JOHN C. MCDONNELL partner, business practice area leader 



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One of the most rewarding things that partner John McDonnell finds in his practice of the law, is when he sees projects that he’s working on, taking shape in the real world. “To actually see it being done – that’s pretty cool,” says John, who provides corporate governance advice to municipal and other public sector bodies, and also assists private businesses and corporate clients with their various business and legal needs. And at the end of the day, nothing satisfies him more than completing the tasks he sets out to do.

In his municipal practice, John advises public sector clients on a broad range of corporate and commercial legal matters, including helping clients collaborate on partnerships for the regional provision of services.

He chose this particular practice area after he realized there was a growing need. “It’s an area I thought I could help grow, and assist people in this underserviced area,” he explains. John sees this as a major growth area in Alberta, where public sector bodies, primarily municipalities, must now provide regional services that they didn’t have to in the past. Mandatory collaboration between municipalities will increase substantially under Alberta’s Intermunicipal Collaborative Framework, which requires public sector bodies to address the sharing of services on an intermunicipal basis.

Advising municipalities and other public sector clients makes up a major part of John’s practice. “I have the most experience in setting up these regional entities. I know the ins and outs, and what works and what doesn’t, from past experience,” says John, who works with clients throughout Alberta as well as in Nunavut.

Born and raised in Regina, John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree (Honours, 1996) in political science and a Diploma of Associate, Business Administration (1997), both from the University of Regina; and a law degree (LL.B.) from the University of Alberta (2000). He was called to the bar in Alberta (2001) and Nunavut (2016). He joined Brownlee in 2005.

John chose law as a career after taking a number of legal courses during his undergraduate degree. He found that law interested him tremendously, and it was an area he excelled in. “I enjoyed the intellectual problem solving, and the ability to assist and advocate for others,” he recalls.

His main advice to a first year associate or law student is to get as much exposure to the different types of law as they can. “The reason why I say that, is that for the most part, most first year associates or students don’t really know what they want to do,” he explains. “There are lots of different areas out there that they may not even know exist.”

John – who believes that a good lawyer is responsive, listens to his or her clients, and understands the lawyer’s role in meeting clients’ needs – speaks highly of Brownlee’s team approach, which means that clients are assigned the best lawyer for their particular file. “That’s not something we give mere lip service to – we ensure that the best person gets on that particular file at any given time.”

Looking ahead, John sees Brownlee growing both geographically, and in the services the firm provides to clients. For his own professional goals, he wants to continue the work he’s now doing, with an eye to expanding the regional services he offers.

Married with three children, John volunteers with his sons’ sports activities: his eldest son is a competitive swimmer racing with the Olympian Swim Club in Edmonton, and his youngest son is a rep hockey player with St. Albert Minor Hockey. John also cheers on his daughter, a para-swimmer with the Steadward Bears in Edmonton.

John is a past chairperson of the City of St. Albert Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.


  • Municipal Commercial Transactions & Contracting
  • Infrastructures & Utilities
  • Corporations & Corporate Governance
  • Commercial Transactions
  • Municipal & Public Sector
  • Commercial Lending & Financing
  • Commercial Leasing
  • First Nations and Indigenous Law
  • Real Estate Law


  • Member, Law Society of Alberta
  • Member, Law Society of Nunavut


I wanted my work day to be different, every single day.  My family owned and ran a successful restaurant.  That was a great career for them but it wasn’t one that I wanted to pursue.  I wanted my work day to be different.  Every single day.  I didn’t get that at the restaurant.

In school, I took an aptitude test and it told me to pursue law.  I had no lawyers in my family, so I was surprised.  I took both a law and business class and constitutional law class and politics and that got me thinking about the aptitude test.  I also knew that law was a rewarding, challenging and diverse job.

It turned out that I loved law school and loved the practice of law once I graduated! I get to partner with my clients and work through their interesting matters that they face.