Carmen Thériault QC TEP leads the private wealth group at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada and is a member of the firm’s national partnership committee and global supervisory board. In December 2020, Carmen was recognised as the 2020 People’s Choice – Trusted Advisor of the Year at the 15th Annual STEP Private Client Awards (PCAs).
Tell us about your career
I started with an honours degree in French and English and then obtained my law degree from the University of Ottawa. It offered common-law courses in French and English, as well as civil-law courses, which appealed to my French-Canadian heritage. I became a partner of McMillan Binch in Toronto and then moved to Vancouver with my husband, who is also a lawyer, and our young son in 1996 to join what is now Norton Rose Fulbright Canada. Shortly after arriving, we had our second son. What an adventure it all was – a new city, a new home, a new firm and a new baby. So many challenges, but somehow it all fell into place.
What led you into the trusts and estates field?
It appealed to me for a number of reasons. It requires knowledge of many areas of the law, which makes it challenging but engaging. It is also interdisciplinary, requiring you to work closely with others. It can be a lot of fun to problem-solve with others who are at the top of their profession. Finally, the relationships that are developed are very rewarding because you are helping clients work through family and business-related issues that really matter to them. Working with people who have accomplished so much has been one of the best parts.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
Two things stand out. The first is the privilege of working with the calibre of lawyers I have over the years and being able to play a role in their development. The second is my work as chair of the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation and the Honorary Advisory Board of Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland. We all want to make a positive difference and those two organisations matter to me because of their impact in the community and beyond.
Your firm was awarded Private Client Legal Team of the Year (midsize firm) at the PCAs in 2016, and in 2020 you took home the People’s Choice – Trusted Advisor of the Year award. What does this award mean to you?
I am part of a very special team at Norton Rose Fulbright: outstanding professionals who are also very fine people on a personal level. I feel fortunate to be part of that and am proud to have received the award, particularly as there are so many other STEP members who are equally or more deserving of it.
What do you think makes a successful, trusted advisor?
Knowledge of the law and sufficient experience to make sense of it. You must also be able to quickly establish credibility and a bond with a client so they feel comfortable sharing detailed financial information as well as concerns about family members, some of which may never have been discussed with anyone outside the family. A trusted advisor needs to be able to listen more than they talk in order to identify the real issues of importance. Your role is then to share how other people in similar circumstances deal with those issues, help assess the advantages and disadvantages of each option and find the best path forward. Often, that is not easy, as there can be so many complex, technical and sensitive issues at play.
What challenges are facing your jurisdiction?
In all jurisdictions, well-intentioned legislative changes can sometimes have unintended negative consequences. In Canada, that has displayed itself in relation to changes to federal tax law applicable in this area. Recent examples include changes in the availability of the principal residence exemption that apply unfairly to persons suffering from a disability, and the treatment of gifts to charities and related tax credits where the gift is made through a trust. We need to move away from a defensive ‘us and them’ approach to problem-solving in favour of more meaningful consultation between legislators, professional advisors and other stakeholders.
What made you join STEP?
It is the premier organisation in Canada and internationally for experienced professionals practising in this area. I have benefited enormously from my involvement with STEP. Its regional, national and international conferences, and the publications that flow from them, are invaluable. STEP also offers its members the opportunity to create relationships, share ideas and work collaboratively on difficult practice points and legislative solutions to challenges as they develop.
What would you say to members considering getting more involved?
Do it! You will get more out of it than you put in. At our firm, we have encouraged our associates to take the STEP qualifying exams as a way to fill in gaps and deepen their knowledge of the practice area at an earlier stage. They have found it to be hugely beneficial, and we see the impact in the quality of their work, their contributions during group discussions and their confidence.
Republished with permission. Carmen Thériault, ‘Member Q&A’, STEP Journal (Vol29 Iss1), p.74