Cross-Examined: A young lawyer’s journey from assisted death consultation to leading health law firm

Tory Hibbitt began her legal career at the centre of a national public policy debate

Cross-Examined: A young lawyer’s journey from assisted death consultation to leading health law firm
Tory Hibbitt

For someone so youthful and exuberant, Tory Hibbitt has thought a lot about death.  

After getting her LLM in medical law and ethics, Hibbitt was one of the few lawyers on a phone call about one of the most controversial and complex legal topics in the news: the Justice Department’s consultation on assisted dying.  

The debate has thrust Hibbitt — who has spent her adult life studying bioethics and the law — into the national conversation.  

“That day going home, I really felt like I was part of something big and important,” she says. “To be able to give opinions and actually have the ear of the government on things that are that significant feels really good.”  

As Hibbitt’s work on assisted dying, primarily through the Canadian Bar Association, has come to the fore, she’s also finding her stride in her day job at a law firm.  

As an associate at Carbert Waite LLP in Calgary, she has branched out into more and more areas of commercial law as her practice grows.   

Before becoming lawyer, philosophy was Hibbitt’s first academic love — perhaps not surprising, given that philosophy has been dubbed a preparation for death (or at least that’s what Socrates, after standing trial, told his student, Plato.) Hibbitt followed her early inclinations — a love of crafting a convincing argument — through a philosophy degree to law school, where she received awards and scholarships. 

Hibbitt’s time in school, where she volunteered as an academic mentor and law clinic co-ordinator, has also prepared her for her current extracurriculars, which include taking law students under her wing. 

Hibbitt recalls how hard she pushed herself to achieve her goals, strategizing how she could do it all and be the best — whether that meant running for class president, studying in Tokyo, graduating in the  top percentile in law school and grad school or taking 14 trips to 12 countries while doing all of the above. 

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be one of the top students. It ended up getting me awards and a scholarship that I then used toward my masters,” she says.  

“But the method is, really, the vice that is perfectionism. And my advice to students now is to take a breath. . . . If I were talking to my 23-year-old self, I would say, ‘Take a breath and just try and enjoy things.’” 

Hibbitt says she quickly recognized that a lifetime of schooling taught her a lot about reading textbooks and writing papers and less about managing a business.  

“Hearing it now from people who are even just a year or two junior to me, it's so familiar: the sense of discomfort of being in a profession where you just don't know what you're doing,” she says.  

“I think with lawyers, and especially junior lawyers, as you come out of law school, you're used to getting good grades. . . . Then you end up actually practising and you’re way out of your depth. And it's a terrible feeling.”  

For someone focused on the path to success, professional life has fewer tangible signs, like an A+ on a final paper, to navigate toward. 

“What you do is you get comfortable with that discomfort, and you get comfortable with your capabilities,” she says.  

Although Hibbitt, compared to many young people, is far from rudderless.  

A month-long trial as an articling student sparked her career in insurance defence. Determined to return to medical law, she got her current role with one of Calgary’s top health lawyers through her deep involvement in the Canadian Bar Association, ordering a specialized bioethics law book from a law librarian and joining a board. 

But, she says, the practice of law has taught her there’s often no one “right answer” when it comes to juggling all the demands of being a lawyer. Rather, each case has its tricky areas and its quirks — and embracing that uncertainty can ultimately be one of the joys of the job. 

“You have those peaks-and-valley moments. When somebody comes to me and they're kind of in that valley, I say what other lawyers have said to me,” she says. “You will still have those low points. They don’t stop. But they manifest differently and they're a little bit more spaced out.”  

Mentorship through standing lunch dates has played an important role in her development as a lawyer, she says. Emblematic of her magnetism, she collects mentors “as a hobby” (she also considers publishing academic articles a “hobby.”)  

“I think part of why lawyers end up in law is because they have this inner pitbull: We're all competitive,” she says. “You just have this visceral response that you want to fire off an angry email or say something rude or snarky. [Mentors] kind of help you calm down. . . . That kind of approach has stuck with me: to tell the client, ‘Look, it doesn't mean that we can't escalate things if we need to, but that's not where we want to start off.’” 

Over time, Hibbitt says, she and her husband (who she met early in law school) have learned to work efficiently and carve out a day a week to spend time on something other than work, such as reading or skiing and snowboarding. She aims for three rides per week on the cult-favourite Peloton exercise bike, and she always makes time to honour the needs of a most discerning client: her parakeet, a Pineapple Green-Cheek Conure named Yuki who needs to follow an exact routine to maintain her adorable nature. 

Hibbitt also says the CBA and other industry events have become not just professional obligations but an important part of her social life.  

“I'm often at all kinds of award ceremonies or gala dinners, watching Supreme Court justices speaking, and I always feel so inspired,” she says.  

“That reminds me how much I love the profession and how fortunate I am. I’m just inspired by all the accomplishments and the amazing things that lawyers have done.  

“It keeps you going sometimes. The day-to-day can be really intense, and it helps to take a step back, zoom out, get your head out of a particular file or issue and just see the wider purpose of the profession. So, I really love that as well.”

Hear more from Hibbitt, who is a speaker at the Canadian Lawyer Young Lawyers Summit on June 11. Visit canadianlawyerevents.com/young-lawyers for more information. 

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