers approached Nolan. “He said, ‘Harry, I get down to the office at 8:30 every morning and I do that to set a good example to the young lawyers. Harry, you come down at 10:00 every morning and I think that sets a bad example to the young lawyers.’ Nolan, with his big Irish smile, said, ‘Chambers, you’re absolutely right again.’ Then he said, ‘Chambers, I’m going to make you a promise. I’m going to keep coming down at 10:00 every morning.’”

It’s that kind of story Jones looks back on fondly about the inner workings of the law firm, and of the types of characters he worked alongside as mentors during his early years as a lawyer. Both Chambers and Nolan had a big impact on his career. Nolan even went on to become a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada. “He was a great lawyer and a great friend,” says Jones. “I did a lot of work for him.”

Jones first gained experience in the oil and gas industry when he went down to the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, to take a week-long course every year and got to know a lot of oil and gas lawyers. As Alberta’s energy industry began to take off following the Leduc oil discovery, Jones started getting clients and started building what would become an area of expertise that lasted throughout his career.

Asked about the differences between starting out as a young lawyer in the late 1930s and 1940s versus now, there are plenty of examples. “I don’t know what they’re paying young fellows and girls coming out of law school now, but it isn’t the $25 a month that I got when I started out,” he quips. Technology has also completely changed the nature of the profession. “One of the things that’s changed a lot are all of these pocket telephones and daybooks these guys have in their pockets,” says Jones. “They’ve practically got a library in their coat pocket.”

Gone are the days of spending countless hours in the library researching precedent. Technology has improved access to all kinds of information and, by extension, the way in which lawyers do their jobs. In his early career, Jones would spend hours and sleepless nights in the library researching and preparing for his clients. Yet he always made it home for dinner at 5:30 every night. “Now I see lawyers who don’t get home until seven or eight o’clock at night,” he remarks. Not that he didn’t work hard. “The first part of my career, the objective was to earn enough money to eat three meals a day and have a place to sleep,” he says.

As his practice began to grow with the Alberta oil industry – he officially moved into oil and gas law in 1947, acting for Imperial Oil as the Leduc oilfields began to boom – the firm itself also evolved with the times. There were moments he thought about leaving the firm to try something else – the only firm he’s worked for during his 70-year career.

“There were good times and there were bad times,” he says bluntly. “You can’t say it was all easy going because it wasn’t. There were times when I thought maybe I would go and start a practice of my own in some small town, but I never did,” says Jones. “My wife wouldn’t let me, for one thing.”

When he started out practising law, there were hardly any in-house legal departments. Now, of course, most energy corporations have their own legal counsel and, where in the past lawyers spent their careers at one law firm or another, now they can work for their entire lives inside corporations’ legal departments.

Despite all of the changes in law and how it is practised over the last 70 years, one thing that has not changed, in his view, is the integrity of the profession as a whole.

“It’s a good, honorable profession,” says Jones, “with a great future.” It also lends itself to other career paths – the majority of Canadian politicians started out as lawyers, for example – but also to involvement in the community.

Jones served for four years on the Calgary Public School Board – three as chairman – and three years on the University of Calgary’s board of governors, including two as its chairman. He also spent six years on the Calgary Police Commission and served on the board of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. “I think anybody who is in a position to do something should do something in the community,” he says.

His family has always been an inspiration throughout his career. His son, Craig, is now a practising tax lawyer in Calgary, while he’s got another son in B.C. and a daughter in Vancouver who’s a chartered accountant, along with six grandchildren who keep him busy.

Looking back, Jones is still amazed he’s made it this far. He credits following his passion in law as part of the reason for his longevity. “The success I point to is living an extra 20 or 30 years,” he jokes.

“For some reason or another, I’ve outlasted everybody else. I never thought of the future, except for what was going to happen the next week or two. Never at any time did I think here I’d be, 94 years of age.”

He has received many accolades and recognition for his legal and community service over his 70-year career, including the Law Society of Alberta’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 (it now hangs proudly on his office wall). Recognition from your peers – the ones you’ve spent your career working alongside – and from the people in your field that will always mean the most to him. “If you get an award that’s connected with your own work and your own lifestyle, that’s a lot more important than getting an award for something else,” says Jones. “That really counts.”

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