FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kristine Robidoux
January 12, 2016
I met Kristine (she goes by Kris) Robidoux about a dozen years ago when we both lived in the Calgary Currie constituency. She still does. We were both involved in the PC association there. I moved to a different neighbourhood and we lost touch. She’s been in the news along the way, and recently I snagged this interview and did some catching up …
She’s a litigator and Partner at Gowlings. Her passion originally, and still is, for criminal defence work – in the courtroom. And giving advice in the boardroom. Or anywhere clients and audiences listen to advice on compliance, on ethics, on international legal implications of disclosure laws and all those things that get people and companies into trouble ...
I doubt anyone disagrees there are few things as painful as a fall from grace, being human, of making a big mistake – nobody is as hard on us as we are on ourselves. Add to that, a public and professional kick-in-the-pants. All the more challenging – and Kristine understands that better than most of us, fortunately, will never have to. She spoke freely, confidently and on the record about the events of February 6, 2008. More about that later – read-on – but first let me start at the beginning:
Born, middle child of three, in St. Boniface, Manitoba to a French speaking father and English speaking mother – dad was a career provincial civil servant, mom stayed home and worked in the cash office at The Bay – where life, growing up and school was an alternating and continual bilingual life. Her father noted how well she read scripture aloud at Mass – he said she was good, and thought she could be a great lawyer. She took that advice to heart. The trail zig-zags a bit, priorities changed and some events/people influenced her route …
Admittedly a ‘very good student’, she was very active in sports too – did them all, with volleyball being her best/happiest [won a high school sports scholarship]. She was not tall, so she hit from the middle of the court. After high school, University of Manitoba for two years (one in English, one in French) in pursuit of a B.A. – then off to the University of Moncton for an LLB. At that time Moncton was the only law school in Canada offering a Common Law degree in French … which would have provided a career advantage in her pursuit of work in Ottawa [She says, more than working in government – she loved the ‘workings of government’, especially the policy side] – a path that changed … when she was on a trip to Jasper and the mountains with friends, she found herself in Calgary reading a newspaper article about the success on a case of Noel O’Brien. She called him up, interviewed that day, and articled under him – admitted to the bar in 1992. She continued working in criminal defence work for YCDO for four years. “It was hard, but I loved it.” Off the record she told some stories of many lives changed/affected, and a card every Christmas from someone who is truly making a difference from having his life turned around.
Then one day she was interviewed on TV NEWS about rights of the accused in a case she was working on. Executives at Superior Propane were watching – they were impressed, called her up, and she spent two years on their team before moving to ENMAX where she was Director of Compliance and Ethics for four years. Then, along came Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the U.S. and similar trends which signaled similar changes in the Canadian and international corporate arenas – and ComplianceWorks, her own consulting firm, was born in 2004. It got busy, she had two young kids (they were two and four then) and life was stretched … an aside chat with Ken Warren from Gowlings at a lawyer event led to further discussion and she joined Gowlings where she’s been since [except for a four-month consent suspension by the Alberta Law Society] where a team, resources and ‘the big firm’ dynamics she’d always deliberately avoided have helped her practice flourish.
Why are you successful? “Pioneering. Responding to and receptive to regulatory changes – I saw it coming, and got myself into a pole-position. Tremendous passion. I understand that ‘to be the best in this area’ I had to read everything I could, learn everything I could – and I never stopped. I haven’t been afraid to take a crooked path – and some weird leaps, but I wasn’t held back by fear. I’ve leapt forward”.
What has held you back? “I didn’t say NO as much as I could have. I used to try to be a people pleaser.”
And then, we talked about the elephant in the room – about politics, about ‘that event’ that led to her suspension – and the law suit brought by Arthur Kent about a newspaper story. It’s been well covered in the press so I won’t repeat that here. In short, as a member of the Calgary Currie PC Association and as a member of the campaign team for their candidate she did many things, all just fine and proper – and she made one regrettable error involving one e-mail, one that she sent to a reporter, not as a lawyer but as a campaign worker. The trial in that civil lawsuit is over now but a judgement has not been rendered. She settled her involvement in July, 2014 and is no longer involved in it. She, and the Law Society of Alberta in responding to Mr. Kent’s complaint agreed her suspension was warranted. Done. Matter closed.
But is it for her?
She’s clearly moved on, but yet it seems to haunt her. Maybe that’s a very good thing. “I think of it every day. I didn’t (then) think about the consequences. I shouldn’t have done it.” She has block wood letters – the big garage-sale kind – in her office saying:
T H I N K
to remind herself daily. “Had I paused, I would have avoided all of this …. We all do things, every day, without pausing to think it through.” Has that experience changed you, made you a better lawyer? “It has made me better by a factor of … let's say 1,000%.”
How do you see your business – business ethics & compliance lawyer/white collar crime defence litigator - going forward over the next quarter?’
… busy. Normal busy. The nature of our work in this area is being driven by the economy – responding to issues, allegations, compliance events. Many people are pushing their activities very near, or outside, the lines …
And over the next five years?
… bigger. Increases in regulation and need for transparency here, and internationally. More whistleblower protection will lead to more whistleblowing. The OSC is going to be rewarding whistleblowers. This is the new normal …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… personal understanding. People who take the time to understand, and to listen. Understand my needs. Loyalty.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kris Robidoux, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I empower people who work for me. I’m very practical. My experience. My thought process. I don’t deliver 50-page opinions …
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… very open-door. I’m not a micro-detail person. I’m a strategies, end-game person. I give people a lot of latitude – and say ‘Is this right, are you sure?’ a lot. I’m collegial … I think they see me that way.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not about work. About all things relating to my kids – things every parent worries about – wanting them to grow up safely and avoid trouble …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad for his encouragement and pointing me to law. And because he’s close by and walks my dogs! All the bosses I’ve had who hired me because they thought I was worthy – at Superior, Bob Nicolay at Enmax, Ken Warren at Gowlings. They saw something in me that made that decision worthwhile.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… this is truly ‘in the eye of the beholder’. [She’s married to Sean Fairhurst, also a lawyer. They have two teenagers, one of each, both hockey players, and a vehicle which reeks of hockey gear]. You have to be happy with whatever it looks like. I’m painfully aware my time with kids is limited – which makes me make sure I’m ‘home for dinner’ nearly every night. OK, I try …
… injecting myself in every aspect of my kids’ lives they’ll let me. Time spent at our cabin at Gull Lake, with our dogs – a Westie (12) and a Yorkie (puppy).
What do you read?
… love biographies. Currently, Kirstine Stewart’s ‘Our Turn’, Mackenzie Phillips, ‘High on Arrival’. Love fiction too – depends on my mood.
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