University of Calgary

Career Watch

Submitted by alumni on Sat, 11/05/2016 - 14:41.

Career Watch

Young lawyer and volunteer extraordinaire, Brianna Guenther, reveals her guilty pleasures, what caused her to be bedridden for six months and how she wound up working in Washington for a summer.
by Deb Cummings

Brianna Guenther, BHSc’09
Associate lawyer at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer and volunteer extraordinaire, Brianna Guenther suffered a concussion seven years ago that left her on bed rest for six months — but that didn’t thwart her drive to attend law school. Here, the fifth-generation Calgarian, a recipient of the prestigious Chancellor’s Club scholarship, ruminates on her greatest weaknesses, biggest heroes and how a scholarship can alter a life.

by Deb Cummings

What is a Chancellor’s Club scholarship?

It’s a scholarship program [at UCalgary] where 10 high school students can receive up to $40,000 collected from Chancellor Club membership fees. I was one of those grateful recipients who didn’t have to worry about money — I could just focus on being a good student and worthwhile volunteer initiatives.

Why did you choose Bachelor of Health Sciences as your undergrad degree?

People do make fun of me when I tell them that I thought the best way to prepare for law was to take the hardest thing and, for me, that was this program.

Who are your heroes?

Hands-down, my parents, but also Dr. James Orbinski [co-founder of Doctors Without Borders Canada, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on the organization’s behalf in 1999]. He came to talk to us while I was at the U of C and affirmed that all of us can make a difference. I had helped raise $15,000 for Doctors Without Borders that year, so it was neat to meet a hero of mine whom we were supporting.

How did you wind up working for the Embassy of Papua New Guinea in Washington, D.C.?

The networking that happens at Chancellor’s Club dinners is extraordinary. That’s where I met the ambassador of Papua New Guinea, who was formally an international lawyer based out of Australia. He offered me a summer job which involved doing a lot of research on the HIV/AIDS situation in Papua New Guinea, as well as shadowing him through D.C.’s political spheres. I loved it.

Have you had any mentors along the way?

So many, but when I had a concussion in my last year of undergrad, Joanne Cuthbertson [a former UCalgary chancellor] was unbelievable and helped coordinate my studies so I could finish writing my papers from home. Because that helped my brain heal, I could go to law school at Queen’s that September.

Did you ever want to be anything else besides a lawyer?

Frankly, I failed in my first career, which was to be the first-ever female CFL player! Every time I watch Rudy I still think maybe, just maybe, I could make it as a Stampeder. Dickenson, if you’re reading this — please give me a try-out!

Speaking of Rudy, what other movies do you like?

Beauty and the Beast. I think Belle was a very strong female character for her time. And Grease. My best friend and I know every lyric in that movie ... and we still fight over who gets to sing Sandy’s parts.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I spend a lot of time watching the Calgary Stampeders, the Flames, The Bachelorette and Friday Night Lights (generally accompanied by a lot of junk food and prosecco). I have a drawer that is full of Cheezies, glosette raisins and chips.

Do you have a favourite motto you live by?

When I didn’t know if I should go to Georgetown for a year to take my Master’s of International Business and Economic Law, Mr. Palmer (the “P” in BDP) said: “You rarely regret the things you do. More often you regret what you don’t do.” And so I went — and have never regretted it (although I did miss my husband a lot).

Have you travelled much?

Not enough. When my husband and I were students at Queen’s, we spent a semester in France and took 14 trips while we were there. Currently, we like going to big U.S. cities to see sporting events. Recently, we’ve loved D.C., Chicago and Austin.

What are the qualities of a good lawyer?

Attention to detail. Desire to get things done. Resourcefulness. Being a team player.

Any advice for students?

There are so many naysayers in this world — don’t listen to them. Never accept “no,” and remember, you can accomplish things at any age that really matter! U

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