Sherry MacLennan

Sherry is prioritizing raising awareness with marginalized groups so funds get returned to those who need them most.

Sherry was convinced she wanted to be a veterinarian as a teenager. She studied science in her undergraduate degree but quickly realized that math and physics were not for her. It was when her uncle, who had a law degree, visited her in Regina that she began contemplating going to law school. Sherry’s uncle’s visit came at just the right time. She was at a crossroads and though she still loved animals, she felt that pursuing veterinary medicine was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Sherry’s strengths suited a career in law far better than a career as a vet, so she switched course and is now Executive Director of the BC Unclaimed Property Society (“BC Unclaimed”).

Going from sciences to law was not the last time Sherry changed her career plans. Throughout law school, she wanted to be an environmental lawyer, but the organization she wanted to work for did not get the funding to hire her as an articled student. Instead of dwelling in disappointment, Sherry moved forward in private practice, articling for a firm that did primarily criminal and family law, before moving to a larger firm where she broadened her experience. After a winter where the temperature didn’t go over -36 C for three straight weeks, Sherry left Saskatchewan for the milder BC climate. Sherry  joined a small firm and developed a Legal Aid family law practice. Although not at all what she had envisioned for herself at school, Sherry discovered how rewarding it is to work with amazingly resilient women who overcome abuse and to help them to resolve their legal issues. This experience led Sherry to work directly with Legal Aid as a staff lawyer.

Her experience with Legal Aid was so good that Sherry stayed with the organization for over 22 years. She moved through various roles, until promoted into the senior leadership  as a Vice President in 2008. In 2022, Sherry took on a new leadership opportunity and became Executive Director at BC Unclaimed. Sherry has been with the society for over one year now (as of September 2023) and she is thriving in an environment that encourages and appreciates creative leadership. Although many offices have settled back into mandatory in-person attendance after moving to telework at the height of the pandemic, Sherry feels it is important to keep moving forward and continues a hybrid workspace. Some of Sherry’s leadership initiatives are further ahead of the times than those of most Canadian organizations. For example, her office recently launched a four-day work-week pilot project. 

How do you prove someone’s identity when they have no government identification? With BC Unclaimed, Sherry gets to answer questions like this about property law, successions, estates and identity often. In a nutshell, the society connects unclaimed money with the people rightfully entitled to it. Sherry finds the work very rewarding and appreciates the organization’s philanthropic business model, which sees surplus funds donated to charity through its partnership with the Vancouver Foundation. The most challenging part of her job is raising awareness of this organization and educating citizens around their rights and obligations regarding unclaimed property. Sherry is prioritizing raising awareness with marginalized groups so funds get returned to those who need them most. This means new strategic focus on partnerships with public legal education providers and the legal community, as there are millions of dollars of unclaimed money from courts alone that self-represented litigants don’t know they are entitled to. 

A usual workday for Sherry may include strategizing with her team and reviewing property claims or estate files. Her work is varied and most recently, she was busy working with IT consultants and web designers to create the organization’s new website (which she is a big fan!) and next up, a modernized database. She loves that billable hours are not a requirement or even possibility in her position, and that has allowed her to have a great work life balance, which she acknowledges can be hard to achieve as a lawyer in private practice. 

There are a lot of differences between the jobs of a veterinarian and that of an Executive Directors of a not-for-profit. The thing that those jobs often share, as does the position of environmental lawyer or VP at Legal Aid, is that they are best suited to someone who cares about making a difference in the lives of others. You may not be good at the skill you want to be good at or offered the job you want to be offered, but those are not necessarily losses. Being open to other opportunities does not mean sacrificing who you are. It can mean finding what you are more naturally good at and the position and organization where you can do your best work. Sherry is glad she was open to career options because it led her to where she is now. Working for a not-for-profit aligns well with Sherry’s values, and she has always enjoyed being able to work with a team of like-minded people towards a common goal. Her desire to do good made Legal Aid an unexpectedly great fit and she carries what she learned there with her still. As she says, you can take the girl out of Legal Aid, but you can’t take Legal Aid out of the girl.