Jade Descheneaux grew up near Montreal, studied at the University of Ottawa (LL.B.), and earned an LL.M. specialized in Intellectual Property, Entertainment and Media Law from UCLA School of Law. She interned for Warner Bros. in Burbank while completing her LL.M. She then moved to the capital of the Olympic Movement, Lausanne, where she now lives. After a year at the International Olympic Committee, she made the jump to the media industry. Her current work at the Eurovision Broadcasting Union (operating Eurovision Sport) revolves around the acquisition and distribution of premium sport content, ensuring elite international athletes digital and traditional coverage for their brilliant exploits. When she is not in the mountains skiing or figure skating, Jade dedicates a lot of her time fighting for gender equality in sport – equality and diversity in the board room, on screen and on the field of play.
Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).
I work as business and legal counsel for Eurovision Sport, operated by the European Broadcasting Union. The European Broadcasting Union is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is the world leading alliance of public service media, representing over 70 public service broadcasters including the BBC, France Televisions and even CBC/Radio-Canada. In a few words, we negotiate global premium sport content on behalf of our members.
Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?
Oh no! My 12-year-old self would be very surprised to hear that I would end up a lawyer! I considered a lot of careers growing up, but lawyer never made the cut. I played a lot of sports, so I was hoping to work for a professional team or a sport federation, but never in a legal role. Even the summer before starting my law degree, I was still wondering if I had made the right decision. That was long before I realized that sports and law could go hand in hand.
At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction?
Unlike most of my classmates, I had never dreamed about working for a big law firm. Full disclosure, I had never even heard of most of them until I started my law degree. I then got caught up in the “system” ... In first year, I was ticking all the law school boxes – I was elected class representative, selected for a moot court competition, and had relatively good grades. It’s only halfway through my law degree, just before the Course aux Stages, that I realized how unmotivated I had become. I reluctantly decided to join the trend of the Course aux Stages and applied to two or three firms. I didn’t realize it at the time, but not being successful in the Course aux Stages is probably the best thing that happened to me in my early legal career. It was the wake-up call I needed to get off the beaten path.
What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?
I was in the middle of my “mid-degree crisis”, wondering if law was really my thing when I saw an opportunity to study entertainment law for a semester in Los Angeles. Going to Los Angeles the following semester literally changed my life. I faced new intellectual challenges and met incredible people in the sports and entertainment industry who helped me find my place in the legal world. After that semester abroad, I knew I had found my own path.
What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?
Explaining my background and practice to friends and colleagues is always challenging. Let me explain why… I studied civil law in Ottawa, then went on to do my masters in entertainment law at UCLA, before finally taking the bar exam in California. I however never really practiced law in California, as I took on a role of Junior Legal Counsel for the International Olympic Committee only a few months after graduation. I have now moved on from the international federation world to the sport media world – still in Switzerland. In my current position, knowledge of global sport content and the media landscape is just as essential as knowledge of contract and competition law.
I’m often asked what my typical day looks like and I’m so grateful I can’t answer that question. Like most lawyers, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer drafting emails and contracts, but many days are spent at international sporting events, in strategic rights acquisition meetings, or negotiating media rights agreements. Some people would say I am not a lawyer anymore, but I suppose that’s what makes my practice lawfully uncommon!
Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?
Sorry in advance for being such a cliché, but I have to say my parents, especially my dad. He has always encouraged me to take risks since I graduated from Ottawa. Playing it safe would have meant enrolling in l’École du Barreau before considering going back to California. Back then, he was the one who encouraged me not to postpone my dream only to have a safety net in Quebec. I doubt I would be writing this today from Switzerland had I not moved to California for my masters when I did. He will always be my biggest fan and my only trusted career counselor.
What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?
I strongly believe that those who attended only classes and didn’t get involved in social and academic extracurricular activities missed out on valuable learning opportunities. Being elected VP of the student councils at the University of Ottawa and UCLA, participating in a moot court competition, and enrolling in the UCLA externship program made me become a more well-rounded law graduate. Even more valuable than the extracurricular activities, I made lifelong friendships and developed an impressive network of contacts in the sports and entertainment industry along the way.
What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?
The way law firms are presented as the only successful path out of law school. Law school has a way of nurturing this unhealthy assumption, which unfortunately led many students, including myself, to wonder if they fit the mold. The truth is, there is no mold.
Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?
So many! Fake it until you make it, right? On my first day as an intern at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment department, a senior lawyer asked me to review a licensing agreement. Looking back, it was a relatively simple task, but for someone who had never drafted a contract, let alone a licensing agreement, Google turned out to be my best friend that day.
I only briefly worked for a law firm in Los Angeles before moving to Lausanne to take on a role of Junior Legal Counsel at the IOC. My real transition therefore happened in Switzerland in a very political international sport organization. Most of the challenges I faced stemmed from cultural differences in the workplace. For example, taking initiatives as a young attorney in the US is usually rewarded whereas in Switzerland, it can be perceived as arrogance. I hit a wall a few times, but I supposed I bounced back and adapted to the culture considering I’m still happily working in Switzerland…
Do you still see the law all around you?
Thankfully I don’t! I hope to never lose my legal reflexes, but even the best lawyers can turn out to be useless on a project if they ONLY see the law and not the other aspects of a case or a deal.
What advice would you give to a first-year law student?
Allow me to list a few… A bad grade in law school is NOT the end of the world, despite the rumors!
Network, network, and network! Attend law school events and don’t be afraid to
email professionals who inspire you. This may even open your eyes to interesting alternative careers you might not have thought about.
Most importantly, stay away from the competition, the drama and the rumors… find your own path to success and stick to it.
Last but not least, try to have some fun!
If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?
Living abroad comes with sacrifices, many of them personal. I lost touch with friends and loved ones during my first few years in Switzerland. I have no time for regrets now, but I went through very difficult times wondering if I made selfish decisions only to advance my career. Thankfully, I’ve had my family full support in every decision – good or bad – that I have made.
The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Career Development Office.