MARVIN SHAHIN / From big law to in-house to real estate development for Tim Horton's


"Keep smilin" 

"Keep smilin" 

Born and raised in Montreal, Marvin first studied commerce at McGill before going on to law school (where he met his wife).  After a few years in private practice, he went in-house. That experience exposed him to many different areas of law: labour, corporate, litigation management, real estate, etc.. In recent years, the focus of his practice has been real estate, construction and franchising although he has been on the "business" side of real estate development and not managing a legal practice per se for a few years now. However, law serves as the foundation of his work every day.


LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. DID YOU ALWAYS IMAGINE YOURSELF GOING TO LAW SCHOOL?

Yes. I had some experience in high school where I realized that I liked public speaking, debates and analysis. So, I think I had a natural tendency towards law.

WHAT MAKES YOUR CAREER LAWFULLY UNCOMMON?

I've gone from private practice to in-house counsel, to managing a construction, real estate and legal department. Now I'm almost fully involved in real estate development with very little direct legal work. So I think that makes it a bit unusual.

AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO DO LAW YOUR OWN WAY?

Probably a few years into my in-house career. I started much like a lot of folks who go to McGill. I did my stage at a large law firm and I naturally gravitated towards that thinking it was the only option. But I ended up at a small firm because I didn't enjoy the big firm. And then I wasn't enjoying myself even at the small firm, so eventually I went in-house; and when I was in-house I tended to be more interested in the business side of it. I would say probably six or seven years into my career I realized I wanted to be more involved with much more than just law. Law provided the base that I continually turn to but it was just that- a starting point and foundation to other things.

HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE SHIFT CHANGED YOUR LIFE?

It changed it for the positive in the sense that it exposed me to a number of different elements of business, whereas I was not focused only on the legal document. It made me a more rounded person. I have a better appreciation of the business end of things and not just the paragraph in a lease or in a deed of sale.

I think because of the area that I'm involved in, which is real estate development, it gave me a good sense of that business world and that, in turn, influenced how I look at my house, how I look at my investments, how I talk to my kids about their own future. So it does have an impact on your personal life.

WHAT GOT YOUR JUICES FLOWING OR TICKLED YOUR FANCY WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?

Professor Jutras is a U2 fan, I can tell you that. I did a moot in second year. Professor Jutras and I drove together to Quebec City for the moot competition and he played U2 on his- at the time it would have been a tape deck- and he was singing the songs and I was dumbfounded. Don't tell him I told you that (laughs).

Talking with people whose career has involved more than strictly law. One of the late deans of the faculty, Rod MacDonald used to have a course that he would teach to all first year students. He would talk about the foundations of the law. He would discuss that law has its origins in religion, in Greek mythology or history, and I found that fascinating. Pierre-Marc Johnson who is a former premier of Quebec did one of these seminar type classes when I was in third or fourth year and it was fascinating to hear him talk about the goings-on and the background, if you will, in politics. Those things stand out for me than just the usual lectures.

"Best way to 'de stress' before a job interview" - Marvin playing pinball in the basement of Old Chancellor Day Hall  

"Best way to 'de stress' before a job interview" - Marvin playing pinball in the basement of Old Chancellor Day Hall

 

DO YOU THINK THAT IN RETROSPECT THE THINGS YOU ENJOYED MOST IN LAW SCHOOL SERVED AS AN INDICATION THAT YOU WOULD PURSUE MORE OF AN ALTERNATIVE TO LAW?

I think so. I think also the first experiences as a summer student in a large law firm, where you try to fit in and don't want to question what's going on. But I wasn't comfortable I guess, or I didn't see myself doing that. There are some people that love litigation for example and they thrive on the adversarial nature of litigation; they thrive on the opportunity to debate in front of a judge, to prepare proceedings the night before, things like that. I didn't enjoy that; knowing people were getting billed by the hour, thinking there has to be a more efficient solution. I guess things that are outside of the norm. I went through the normal course like everybody else- went to the large law firm, went to the open houses, went through the interviews. I worked at what's now Norton Rose. But I never really enjoyed it that much, and eventually just moved away from it

WHAT MADE YOUR BLOOD BOIL OR MADE YOU SNOOZE WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL? ANY HIDDEN GEMS WORTH TELLING?

I guess maybe I answered that in a sense that the inefficiencies of private practice I found very frustrating. Less so in law school.

In law school I guess what I would say, is that some of the theoretical discussions that teachers had, I found to be, not frustrating, but I didn't really see what the point was. I enjoyed constitutional law because it had some politics and history to it. I enjoyed criminal law because you had real life examples. I enjoyed the seminar courses I mentioned before. So I think that what frustrated me sometimes was a lot of the theoretical conversations and discussions around a particular article in the Code or something like that. I enjoyed much more the real examples.

DO YOU STILL SEE LAW ALL AROUND YOU? OR IS THAT A THING OF THE PAST?

You know my wife is a lawyer as well; we actually met in law school. We both graduated the same year. And people say to me, even today, that when they hear us talk sometimes, or when they hear us talk to our children, we don't realize it, but we talk to them like lawyers.

I think that as I've been more and more in the business world, I've done less of that, and sometimes I hear my wife talk to the kids and I'm like you're disputing semantics with them. I don't think you're making a point by arguing the exact word that was used (laughs). So yeah, you still come off as a lawyer.

"What it is all about: Holiday time with the fam in NYC"

"What it is all about: Holiday time with the fam in NYC"

YOU ARE AT COFFEEHOUSE SPEAKING TO A FIRST-YEAR LAW STUDENT. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?

I would tell them that they should explore all alternate possibilities because the standard path is always there, you can always come back to the standard path. So if you are willing to give up a year, or what have you, and if a law firm saw you decided to go work for an NGO half way around the world instead of applying in second year, they will find that very attractive and it creates a better person. A few years after you graduate there are other things that will come up in your life- I mean, I'm generalizing, but typically people will take on debt, they may have children, they'll have other personal responsibilities and so to challenge themselves to go outside is harder. So #trydifferentthings #nowisthemomenttotrydifferentthings

WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE OF MARVIN SHAhIN LOOK LIKE? GIVE US THE RUNDOWN.

I'm up before 6am- usually around 5:30. I sometimes workout in the morning- less so in the last couple of years. I will have a bite to eat, and then come into the office, usually for 8 or 8:15. I will have a look at a couple emails that may have come in overnight and attend meetings whether with construction or legal personnel to coordinate work that we might be doing on our next project. I will often end up in lunch meetings with landlords, developers, networks and contacts. I tend to be either completing certain internal documentation for approval processes for new restaurants or renewals for restaurants. I will tend to be mapping out work that I have to do over the next few months. I'll usually end up home at about 6 or 6:30 and have dinner with my family, which is really important to me. And sometimes end up working a bit more afterwards in the evening.

IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE BLESSING AND CURSE OF AN EXTRA HOUR EVERY DAY TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Probably exercise. Not look at emails and do something that would be good for my mind and good for my body

ANY REGRETS? (YEAH, WE ARE INTROSPECTIVE LIKE THAT).

It's not a regret but I think that one of the things that I would have probably tried really early in my career was to branch out on my own. Whether it's as a practitioner or in something completely different. Once you are an employee or an executive within an organization you get really used to the pay, the benefits. To strike out on your own, like I said, whether setting up your own firm or something completely different gets harder and harder with time. So, there's a part of me that wonders if I would have been happier had I done that? I mean it's never too late, but that's something I've thought about in the last five years.

THINKING BACK ON THE TRAJECTORY THAT YOU TOOK CAN YOU THINK OF ANY TIPS YOU WOULD GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS CURRENTLY THINKING OF PURSUING SOMETHING ALTERNATIVE BUT ISN'T SURE HOW TO GO ABOUT DOING THAT?

It doesn't hurt to ask. By that I mean, if there is something that you are interested in, knock on the door, send an email, make a phone call. What's the worst thing that can happen? They don't answer? You never get a reply? Or they say 'thanks but we're not looking for anything like that right now'. Because if you really want to try something different, eventually you will come across someone who is open to that different approach or willing to experiment- willing to take a risk. You might not earn a lot of money; you might find out very quickly you don't enjoy it but you'll never know, so now is the time to try.