Maude Choko/ Artist and Labour Law Expert

Maude Choko is both an artist (author and actress, member of ACTRA and UDA) and a labour law expert (DCL from McGill University, 2015 and Quebec Bar, 2003). She has been teaching in law to undergraduate and graduate students and has been using the pen (or keyboard!) for many years.  Driven by a desire to tell stories, she has written several short films presented at festivals, including Trop... trop tard(2018) presented at the Cinémathèque in June 2018. She has also made an incursion into dramaturgy by writing Trois fois passera, la dernière y restera?, selected at the Espace La Risée and presented in 2018 as part of their event Paroles de femmes. 

 Writing in the context of academic researches, Maude Choko has obtained the support of several institutions for funding (SSRH, CRIMT, Fondation du Barreau, Chambre des notaires). Her researches have focussed on freedom of association and the promotion of collective autonomy for self-employed workers. Convinced by the interest of the specific legal regime regulating artists’ work relations for other atypical workers, Maude Choko has studied this regime, which continues to stimulate her thoughts and curiosity. Her work has been published in Canadian and International journals, and presented at different conferences in Canada, Italy, UK, Australia and Mexico. 

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Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

 

My time is shared between teaching (both at McGill Law Faculty and at Université de Montréal Law Faculty in Labour Law), writing artistic projects (more specifically, right now I am finishing a little book for children I had in mind for a long time now and I want to submit it to editors in the next few weeks AND I am expecting news for funding for the writing of two feature films, one short film and one play), producing a film for professors (for their teaching), practicing my acting craft, researching in labour law … and taking care of my three boys.

 

 

Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

 

The honest answer is not at all! When came the time, in Cégep, to decide, I ended up applying only to two programs: law at McGill and law at Université de Montréal… My plan was to start with that degree as a « general » first step towards another program once I knew better what I wanted to do. I saw it a bit like going into philosophy or history, for basic general knowledge… I was also very attracted to communication. I am still not sure why I settled for law, and why I only applied to that. Certainly the influence of a cherished uncle had something to do with it. I was accepted to both programs… and ended up studying law forever!

 

At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? 

 

I never realized that. I still don’t… but I do know I want to do more than only practicing and/or teaching law, because when I do, I feel there is something very important missing in my life. And it is the same when I am only working on creative projects. I have come to realize I need both part of my professional life, present in it, at the same time. It is challenging because I don’t have all the time I would like to become as good as I want in every aspect of those professional activities. So… I struggle! And do my best.

 

What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?

 

I don’t think I can answer entirely your question since I don’t see myself being where I want. Not yet. Taking a different path, where you don’t have any idea how to get where you want, and where the only thing you know is that it’s not straight ahead, and where not many people understand where you are going, (because the truth is that often you don’t even know yourself!) means you don’t « get there » really quickly… if you ever get somewhere. But that’s part of the discovery, the journey, the adventure (and the troubling uncertainty, and stressing moments as well).

 

What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

 

You tell me! My guess: mixing academic research and teaching in law with pursuing an artistic professional career (or at least, trying to) at the same time. 

 

Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

You are implying I have achieved my goals, which I have not… not yet. But, I do have many people inspiring surrounding me who have helped me progress along the way and achieve some goals. First, I will name Adelle Blackett, known here at the Faculty. I had the chance to have her as a supervisor for both my master and doctoral degrees. She has gave me so much support along the years (and still does!!!) and has brought me to sharpen my ideas, enhance my writing, gave me many opportunities to open some doors, … I could continue forever. She is the best! There is also Guylaine Vallée, who, in the labour law field, is just absolutely inspiring. The kind of mind you would be happy if you only had half of it. On the artistic side, I had great acting coaches who led me to understand what I had deep down in my heart and why I needed to continue acting, even when it is tough and no roles are showing at my door. I will name Robert Favreau, who’s « jeu et gym » training is a must.

 

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

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Listening to passionate professors telling stories contained in the caselaw from the Supreme Court (in Constitutional Law, in Human Rights Law - François Chevrette was famous for that) or attending unconventional classes from dedicated professors who made us do something different than just listening to a lecture (Roderick MacDonald class on Legal Education was a revelation for that). And also, strangely, getting the immediate satisfaction of solving a legal problem, just like a puzzle, in civil law classes and understanding the (almost mathematical) logic behind the civil code with the help of amazing pedagogical abilities of great teachers (in Obligations courses from Louise Rolland for example).

 

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 

Having a professor reading out loud his own book during class as a way to convey the material to us… 

 

Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?

 

The challenges did not occur during that transition. They occurred once I had children.

 

Do you still see the law all around you?

 

Always! And I think even before my training in law, I saw it. When I was interviewed at McGill (just after Cégep), I was asked to draw a comparison between Volleyball (a sport I used to play at a competitive level at the time) and law. I thought it was the most natural question ever, and I had several points to make to explain how a volleyball game was in fact full of rules. The players had to follow them otherwise the ref would impose a sanction. I did not know law, as a discipline and was not aware of the concept of « norms », yet I already had the intuition that our life was full of it. Everywhere…

 

What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

 

READ the readings assigned. You will be amazed to realize how better you are at your studies when you do… And stop stressing. It’s not about grades. It’s about life experience.

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

Wow, a blessing. Definitely a blessing. Tough choice… I hesitate between writing, playing volleyball, taking that hour with my husband to see him more, going to an acting gym or learning Spanish and Italian.

Any regrets?

 

Being too kind towards my kids and actually listening to their desires when comes the time to organise our vacations instead of obliging them to travel with me to discover new countries! Or all of the above due to the lack of that extra hour…

The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Career Development Office.

John Lofranco/ From Law School to Athletics Canada

John Lofranco is a coach and educator. He is the Manager of Coaching Education and Development for Athletics Canada, the national sport organization for Track and Field, and coach for aspiring Olympians, university and high school student-athletes, and anyone interested in bettering themselves through sport. He is also a 16-year member of the part-time faculty in Concordia’s English department and holds bachelors in common and civil law from McGill.

John on a training camp in Utah with two athletes he coaches

John on a training camp in Utah with two athletes he coaches

Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

 

I manage the training and certification programs for track and field coaches in Canada. I coach distance runners, including a couple legitimate Olympic hopefuls, in Montreal. I also teach part-time in the English department at Concordia University.

 

Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

 

No. I was going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, recently divorced, and I went back to a high school reunion in Toronto. I noticed many of my classmates were lawyers and I thought, well it can’t be that hard then, if these guys are doing it.

 

At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction?

 

Well, failing the bar was probably an indication. So maybe it wasn’t as easy as I thought. That said, I never went into law school with the specific intention of practicing. I had some interviews with big New York firms in second-year, but between the time the interviews were scheduled and when they were held, the market crashed. So the interviews were...interesting. One guy was for sure coked up. A couple others didn’t want to talk about law at all. We mostly talked about running. But another one of your interviewees, Keith Serry, had some good and prescient advice for me: he said I may have “dodged a bullet.”

So around when I was going through bar school, I was also fantasizing about taking a full-time NCAA coaching job. I didn’t get that, but I did get a job with the national sport federation for track and field and I just went that way.

 

What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?

 

The advice I give to the runners I coach is “just hang around.” The longer you spend in something, the more opportunities will open up. I got a job as the coordinator for road running, working with the organizers of road races to help them improve their product for their runners. Then, after being in the organization a while, a position opened up in coaching education, which, as a coach and teacher, was much closer to my passion. It was funny, actually, I was on my way to the Francophone Games, as the Canadian team manager, and my boss texted me “when are you leaving?” I wrote back “now, I’m at the gate” and he replied “ok, check your email when you have a chance, it’s nothing bad.” So obviously I had to check right away. He had asked me if I could take on this new role. I said yes without hesitating.

 

What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

 

Well, I like to think that my legal education has been beneficial to the work I do, but not in the obvious way. For example, right now I’m on a committee at the Coaching Association of Canada that’s revising the code of conduct and code of ethics for Canadian coaches of all sports. So there’s a lot of legal thinking there. In working on curriculum and training strategies, there’s a lot of problem-solving, so in that way my legal training is helpful. There’s also a fair bit of politicking, working with the different provincial associations, and other national organizations, in a very Canadian way.

 

Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

 

I’d say my parents. My dad worked hard driving a truck for years, just getting up at 5am every day and going to work. And my mom stayed home with us. Both of them showed me that you have to work at what you do and be a good person. So whatever I do now, I think of my son and another one on the way and that if I’m trying to further my career or something, that it’s to their benefit. I am really fortunate that I work in something I love. It’s hardly work, to be honest.

At law school, I was older, starting when I was 30, so I think I was not with the “in-crowd” so to speak, but Profs Dedek (another one of your interviewees...is there a pattern here?) and Moyse, who just started teaching that year, were very good to talk to on an equal basis.  

In sport, I’m inspired by other coaches who are always trying to learn, question themselves and their methods, and by athletes who just get results and don’t really have a lot to say about it on social media. Just do work and get results. Sport is about getting the most out of yourself, so all the social media noise is largely irrelevant.

Blood Relations cast from law school

Blood Relations cast from law school

 

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 

I really liked the intellectual challenges. It was all new to me, so anytime I felt like I “got” something or learned something new, that was exciting. I made a couple close friends, who happened to be in a lot of my classes (Timour and Mihaela) so spending time with them was fun. They were both straight out of CEGEP so it was fun that we could connect despite the age difference. And as I mentioned above, the young profs.

 

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 

I’m not a big fan of hierarchy or protocol. So there were things like the fawning respect and awe for professors and judges and partners that I think is misplaced. Maybe that’s why I didn’t make it in the legal profession. But I just think, if someone’s an ass, they are an ass, it doesn’t matter how many degrees they have.

In a similar vein, the students who were fake (so many of them). I remember a cocktail scenario (I won’t name names) where talking to some partners in a firm, this one student put his arm around me like were were best buddies...I was like, you’re too cool for me but now because it makes you look like you are “social” or something you buddy up? No thanks. It probably didn’t help me much that I balked, but he got hired by that firm. I have no patience for games like that.

In general, this idea that McGill is special or elite also bothered me. I have degrees from three universities in Canada (McGill, Waterloo, and UNB), I teach at another (Concordia) and I took classes at a couple other places (UofT and Conestoga College). There are no significant differences in terms of the abilities or intelligence of students.

 

Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?

 

Bar school, mostly, haha. Obviously I’m not the only one, and most people figure it out, but I couldn’t get over the change from “it depends” (standard answer at McGill law that got me good grades) to the very specific “right” answers required by the bar that I couldn’t seem to figure out. It’s disappointing because I was told by some professors and lawyers I respect that they thought I’d be a good lawyer, and I do think I would have been. I’d never failed at anything, especially something academic, so that was a blow. But I am also currently living the dream so I can’t complain too much.

 

Do you still see the law all around you?

 

When I applied to law school, I spoke to a friend who had also done it and he suggested that his reason for going was that the law was the under-pinning of society. If we wanted to know how the world works, we had to know the law. That has stuck with me and I think it’s true.

I probably see the world through a legal lense more than most people. I try to keep in touch in one way or another. I volunteer with inmates of the federal training centre in Laval. I like to read Supreme Court cases for fun.

 

What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

 

Don’t listen to the haters. Avoid the bullshit. Just walk away from people that you feel aren’t genuine, that aren’t going to be a positive influence on you. I don’t mean not to challenge yourself, or to live in a silo or a bubble. That’s a huge problem today. I just mean, don’t feel like you have to do or say things that aren’t you, and if someone tells you that you have to, just say no. Like Nancy Reagan said.

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

Sleep. And anyone who is a parent of small children will give this answer.

 

John and his son cheering for the Leafs

John and his son cheering for the Leafs

Any regrets?

 It would have been fun to be a criminal defense lawyer, but my life would be quite different, and life is good so, no, no regrets, because I’m really happy. I have a great job, great co-workers, a great boss. I work from home. I work with really interesting people as a coach. My family is a source of great joy. So regretting would mean wanting to change something and I worry if I did that, then these things would not be the same.


The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Career Development Office.

Lyla Bradley/ From Banking Law to In House

Lyla holds a bachelor degree in languages and literature from Acadia University and obtained her LLL and J.D (National Program) from the University of Ottawa. Before law school, she taught English at the University of Rouen in France. She articled at a large international firm in Ottawa, and then practiced for a year in banking law in Montreal, and then opted to work in-house for TD Bank.  

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Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

 

I work as in-house corporate counsel for TD Insurance, a division of TD Bank. I work mainly on the contractual side, which entails drafting, negotiating and interpreting various agreements with our suppliers and business partners. I also oversee and help assess the legality of product initiatives. Essentially, I try to help the business side make sound and sensible decisions in order to ensure that the company's practices are compliant with regulations, and that consumers' interests and rights are protected. 

 

Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

 

Not necessarily. I love art and always thought I would be an artist or own a gallery. However, not being able to afford a gallery nor being a talented artist, I decided to transfer my skillset towards a new goal. Given I also enjoyed writing, public speaking, problem solving, I decided to utilize these "skills" and give law school a shot. 

What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are? 

 

Although I wasn't your classic straight A student, I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there, meet people, pick up the phone, attend various events, get involved and ask questions! When I realized the big firm practice was not for me, I looked at other options; having a keen interest on how a business operates, I knew that working in-house would be the best fit for me. Although people you need many years in private practice before making the jump (I only had 1….), that didn't stop me! If you have the required skills and the right attitude, anything is possible. At the end of the day, you will gain experience on the job and learn by doing. 

 

What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

 

As in-house counsel, you don't only provide legal advice; you must also make business decisions in order that the company evolve and succeed, and at the same time you can’t make decisions that would be unfair to customers. Sometimes you're presented with a product or an idea that sounds groundbreaking, but in practice does not make any business sense or is simply illegitimate. You must therefore help guide the organization in its decision-making to reflect this. 

Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

 

Absolutely. I'm lucky to have a very approachable boss and many mentors that I can turn to at any time. People take time at my work to ensure you are making the most of your career and personal development. What I love most about where I work is the incredible support system as well as an invaluable culture that celebrates diversity at the workplace, women in leadership and the community at large. 

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 

Given I was new to Ottawa, and didn't really know many people, I made an effort to get involved in many different extracurricular and fundraising activities as I could. I was kind of shy when I first started law school and becoming VP of the student council forced me to come out of my shell. Also, organizing networking and academic events for the faculty allowed me to meet and mingle with fellow students, jurists and businesspeople within the community most of whom I am still in contact with today.

 

What made your blood boil while at law school?

 

False rumors. My biggest piece of advice is to surround yourself with true people who are good (at least relatively speaking) at handling stress and do not get bogged down by negativity. If I would go back, I would phase it all out because at the end of the day we ALL succeeded!

 

Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?

 

What you learn in school and what you do in practice (private or in-house) is VERY different. In the real world you get to be creative, think outside the box, and use your common sense, which in my view is way more fun than regurgitating the civil code!

 

Do you still see the law all around you?

 

Yes and no. I see law, but I also see business being done and common sense being employed. 

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What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

 

Get involved in whichever way possible; student council, pro bono, a semester abroad, and doing things that are outside of your comfort zone. Also, ask questions, and don't be afraid to sound dumb. 

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

 

Having the opportunity to volunteer more. I would need more than an hour however.

 

Any regrets?

 

No regrets, and very excited to see what the future holds. Regretting is a waste of time!

The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Career Development Office.

 

Hélène Gagnon/ From Environmental Law to Public Affairs

A 1993 graduate of the Faculty, she has worked as a lawyer for 5 years and then moved into public affairs. First, she joined the mining industry and then worked for multinational corporations such as Bombardier and CAE in the transportation and aerospace industries.

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1.    Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

I am Vice President, Public Affairs and Global Communications for CAE Inc., the world leader in flight simulators and pilot training.  CAE, headquartered in Montreal, is a true multinational corporation with 9,000 employees in 160 sites with more than 90% of revenues coming from outside Canada. I manage CAE’s reputation and strengthens relationships with all stakeholders worldwide including employees, media, communities and governments.

2.    Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

Yes since I was very young I had envisaged myself in law school.

3.    At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? 

During my maternity leave, I took the time to think whether I wanted to continue on the path of becoming partner in a big law firm or not. That’s when I decided I wanted to move into the public affairs and communications field instead. I had completed a M.Sc. in Public Administration and Public Policy at the LSE in London. So after my McGill B.C.L. and LL.B. I already had an interest for public policy and public affairs.

4.    What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are? 

I have always been very involved in a lot of organizations and I most often acted as the spokesperson and as someone contributing to the strategy.  Through those numerous activities (I have sat on more than 50 boards of associations in my life from student politics to young chambers of commerce), I have developed my network and perfected my competencies as a communicator.  When it was times to switch careers, I bundled everything I had done into transferable competencies and skills: education, non-profit experience and involvement, 5 years of private practice in environmental law in a big law firm - and jumped in a different role.

5.    What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

I don’t practice law anymore but I keep my title as a lawyer with the continuous education. I leverage my legal background very often - being a lawyer adds credibility with governments when I am lobbying and also with colleagues on the management team of a multinational corporation.  

6.    Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

Many people helped me and inspired me along the way.  In corporations, there are succession planning and leadership development programs. In addition to mentors (who speaks with you to help you develop), you need sponsors (people who will speak about you when you are not in the room). Very often, it is the sponsors that will really propel your career. I have been lucky to have both to allow me to become Vice President in a multinational corporation at 36 years old. 

7.    What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 

At the Faculty, I really enjoyed international public law. Our McGill team won the Rousseau moot competition in that field.  Right after the Faculty, I did a summer internship at the United Nations in New York.  It was one area where I thought I could develop but I decided to practice in environmental law in a big law firm instead to start my career. At the time, it was a new area of the law, not that many people practiced environmental law full time in Montreal. It was a good area to combine my interests in policy and law and work in an area I really cared about.

Hélène at her law school graduation in 1993 .

Hélène at her law school graduation in 1993.

8.    What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 

I had less interest for taxation and corporate law at the time. I did not know I would later end-up on the management team of a publicly-traded corporation and manage the quarterly financial results disclosure! 

9.    Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?

Not so much.  The legal education received at McGill prepared me extremely well - the ability to structure my arguments, to think strategically and not to hesitate to be critical,  to simplify and distill complex situation and issues, to be convincing based on facts, etc.  

10.  Do you still see the law all around you?

 

Absolutely! In a corporation, communications and legal affairs work very closely on a daily basis! I understand the perspective of the legal department very well and can better work with them!

11.  What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

 

Take the courses that interest you now. It will never be too late to learn a new area of the law. I did not take the environmental law class at the Faculty, yet that’s what I practiced for 5 years!  And even though I do not practice law anymore, I have been leading Corporate Social Responsibility for two multinational corporations up until now and therefore kept a foot in sustainable development!

12.  If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

 

I would do more sports. It’s hard to fit exercise in a schedule with lots of business travel and meetings.  I exercise on weekends but would love to have more time to do it everyday. It releases stress and makes me feel so good!

13.  Any regrets?

I have traveled abroad very often when my son was young. I was lucky that his dad was very present and my mom really helped me throughout the years. Sometimes I regret not having been more present everyday for my son but it gave him good travel opportunities early on! He does not look too affected today  as a first-year student at the Faculty of Law !

The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Career Development Office.

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Karen Skinner/ Bringing Business Innovation to the Legal Practice

Karen Dunn Skinner is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a senior attorney with over 20 years of experience practicing law in Canada and Europe. She combines her deep understanding of the legal industry with her training in Lean Six Sigma to provide practical solutions to the competitive and budgetary pressures on practitioners and clients alike. 

Karen is an expert in Lean and process optimization and co-founder of Gimbal Canada Inc. Her work adapting Lean’s business improvement strategies to the legal industry has made her a recognized leader in legal practice innovation. She’s taught Lean and process improvement to thousands of lawyers and legal professionals, and led process improvement projects in law firms and legal departments across North America.  

Karen has a B.Sc. (Honours) from Queen's University, an LL.B./B.C.L. from McGill University’s Faculty of Law, and certification as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Lean Six Sigma Sensei from Villanova University. Karen was a member of the Quebec Bar for over 20 years.

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1.     Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

 

I’m not practicing law now. I recently even let go of my membership at the Bar. However I still work with lawyers all the time. I work as a management consultant in the legal industry. I work with lawyers in law firms, legal departments and government departments across North America helping them become more efficient. I use Lean and Lean Six Sigma  process improvement strategies. Many businesses that are in manufacturing and other services have actually been dong this for 20 years. Law is a little late to the party. It’s using a different way of looking at what you do, looking at legal practice, what value you’re adding, what wastes there are in the work you want to do. Essentially, it’s about delivering more value for clients with less waste. 

We help lawyers achieve better productivity, more efficiency and more streamlined processes. We look at things like how you deliver a legal service like an M&A transaction or the way you do your expense reporting at the end of the month. We look at  both the business and administrative side of the practice of the law and the substantive practice of the law. 

I do this work through Gimbal, a company I founded with my husband, also a lawyer and McGill grad, who spent over 20 yearsworking in big law firms and as general counsel. 

 

2.     Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

 

No, I never imagined myself going to law school. I have an undergraduate degree in Life Sciences from Queen’s University. I specialized in immunology and microbiology. 

I got to about 3rdyear and looked out at all the people who were psychotically pulling their hair trying to get into medical school. I didn’t like the level of competition, I felt people were so driven they were losing the point. I thought, “I can’t do that for 4 years through medical school”. I decided to do something less competitive and less stressful. I had no idea what that would be. I was working in laboratories most of the time. I decided I needed more people. In the immunology labs there were not a lot of people involved. 

 

So I decided to apply to law school. I didn’t know a single person in law school. I didn’t know a single lawyer.  To this day, I am still not entirely sure why I applied to law school, but I did. I wrote the LSAT, got in the 95thpercentile, so I thought, “OK maybe this is the right thing to do,”. I knew nothing about which were good law schools. I chose to apply to schools based on their proximity to the ocean or skiing, and ended up at McGill. 

 

3.     At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? 

I started going in a different direction from the beginning, not always out of practice but in a very different direction. I was working with Heenan Blaikie here and going to bar school. My partner was working for Stikeman Elliott, and Stikeman decided to send him overseas to Hungary While David was there, the managing  partner in the Budapest office called me and offered me a job. I left Heenan, moved to Stikeman, and practiced law in Budapest. That was very different from many of our classmates. 

 At the time, Stikeman represented the Hungarian government in the privatization of the electricity industry. I ended up working predominantly with the regulators, helping develop the regulatory framework. For a brand new lawyer it was an amazing legal experience. I spent 8 hours a day in the regulatory offices working with another Hungarian lawyer and Hungarian energy experts to develop a set of regulations and procedures for this industry. I knew nothing about electricity going in. I learned a lot of Hungarian, a lot about the energy industry, and a huge amount about drafting regulation. I didn’t know that I would like regulatory law, but I did. I really enjoyed that work a lot.  

I worked on other things while I was in Hungary, but predominantly my main focus was this regulatory work, supporting the Hungarian Energy Office. I absolutely loved it. It was an incredible opportunity—to have that much exposure to clients as a junior lawyer. It was also an incredibly time to be in Eastern Europe. This was 1994 to 1996. Things were really new and fresh in Hungary. We saw Viktor Orban at the beginning, when he just started Fidesz. Now he’s gone in a very different direction…he started out so well. 

The Stikeman office quickly grew to become one of the largest firms in Hungary. We partnered with a Hungarian firm, and they also grew quickly. Together, we did a great deal of the privatization work, and other corporate/commercial work as well.  

We had great lawyers from Stikeman’s Toronto offices but the core of the lawyers came from Montreal. I think one of the reasons was that people from the Montreal office had additional skills that made it easier to function in a foreign country. We already all spoke more than one language. Being surrounded by another language all the time didn’t faze us, and most people learned enough Hungarian to get by. 

 Also, we were all used to working in more than one legal system. That made a big difference. The Hungarian system is civil law, as is our system here. Most countries that were trying to buy into the electricity industry were also civil law jurisdictiona. We had an ability to work across systems and we were used to looking at things through a comparative optic. We could build transaction documents that worked that way. I really believe coming out of this trans-systemic system, withexposure to multiple legal systems, made it easier to work overseas. 

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4.     What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?

 

A bit like my decision to go to law school, where I am now evolved out of a series of decisions that were never really focused or planned. Going overseas was an opportunity; I took it. Going from there to London was an opportunity to study; I took it. Coming back to Canada was something that had to happen. We moved back after almost 10 years overseas.  It was just time to go back. But because I had worked with clients overseas, I used that experience to build a practice here. 

In my private practice, I did corporate finance work for clients in Central and Eastern Europe. I supported their multi-jurisdictional transactions. Essentially, I acted as a legal process outsourcer. They would send me their letters of intent and the terms, I would build the transaction documentation. Whether it was to sell companies in the Czech Republic , Turkey, Holland or Cyprus….I did all the paperwork. Corporate finance transactions involve a lot of mergers and acquisitions and different types of commercial transactions. I did that from here for my clients in Eastern Europe. I still really liked regulatory law so I was also involved in some regulatory work in Canada as well. I worked with schools and school boards. 

Then, I decided I wanted to get back into a law firm environment but I didn’t necessarily want a Big Lawpractice. Around the same time, my partner’s business was shifting. He had been at Stikeman, and then at Freshfields in London, and finally worked in-house as general counsel for 10 years. He was also looking for something else to do. Through his practice he had become convinced that there was a way a better way to deliver legal services. I’d been working in my own entrepreneurial way to deliver services differently. Together we decided to explore this. I took courses in Lean and Lean Six Sigma. We determined that they could work in the legal industry. We have now spent the last 6 years adapting basic business management and improvement strategies to our law, to help solve problems in service delivery. These strategies are already being used in other industries, including financial services and healthcare. We just adapted them to the industry we know best, which is law. 

 

5.     What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

 

It’s not a practice! It’s definitely lawful but it’s uncommon. I think we’re probably the only ones in Canada doing this, but we have some competitors in the US. We teach lawyers and other people working in law firms (professionals, people in the back office who support the profession and make it possible for lawyers to do what they do). We speak, we teach, we deliver conferences, and we work directly with law firms and in-house legal departments. We facilitate process improvement and practice management projects. We travel all over North America (we have a terrible carbon footprint, I’ll have to plant a lot of trees). If you look at my practice overall, it was pretty uncommon from the beginning. 

 

6.     Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

 

I don’t think I had any mentors. I’ve kind of done my own thing. I didn’t have a mentor in law school, I had professors I liked in law and in my science degree, but I can’t say I actually had a mentor. 

 

7.     What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 

I loved criminal law. I also liked constitutional law but I really liked criminal law. It’s funny; when I think about it I’m not entirely sure why I don’t practice criminal law. I think it’s because I had this opportunity to go overseas. When I was starting my PHD, I began by researching corporate criminal responsibility. I was trying to bring together my corporate practice and my love for criminal law. My thesis ended up shifting over time away from that for a number of reasons. I ended up looking more at how corporate governance developed because my focus was on Eastern Europe, and there wasn’t enough there to make a thesis on corporate criminal responsibility. I then started looking at the development of corporate governance structures and how they were developing in Eastern Europe.  

 

8.     What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 

Ok, so property made me snooze, whether it was civil law property or  common law property. It has nothing to do with the Professor Glen; she was great. Property law is simply not something I enjoyed.

Your question is interesting, because what made me snooze and what made my blood boil happened in the same class. In Civil Law Property, there was one thing that still sticks with me. There was a practitioner teaching, I don’t remember his name. He wasn’t a member of the faculty.

He said something that was so appalling that I always regretted not calling him out. He was discussing the exam and he was discussing who got what marks on the exam. He was talking about what he had expected and what he had got in terms of responses. 

The professor said one student had done a really great job because he had used humour as well in his answers. The fact pattern had to do with a person with an Asian name who had bought a piece of property, and this student had underlined the letters W, O, G in a sentence in his answer. WOG was a very derogatory term for an Asian man. The professor told us it came from Wiley Oriental Gentleman. This prof thought the slur was really funny and showed the student’s creativity.

I thought it was disgusting. He was basically praising this student in front of the class for making a racist comment in an exam answer. I didn’t say anything because I’d done so badly on the exam and the professor was so unpleasant that I expected he would just say I was whining because I got a C. So I stayed quiet. And I have regretted it ever since. I should have stood up and said what I wanted to say, , “are you seriously telling me that you gave more points to a student for making a racist comment than for people who just wrote the answers to the fact pattern?” 

 So that’s what made my blood boil in law school. To the school’s credit, I’m not sure that particular man ever taught a course at the Faculty again. I am also sure it wouldn’t happen today, and if anything came close, today’s students would be braver than I was, and would stand up and call out anyone who was so innapropriate. 

 

9.     Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?

 

Ha, I had to learn Hungarian! 

But no I don’t think so.  Apart from that, I didn’t feel like it was a superhuman challenge. 

 

10.  Do you still see the law all around you?

 

Of course the law is everywhere, even if I don’t practice anymore. It’s in the way I think about problems, and the way I read and write. It’s in my daily work. I think about the profession, how it works, and what its future holds every day. And of course family and friends still ask for free legal advice. 

 

11.  What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

 

I think that students should realize that probably 70% of the need for legal services in this country goes unmet. If you want to really make a difference, you should be looking at ways to fix that problem. It’s a huge problem and I think to solve that there are a couple of things that students need to be looking at. 

They need to think about what they really want to do. IF they want to work in the towers downtown or on Bay Street, great; they can have successful careers and they’ll be well equipped to do that. But that is only answering the needs of a tiny fraction of the population. To solve some of the problems we have in access to justice and to learn how to have a practice that’s anything other than a big law practice, you have to learn a few different skills. 

I have a long wish list for what I think lawyers should learn. Obviously, they can’t learn everything (and certainly not in first year), but here goes: 

One of the things I think the Faculty is trying to do now is to expose students to a range of different alternatives, which I think is a brilliant idea. I know other law schools are going farther and exposing students to a range of skills as well. I would recommend that all lawyers take an accounting course (I know the Faculty is offering one now, which is great). Because while a lot of people will end up in the towers, a lot of people will also end up running their own practices. To do that, you need to know basic accounting. 

Students should get some business skills. You’re not  going to learn it in law school and you’re not going to learn it at the Bar, but you’re probably going to have to run your own business some day. Right now, no one teaches you how to run your own practice. Law is a business, but the business model—partnership—doesn’t always lend itself to thinking like a business.

In the future, I think a growing section of the population of lawyers will need to know how to run their own business and they’ll need to run them more effectively. They’re going to need to be more competitive, more creative in the types of solutions that they offer. They’ll need to use technology more effectively. When you start to practice, you’ll find that people don’t use everything that’s available to them. For example, they’ll use only a fraction of what’s available on Word. It’s the same with many practice systems. They’re just not used fully.

Systems thinking and process improvement are other skills I think lawyers should learn. What is considered normal behaviour for many business sectors is not necessarily considered normal behaviour in law. This idea of innovating—of constantly looking for a better way to delivery your service or your product—doesn’t happen the same way in law firms. You get so focused on the billable hour that you don’t take time to learn other skills that help you become a better lawyer, or think about how you could do something differently. 

In my ideal world, lawyers would take the time to look at how they actually practice and how they work and from a process perspective. What can I do better each time? What’s the same every time? What could be improved every time? Everything can be improved. 

We rely on tradition in the way we act as lawyers, but sometimes tradition is just there because it’s there and not because it works. I’d like people to think about different ways of working to be more efficient. 

I think everyone should take a design-thinking course. In design thinking, like with Lean, you look at a problem from the perspective of the client. Law firms are built for lawyers and yet a huge part of the population isn’t being served and would be too intimidated to walk into a big firm downtown. How do we fix that? You need to have creative ideas and design thinking is a really neat way to approach problems from a client’s perspective. What does that client need? What would work for them? Create a prototype, test it out, do some innovative development, and if it fails try again! Oh, there are lots of things I could tell first year students. 

  

12.  If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be? 

I’d go to the gym everyday. 

 

13.  Any regrets?

No, there are things I would have liked to do but no, no regrets (apart from not calling out that Civil Law Property prof back in second year). 

 

Elise Groulx/ Leading the Way in Business and Human Rights Law

After a long career as a criminal defence lawyer in Montreal, Elise became well known internationally for her work at the United Nations to support the creation of the International Criminal Court. She now practices as an international human rights lawyer in Europe and the United States. She is recognized as an expert on issues of corporate liability in the international context and the wider field of Business and Human Rights. In 2012 she won the Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award of the International Commission of Jurists and CBA, and was honoured by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for her career of human rights advocacy. She has also received awards and medals from the Quebec Bar, the Paris Bar and the University of Montreal law school, as well as the Champion of Justice Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL/USA) .


Elise Groulx was admitted to practice law in France and was sworn in at the Court of Appeal in Paris (July 3rd, 2013). She is now a licensed lawyer of the Paris Bar. Elise was also sworn in by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, First Judicial Department, as a Legal Consultant (January 7th, 2014). She holds a law degree from Université de Montréal and an LLM from the London School of Economics and Political Science and two post-graduate certificates from the law school of Université Panthéon Assas (Paris II). 

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Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

 

After pursuing post-graduate studies in Europe, I started practicing as a public defender.  I guess that is as close as I came to following a traditional path in the legal profession. At the criminal division of Legal Aid in Montreal, I learned the skills it takes to be a courtroom litigator and a criminal defence attorney. Afterwards, I pursued my career in private practice, also in criminal law, for several years and then became involved in the development of the international criminal tribunals (for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda). This work led me to become involved as an advocate for the international legal profession in the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a permanent institution.  

 

While pursuing this international work I learned advocacy skills, negotiations techniques and public diplomacy. I also worked closely with civil society and a large coalition of about 2,000 NGOs supporting the creation of the ICC under the umbrella of the UN treaty system. My skills as a litigator were useful but they had to be adapted to this new environment. 

I am now working in a fast growing field called Business and Human Rights. My platforms are a boutique-consulting firm based in Washington, DC, and the prestigious Human Rights Chambers in London, Doughty Street Chambers where I was admitted as an Associate Tenant in 2014. Business and Human Rights is an emerging field of legal practice focused on advising corporations about how they can engage with stakeholders and respect international and local human rights standards. These norms are set out in national legislation and a variety of international soft law instruments and guidelines designed to promote Responsible Business Conduct.  One of the key areas of development is aligning the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (also known as the UNGPS) with UN programmes such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

 

Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

 

Yes.  I decided I wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer when I was 15. 

As mentioned earlier, I was a public defender for 10 years, then I pursued my career by developing my own practice in a boutique law firm but because I I had studied political science prior to going to law school and then studied abroad (human rights and comparative criminal law), I became fascinated in pursuing the marriage of law and politics. Hence, when the new international tribunals were being created in the 1990s, I immediately looked for ways to get involved.  To plunge in the international arena I needed a vehicle so I created two international NGOS. I first created of the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association (ICDAA) that led me to establish the International Criminal Bar to ensure that the legal profession was recognized as the third pillar of Justice.  These vehicles enabled me to take part in the negotiations surrounding the creation of the international criminal court. I learned a new way to practice my trade and worked in public policy. I was involved in facilitating negotiations involving NGOs and States. It also forced me to think of the law in a different way and understand how policy and politics were so interconnected as the new international justice system is at heart very political. In that context I wanted to insure fair trial rights and due process, the only way to achieve justice. A strong and independent legal profession was the only way to get there in my opinion. I worked closely with bars associations, practising lawyers, NGOs, academics and different actors from around the world about these issues. It opened my perspective to a large span of new horizons. 

 

At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? 

 

It happened gradually through my different legal experience.  I never wanted to stop being a litigator. I pursued both paths for a while but at some point to really advance my agenda I had to make a choice. While observing the development of the creation of the international criminal court which first objective was the end of impunity, I thought to myself “what is the next phase?”  My perspective, combining my knowledge of criminal law and NGOs and civil society thinking, led me to become convinced that demanding more accountability on the part of multinational corporations was going to be the next phase. 

 I used my platform as head of two NGOs to start giving a number of speeches on these issues. That’s how I created my space in this new field that eventually became known as “Business and Human Rights”. In March 2013 I helped organized an international conference on corporate accountability in conflict-affected areas; it was held in Paris. The French Government and the French Bars supported my initiative. The American Bar Association became closely involved. 


My focus was until 2010 on international criminal law and corporate liability in conflict affected areas. By 2010, I felt that international criminal law was too narrow an approach. It did not help to promote change because criminal law scares actors too much. I decided to expand my expertise and gradually started practicing as an international human rights lawyer looking at labour issues. Through my career I reinvented myself many times. You can reinvent yourself in law if you’re audacious and opt to be creative and innovative. This is much more possible today than when I started my career. There are so many ways to reinvent yourself.  So many challenges present themselves in today’s world the path is wide open for young people. 


What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?

 

I believe that I am an entrepreneur at heart and used those skills in the legal arena. I took a lot of initiatives to develop my space in the international arena. I had no alternative but to create my own NGOs to participate in the establishment of the international criminal court and find a cause, a mission that I was passionate about. I had to adapt my litigator advocacy skills, as they had to change when I entered the field of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is not adversarial like litigation before a Court of law. I was kindly and not so kindly informed about that by UN diplomats when I first appeared on the scene of these international forums 

 

What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

 

I have been a pioneer in a lot of the initiatives I pursued. I don’t want to sound pretentious but rather encourage young lawyers to be creative and pursue their passions and their dreams. I created an NGO that didn’t exist and this led to the creation of another one that I also led.  Later I helped build an area of legal practice that has only been officially recognized in the last few years. As you believe you are moving forward, you always think that you have so many people enthusiastic about what you do you and that you are working as a team. But then you turn around and the path appears empty. They’re not really with you and you can’t do that work alone. You constantly have to find to gather a team of committed people to go forward. 

  

Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

 

Not one person but many humanists not just for what they did or do but mostly how they do it, advancing the human cause in an inclusive way. It does not matter if these people are famous or not. People who do the extra thing to help others always inspire me.

 

Let me tell you an anecdote that you may like.

When I had the idea of advocating for the defence in the new international tribunals I was attending a conference in Belgium in July 1996.  Louise Arbour was just appointed chief prosecutor of the ICTY. I was very shocked to notice that the defence seemed to have been forgotten, not properly recognized and incorporated in the new legal instruments supporting the legal institutions that were being set up. The idea was basically to “prosecute persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law” (sic). The title of these courts (ICTY and ICTR…) casts a doubt on the place of the presumption of innocence from their inception. I told Louise Arbour that this system was being developing with a very weak defence pillar. She said to me, “You seem so passionate about it, maybe you should try do something about it”. I told her I would.  I had no network, no resources but since I told her I was going to try, I had to try. I certainly wanted to meet the challenge.  

 

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 

I wanted to be a criminal lawyer so I was passionate about criminal law. I tried to excel in these topics and I really loved it. I loved the matter, the topic, and the intellectual challenge but also felt very attracted to putting this knowledge to practical application. I wanted to be a litigator and a court lawyer. I wanted to give the most vulnerable, the underdog a voice and some hope. 

 

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 

I thought people were so conservative. I didn’t feel I belonged in the group. Overall, I felt people were too conformist, they appeared too much to act and react by the book and seemed narrow-minded, too often led by a desire to make money. They were not “contestataires”. I always was and have remained a rebel in many ways.  This certainly makes life more difficult and challenging but in this day and age I believe it is essential to test conventional wisdom. What made me snooze? Fiscal and corporate law, insurance law, which ironically, I am now learning a lot about in my business and human rights, practice. 

  

Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?

 

There were huge challenges when I changed careers because when you try to do something that’s not been done you’re basically creating a path. I was a mother of three young children and I was trying to build a career that became more and more international with very little institutional support.

 

Do you still see the law all around you?

 

I do but I see the law as a tool, not as an end. For me it’s a tool and it’s a very good one.  It enables institutions to achieve accountability. The law is very useful for that. It is also very good at framing issues in a practical and achievable way.

What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

Find your calling, your mission and be passionate in pursuing it. When you’re not passionate, you become bored. Everything you may become automatic. The motivation of always wanting to make more money is not a passion. One lawyer once told me, “You’re lucky, you found your passion. I went after money; I didn’t pursue my passion. Today I’m very rich but I don’t have a passion, I’m not sure what I’ve accomplished.” You have to be inspired by what you do and believe your are contributing to change that will enable a better world. You want to inspire people to give all they have to help improve the life of so many people that are in such terrible conditions.  This is what law and being a lawyer should serve. We need to find a way to work together, share and collaborate and exchange. In the last 20 years we have seen corporate profits soar and wages stagnate, that greed has given rise to unprecedented and unsustainable economic inequality. 

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

Probably work, I don’t think I’d do anything else. 

 Any regrets?

No I don’t have regrets. I assume everything I’ve done. There’s no way to go back anyway .I look and live in the present but I always look forward to tomorrow. That’ state of mind has not left me, which in a way is a blessing. 

 

For more information on Elise’s work, check out these links! 

 

http://www.womeninforeignpolicy.org/law/2016/7/6/elise-groulx

“Modern Slavery in Our Lives”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czjYsGwWImA

 Elise’s website

http://www.elisegroulx.com/en/index.html

Doughty Street Chambers’ s profile:

https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/print/pdf/node/149

Forum on Business and Human Rights

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2018ForumBHR.aspx

Alex Shee/ From Corporate Law to Corporate Development at Element AI

As the Head of the Office of the CEO and a Director of Corporate Development at Element AI, Alex Shee leads the company’s strategic partnership and investment initiatives. With a background in mergers and acquisitions law and venture investing, he brings a focused energy and passion to helping companies develop transformative AI business applications.

As one of Element AI’s first hires, he has been integral to the company’s rapid growth in Asia, having helped establish offices in Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo. Since 2017, he has also contributed to the company’s investment in OmniRobotic, partnership with Automat and joint venture with Takano, as well as the creation of a $45M global AI fund to accelerate open AI innovation with Hyundai, SKT and Hanwha.  

An adventurer at heart, Alex enjoys taking on big challenges (like climbing to the 17,600 ft. Mt. Everest base camp) and brings this same drive to amplifying Element AI’s impact on people's lives around the world. An active member of the startup community, he co-founded Montreal’s Notman House Young Founders Circle, as well as Product Hunt MTL. He has also been a mentor at FounderFuel, TechStars, Innocité, and Hacking Health Accelerator programs, coaching over forty startups.

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 1.     Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

 

I work at Element AI as Head of the Office of the CEO and Director of Corporate Development. What that tangibly means is that I work on 3 main pillars: first, strategic partnerships, the second is mergers and acquisition and the third is overall strategy of the company. 


2. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?


No, I had no idea that I was going to go to law school. When I was in CEGEP, I had a political science professor that came to me one day and said, “Alex, I think given the type of interest you have and the kind of work you want to do, I think you’d be a really good fit for McGill Law and law school”. He handed me a reference letter.  Law was not on my radar, but I respected this professor, so I looked into it. I wanted to have a career in something that had a direct and positive impact on people’s lives. Law school became obvious choice for that. Given McGill’s focus on human rights and the intersection between society and law, I thought it was super interesting and that’s why I decided to go to law school. 


3. At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? 

It was after a year of practicing as a lawyer in corporate law that I realized that I didn’t see myself having a career in law.  I started exploring what my other interests were and I quickly discovered that I really loved working with entrepreneurs and with start-ups. I started reorienting my practice in the law firm around helping start-ups. A few of those companies did really well. After one of the financings, the investors called me and said, “Would you like to join us?” I thought it was a joke. I told him I didn’t want to do a legal role if I changed jobs. He said, “That’s exactly why I was calling. I’d love for you to join our investment team.” 

So I did 7 interviews and one case study in two weeks and then I got a job offer to work in venture capital at Real Ventures. 


4. What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?

One of the most important things is that I actually followed my interests. While I was a lawyer, I was able to discover that I liked to work with start-ups. Because I liked to work with start-ups I did more and more work with them. I really followed my interests and that led me on the path to become an investor and now to work in a start-up. 

 I was very honest with myself and I figured, “Ok. I want to have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives. I want to operate in a business. So what can I do that will allow me to accomplish both?” I feel that start-ups often times create innovative products and shape new ways of looking at the world. They’re often a vehicle for really great positive impact. For me it became obvious by following my interests that I could get to a point where I was actually doing something that fulfilled my objectives. 


5. What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

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It’s not in law. I do no more legal work. I work in a field that is completely different than what I studied, artificial intelligence but it’s something I feel will have a tremendous impact on the world around us. I want to help shape it to have a positive impact on the world. 


6. Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

A few people inspired me. I think my biggest mentors were actually my peers. People around me inspire me with their small acts of courage. I am always motivated by people that stand up for what they believe or take the path which is more difficult to fulfil their objectives and potential. 


7. What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 

I loved participating in student run activities. I was president of the LSA, I was involved in a ton of different extra-curricular and fundraising activities. I liked anything that had to do with meeting people with different perspectives than myself. I love debating and discussing new ideas. I also loved giving back to my peers and the community. That’s what I found fascinating and that’s what got my juices flowing. 



8. What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 

Civil law obligations in second year made me fall asleep. I was not a big fan. I think it was on Thursday mornings. I’m not a morning person so that wasn’t necessarily the best for me. That was not the thing that woke me up.  



9. Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?



There’s a lot of differences between law school and private practice or even what I’m doing now. What was difficult was applying the frameworks that I learned in law school into real world situations and finding solutions that were different and imaginative. But I feel that I had the foundations to do that because of law school. For me it’s always been a really good tool. The actual material I learned in law school was less important than the way I thought about the world, the way I wrote and the way that I am now able to view problems and solutions. 


10. Do you still see the law all around you?

 

No. I see a lot of different things around me. I see law as a tool and sometimes as a constraint, but I don’t see it all around me. I actually see a world, especially in the AI field, that has yet to define its limits. 


11. What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

 

Be honest with yourself. Discover what you’re passionate about, go deep into that, and then try to meet people outside of your immediate environment that can teach you about that field. 

 


12. If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

 

Help other people. If I could have one hour every day and I would know that it would be dedicated to doing something on a regular basis, I would try and help people within my community and do more community work. 



13. Any regrets?

None. I feel really lucky because I feel like every time I felt like I needed to do a change I’ve taken it, and when I don’t know something I learn. It’s given me tons of opportunities but no major regrets. 

Helge Dedek/ Law Professor at McGill University

Helge Dedek is a professor of law at McGill University. https://www.mcgill.ca/law/about/profs/dedek-helge

Professor Dedek at his desk.

Professor Dedek at his desk.

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

No, not at all. I saw myself on an academic career path quite early on, but in the Humanities. I then chose law instead in a conscious attempt to be more ‘practical’, if you will – to make sure that any theoretical leanings do not turn into escapism. It is not without irony that I wound up in academia anyway. Obviously, something drew me to the ivory tower… However, I still feel that I succeeded of in my ambition to be more practical, at least to some degree: even if the research component of the job may take you to quite lofty realms at times (my work focuses on legal history and theory), it is particularly the teaching aspect, and especially the teaching in core areas such as contracts (a course I’ve been teaching regularly in the last years) that keeps me grounded and in touch with the real-life disputes behind the cases. I also really like the fact that my students will go out into the world and make very meaningful contributions, and I enjoy the idea that our interactions may somehow have played a role in these stories.

 

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

I did consider practicing and tried it out for a while. I had a good job as a transactional lawyer, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I didn’t take the decision lightly to give up this job. There are always two sides to things: when I made the decision, I already knew that life would be easier if I just stayed the course – but also pretty clearly laid out and, just for me personally, less fulfilling. So I decided to take the leap. I don’t regret having tried it - my stint in practice, no matter how short, has proven to be an invaluable experience, for teaching and research alike. I had the good fortune to work with lawyers who were excellent at their jobs; I have a great deal of respect for – skillful and ethical – practice. 

Btw, I don’t think that teaching law in general is ‘lawfully uncommon’ in the sense of an unusual and creative way of putting one’s law degree to use. What made my case possibly a bit more uncommon is that it also involved getting used to a new academic home. My law degrees are from Germany and the US. Legal education is still quite jurisdiction-specific; this can be also felt in legal academia, which is still more ‘localized’ (one could also say: more parochial) than other academic fields. It is therefore still less usual – and maybe in that way ‘lawfully uncommon’ – for a legal academic to go abroad to teach than, say, for a sociologist or a mathematician.

Close to my desk – taken in Manhattan, Carnegie Hall Tower, interning for a large firm, a long long time ago. There were no smart phones, not even digital cameras; one of my fellow interns must have brought a camera for some reason and caught me staring into the sunset instead of at my files.

Close to my desk – taken in Manhattan, Carnegie Hall Tower, interning for a large firm, a long long time ago. There were no smart phones, not even digital cameras; one of my fellow interns must have brought a camera for some reason and caught me staring into the sunset instead of at my files.

 

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

I found law truly fascinating as an endeavour to create conditions that make peaceful human coexistence possible, against all odds. Elementary, grand, and tragic at the same time – so quintessentially human. Still feel that way.

 

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

The fact that it is easy to lose sight of that; and that it is then all too easy to get caught up in the competitiveness and unpleasantness among students that is, unfortunately, not uncommon in law schools. 

 

Do you still see law all around you?

Absolutely. Reading countless cases focusing exclusively on human interaction somehow gone awry instills you inevitably with an acute sense of there being literally no limit to the variety of ways in which things can go wrong. I find that particularly as a parent, I pretty much always think in worst-case scenarios – a tendency probably common to all new parents, but in my case clearly exacerbated by the terrifying knowledge of too many freakish Torts cases. 

Professor Dedek with his son.

Professor Dedek with his son.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

I have to say that the older I get, the more hesitant I am becoming when it comes to giving life advice… Our experiences are so unique and personal and barely generalizable. Maybe that’s something I would say: try to benefit from advice and shared experiences as much as you can, but don’t let these get in your head and limit yourself somehow, they’re still another person’s experiences, not yours – for it is these kinds of dynamics that, for example, contribute to ‘uncommon’ legal careers often not being considered thoroughly enough. And don’t ever listen to coffee house advice when it’s one of those where they serve booze, period.  

 

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

Each day looks different. One of the intriguing aspects about academia is that it is basically a combination of different jobs: teaching is a fairly extroverted activity that brings intense periods of interaction with groups and individuals; while research and writing is fairly withdrawn and requires peace and quiet – periods of ‘scholarly contemplation’, if you will. Then there are administrative duties; this aspect can feel a lot like other office jobs, rushing from one committee meeting to the next and trying to deal with a couple of emails in between, and maybe writing a memo, a recommendation, or a peer review of an article, or getting started on grading a paper. Most of the time, each day brings a bit of each of these components, with an alternating emphasis on teaching, reading, and writing (and the constant of a ceaseless, never-ending stream of emails – don’t imagine Sisyphus happy).

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

What is that quote again: ‘Time expands, then contracts, all in tune with the stirrings of the heart’? So probably just more of the same. Sadly – or not!  

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that)

 Yeah, I’m not!!!

 

Susan Zimmerman/Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research

Susan Zimmerman is the Executive Director, Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research. The Secretariat is a joint office created by CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC (the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council).

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Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

I must confess the answer is yes. I would rather have been a dancer (ballet), but I figured out early on I didn’t have the talent for that demanding career. Law was a close second. My dad was a lawyer of a kind you don’t see much anymore – general practice, mostly on his own or in small firms, mix of litigation, commercial, family, even a bit of criminal defence work. I loved listening to him talk about his clients, their problems and how he resolved them.

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

It was a pretty circuitous route. I never sought a career in a big law firm. For my Ontario articles, I chose what was then the small Toronto branch of a large Montreal firm. For my Quebec articles, I did end up in a large Montreal firm, and worked there for a couple of years. While I learnt a lot, and the work was interesting, it wasn’t the right fit. I left to work for the President of the original Law Reform Commission of Canada. It was fascinating to work on policy issues, including briefs to parliamentary committees on issues such as abortion and euthanasia. When the Commission and every other think tank in the federal government were abolished in a single day by the federal budget of 1992, I knew I wanted to continue to work in legal policy. I became the Director of Legislation and Law Reform at the Canadian Bar Association, and that eventually led to a job with Justice, as legal counsel at Health Canada. I was responsible for advising the federal government on how to interpret and enforce the Canada Health Act, at a time when the government was looking to tackle compliance – for example, the lack of access to abortion services in certain provinces, and the growing phenomenon of some physicians charging fees for medically necessary services. I felt I was doing something important and making a difference. Next came an opportunity to serve as Director of Research of the new Law Commission of Canada (yes, the Liberals resurrected, in a new form, what the Tories had abolished) and to work for Rod Macdonald, one of my favorite McGill law profs, who had been appointed Chair. 

After a few years there, I did a Masters in Law at that rival institution, U of T, then tried a large law firm again, this time focusing on health law. Just confirmed what I had known already – not a good fit, and not a good place to provide legal policy advice. After that, I hit my stride at a job that provided (and still provides) a great mix of policy, law, and public interest. I head an office responsible for drafting, interpreting and ensuring compliance with the ethics and integrity policies for Canada’s three main research funding agencies. It’s endlessly interesting, has national and international scope and still makes me feel like I’m making a difference for everyone affected by research (which is, when you think about it, all of us).

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

I loved litigation, so I really enjoyed mooting. I was part of the Gale Cup Moot Team in third year. I loved that feeling of having to master all aspects of a case, anticipate the best counterarguments to your own arguments, think on your feet and respond to whatever might be thrown at you.

I also enjoyed research – digging deep into a topic, seeing what others have said about it, and figuring out your own position. I was part of the McGill Law Journal for two years. The experience instilled in me a respect for the importance of going back and checking sources, a quality that serves me well in my current job which includes, among other things, keeping researchers honest about the claims they make in their work.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

Injustice has always made my blood boil. Studying law, you are exposed to many examples of injustice and how people fought it. They don’t always win. I always knew I would be most fulfilled using my knowledge of the legal system to help make law more just. 

As for snoozing – I could never get excited about real property or corporate law. Still can’t.

Do you still see law all around you?

Absolutely. Although my current role is not classified as a legal position, the basic elements of ethics and integrity are grounded in concepts that are fundamental to law: fairness, due process, equity, respect for persons, consent, autonomy… they go on and on. 

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

Do what you love. It sounds trite, and it’s hard advice to follow at first, when you haven’t got much experience and you’re keen to just get out and get a job. But inevitably, you shine when you are working at things that matter to you, that inspire you, or that get your creative juices flowing. It might not be a particular field of law – it might be a particular work environment. Public service is not always viewed as a desirable career path – but at its best, it offers opportunities to improve society across a wide range of fields – opportunities that rarely exist in private practice, and often only as a pro bono add-on to one’s daily responsibilities. 

The working world is a much more diverse place than we realize, and it is even more diverse now than it was when I was a law student. Legal knowledge is a great advantage in a wide variety of pursuits. Don’t limit yourself when imagining what you can do with a law degree.

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

There’s never a dull moment. My small team is responsible for responding to requests from researchers, research ethics boards and academic administrators across the country, wanting guidance on how to apply our policies to issues that arise in the course of research. What research incentives constitute coercion? How do we protect the privacy of research participants who donated human biological materials? How do you reconcile the benefits of sharing research to advance knowledge with the need to protect proprietary interests in research data? 

Apart from the research ethics side of my work, my office is also responsible for receiving and reviewing reports from institutions across the country when they have investigated allegations of breach of responsible conduct of research. These include acts like plagiarism, falsification and fabrication of data, mismanagement of research funds, improper attribution of authorship on scholarly papers, misrepresentation on applications for funding, improper treatment of research animals, failure to treat human research participants ethically… Truly, no two files are alike. We then brief an independent advisory panel of experts, who recommend an appropriate recourse for the presidents of the funding agencies. This can result in researchers getting a mild letter of awareness about what they did wrong, to revoking their eligibility for funding for a limited period, or, in the worst cases, permanently. These recourses can have a significant impact on a researcher’s career, so we need to consider the seriousness of the breach and the impact it has had on the public record before providing our advice. 

Sometimes the day gets interrupted by a request from the media to comment on a hot issue, or from a Minister’s office for information.  Like I said, never a dull moment.

Susan speaking at the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio in 2015.

Susan speaking at the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio in 2015.

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

Spend more time with friends! As we get older and our responsibilities increase, we get so caught up our world of work and home. As students, we always had a chance to hang out with friends. Now, those fun and interesting people are managing firms, running universities, sitting on the bench – and they live all over the world. 

On the professional side, I would love an extra hour to just sit and reflect on the bigger picture of what I do. It’s too easy to lose sight of that strategic vision when you’re responding to the demands of the day. I’d love more time to read the literature in my field, see what others are thinking, and flex those intellectual muscles that were so essential in law school.

Any regrets?

Wish I hadn’t felt the need to try to make it at a big firm. Twice. But not sorry I had the exposure to that environment.

Wish I’d done my Master’s in London (England) when I had the opportunity, instead of worrying that it wouldn’t help me get a good job when I returned. Pretty ironic that the “secure” job I opted not to leave disappeared when the Law Reform Commission was abolished a year later. Bit of a lesson there…?

 

Isabel Schurman/ Criminal Defence From Legal Aid to Private Practice

Isabel Schurman, Ad. E. is a criminal defence lawyer. Having graduated from McGill in 1983, she did her articling with Legal Aid and passed the bar in 1984. She worked with the firm of Lapointe, Schachter, Champagne, Talbot from 1985 to 1999 until she began her own firm, Schurman, Longo, Grenier, now SGS Avocats. She has served with the National Criminal Section of the Canadian Bar Association and is Vice Chair of the Canadian Council of Defence Lawyers since 1992. She has also served on numerous Montreal Bar Association Criminal Justice Committees since 1996, including Access to Justice in English amongst others. She served as a member of the faculty of the Federation of Law Societies National Criminal Law Program from 2001 to 2014 and taught sentencing and evidence as a Sessional Lecturer at McGill University from 1997 to 2014.

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

 I never in a million years imagined myself going to law school. I was in a public high school, and though I had very good marks, every time I would ask the guidance counselors what I should look at for a career, they would try to direct me to teaching or nursing, or what were perceived as good careers for a woman.  When I gave the valedictory speech for my high school graduating class, one of my teachers came to see me after and asked if I had ever considered law.  I said, “no, because I’ve never met a lawyer I liked. ” The truth was that I had never met a lawyer, but I was too proud to say so.  Luckily, I had been very involved in high school journalism, and wanted to make my career in journalism.  I worked full time as a journalist inside of various companies for a few years after high school, and I wrote freelance for some newspapers.  Once I had done this for a while, I decided that I needed more of an education in order to have the opportunity to write about subjects which I considered of importance and which really interested me. I entered law school in order to acquire that background.  I never intended to practice.

Isabel after having passed the Bar

Isabel after having passed the Bar

 

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

 Like many students at McGill, I applied for an articling position well in advance, and was offered a position with a firm specializing in Maritime Law.  They literally hired their candidates two years in advance.  I applied because I was afraid of being out of work at the end of the program.  When I went through with the application process, years in advance of the articling, I had no idea what interested me.  I did know that the only course that I really loved was criminal law, but it was a known fact that the organizations or firms in that field of specialty did not even begin interviewing articling candidates until only a few months before the beginning of the articling jobs.  It was also a known fact that there were very few openings in that field. 

 

Isabel with husband Bernard at her swearing in at the American College of Trial Lawyer Conference in Washington, 2010.

Isabel with husband Bernard at her swearing in at the American College of Trial Lawyer Conference in Washington, 2010.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 While I was in law school I really enjoyed the criminal law classes and I loved the work at the Legal Information Clinic.  The common thread is that I clearly loved seeing the application of law to ordinary people and their problems.  The human drama part of criminal law stirred my passion.

 

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

 The selection of courses, and the priorities of many students and professors made the program seem like it was a corporate commercial training school. This was a source of frustration to those of us who wanted to see the faculty offer more courses and opportunities for students to explore areas that were not big firm practice areas.  Social law, immigration law, native law, criminal law, human rights law were just some areas where many of us believed that the faculty could have explored offering far more courses and opportunities than those that were offered at the time.    The Legal Information Clinic was not even recognized in any significant way by the Law Faculty.  The Clinic operated out of the Student Union building, and no students, not even those who were appointed directors, were able to obtain any credit for the work done there. 

 

Do you still see law all around you?

 Once you have studied law you do tend to see law, or legal implications of situations, all around you.  That never changes, because the study of law, some say, is the study of a different way of thinking.  This is not, however, a negative thing.  Seeing law all around you may just mean that you have learned to analyze events and situations in a multi-dimensional way, the legal analysis constituting one of those dimensions.

 

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

 Follow your passions and remain open to opportunity.  As I mentioned earlier, I never thought that I would be a criminal defence practitioner.  Criminal law became one of my passions from the first course that I took in first year law. By being aware of that passion, and remaining open to opportunity, I ended up with a rich and stimulating career.  I applied for an articling position with Legal Aid, although everyone told me that the chances of getting hired were impossibly slim. For whatever reason, it worked out, and I was able to begin working in the field of my passion.  I had to re-think my other passion, writing, and decide whether I would give criminal defence a chance, rather than continuing to dream of being a foreign correspondent.  This is where being open to opportunity served me well.  After 34 years in the field, I still do not feel that I am working for a living.  I have been able to continue writing, although not as a foreign correspondent.  I have had the opportunity, over the years, to write about developments in the field of criminal law.  In addition, and more importantly, in every case where I have represented someone before judges or juries my love of writing has helped me to accurately and, I hope poignantly, illustrate their human drama. I have literally written hundreds, if not thousands, of human stories for the considerations of trial courts. 

Isabel’s graduation picture from 1982.

Isabel’s graduation picture from 1982.

 

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

 No two days look the same, and that is exactly what I love about my practice.  I could be in a trial, which means early start for collecting thoughts and books, trial all day, dealing with questions and concerns of clients, prosecutors, counsel for co-accused persons or trial judges.  Trials can be hours, or weeks, or even months long.  If I am not in trial, I may be meeting a new client, and yet another human story unfolds as I meet the new person.  Every case is different, every human being is different, and each person and case comes with its own twists and turns and challenges. This is the most fascinating and stimulating part of the practice. I may also be spending time with any one of the young lawyers who work with me in every file.  They, this new generation, are a stimulating part of my practice as they bring new ideas, new energies and new perspectives to each file, while being interested in learning that which they could not learn in law school. 

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

 Spending time with close friends and family members with whom I love to laugh, cry and share stories. Learn to play a new song or classical piece on the guitar.  Continue work on some private writings that  have been works -in - progress for years. 

 

Any regrets?

Can’t think of any this moment…..maybe if I had been more sure of myself I would not have applied two years in advance and accepted a position in an area which , as it turns out, did not hold the same interest for me as the area which became my passion.   On the other hand, the fact that I had worked there for a while before applying, and ultimately being accepted in criminal law, allowed me to have a basis of comparison and to see that criminal law was truly my passion. 

 

Fred Glady/Big Law to Thomson Reuters

Fred is Vice President of the Customer Segments organization at Thomson Reuters Legal and Tax & Accounting Canada, overseeing three commercial units, Marketing and a team responsible for customer engagement and insights. Fred earned a BA (with Distinction) from Queen’s University, an LL.B. from Dalhousie Law School (now Schulich School of Law), and an LL.M. (Business Law) from Osgoode Law School. He articled at Blake, Cassels and Graydon and post-call practiced law for five years with two entrepreneurial law firms – one of which he founded – developing a practice focus on information technology and .com start-ups (in the ‘90s).  Fred joined Thomson Reuters in 2000 as a Product Manager where he has spent the balance of his career.

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Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?      

No, not really. My parents didn’t have the means to go to university themselves, but they encouraged my sisters and me to go to university and, importantly, to become professionals. For them, professional status was the surest route to a fulfilling and lucrative career. As a 3rd year Arts student at Queen’s in the early ‘90s, I saw law as the logical profession for me. The health professions, which drew my sisters, had no appeal to a guy who couldn’t stomach the sight of blood. So I wrote the LSAT and applied to law school. I was accepted at all the schools I applied to but was drawn to Halifax and Dal’s national approach to the study of law. So that’s where I went. Go Dal!

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

I articled at Blakes. It’s a great firm, and to this day I have a number of friends there. But it was a big contrast to work I had done to pay my way through university, like operating a forklift and a clamp truck in a warehouse. At the time it wasn’t a good fit for the firm or for me, so post-Call I turned my sights from Bay Street to Main Street. I practiced in a two-man start up general practice firm where I kept half of my collectables. Those were lean times but they taught me the basics of running a practice and a business. After two years, I set out on my own and transformed my general practice into a practice focused on corporate commercial and estates law, zeroing in on health professional and .com start-up clients. A couple of anchor tech clients paid the bills and gave me room to dabble with tech start-ups. It was great fun and I built a vibrant practice. Then came the dark cloud of Y2K, and the work from my anchor clients dried up. My wife was pregnant with our second child, and I needed a steady income.

By then I had published two works with Butterworths and self-published a quarterly newsletter. I was interested in publishing and information technology. So when I learnt of a product manager role at Carswell (now Thomson Reuters), I decided to sell my practice and take a 1 year sabbatical from the law. I figured I would learn more about business in a corporate setting and ride out the IT law lull for a year before returning to practice. Then the .com bubble burst. There was no going back to practice after one year as I had planned. Besides, I was enjoying my work and colleagues at Carswell. So I stayed at Carswell and moved to role in Sales that paid better. Then came a big promotion, followed by another, and then another. I was doing interesting work as the legal marketplace began to transform and customer needs changed. I completed a Masters in Business Law. Over the last couple of years, the forces transforming our profession have made my role at Thomson Reuters more interesting than ever. So I think it’s fair to say I’m very happy with the way my career has progressed. There have been hard times along the way, and no doubt others ahead, but I feel I have been fortunate and feel fulfilled in my career.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

 Well…there was a lot flowing at Domus Legis, Dal’s amazing law student-run pub. That’s where I spent many Friday and Saturday nights with friends and met many esteemed leaders in the legal profession who visited the law school. (In those days we’d have visiting Supreme Court of Canada judges sign the basement ceiling – the photo of me from law school is at “the Dome”). But in terms of school, I was drawn to the courses that I believed would prepare me for what I understood was a practical career in law – property, estates, real estate, and commercial law. Back then I didn’t know any lawyers – growing up I knew firefighters, letter carriers, and tradesmen, but no lawyers.  Having said that, my favourite course was Conflicts, probably because Vaughn Black made the subject so interesting. I liked Torts too but Civil Procedure turned me off litigation.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

It may be hard to believe, but there wasn’t much that made my blood boil at law school. Having said that, I confess I didn’t appreciate 100% exams, especially for full year courses. That took a lot of discipline!

Do you still see law all around you?

Yes, absolutely. I work at Thomson Reuters, and it’s our business to find solutions for the problems that lawyers are facing. So a lot of my time goes into understanding the marketplace for legal services so that we can do our job better. Thomson Reuters employs many lawyers in various functions. We have in-house counsel, but we also have lawyers working in product management, editorial, sales and customer support. We also have a team of senior expert Lawyer Editors who write our Practical Law service. So there are lots of lawyers where I work. And I would encourage any law grad to consider starting her career Thomson Reuters.

I like to think I do my best to remain abreast in the law. As time allows, I read the Ontario Reports, particularly the business law cases, and selected legal publications on topics I find interesting. I also read a number of legal media publications, mostly those published by Thomson Reuters, like Lexpert, Canadian Lawyer and Law Times.

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Beyond work and my personal interest, I see law everywhere. Every day in the media we see how the law touches and affects the many social issues facing Canada. I see the law on the way to work each day as I pass the many hi-rises under construction. I see it in corporate policies on workplace harassment and discrimination. That’s the great thing about the law – it is a reflection of us, and offers so many great careers for students of law.

 

You are at a coffee house (a weekly meet-up for McGill law students to unwind and have a drink) speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

 Work hard at school but make sure to look after yourself and have some fun. Don’t lose yourself. Open your mind and challenge yourself, but also respect the person you are as you build the person you will become. Talk to people in our profession. Find out what they do and what keeps them coming to work every day. Look to the practice today but also watch how it’s changing and be sure to set your sites on “where the puck will be”, not necessarily where it is today. Be confident – there is a great career waiting for you after you graduate. Your challenge is to figure out what that is and how to get there.

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What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

I am up at 5:00 am for an hour of exercise in my home gym. Most days after breakfast I drive my daughter to school, then double back to drop off the car at home before taking the subway to work downtown. I’m at my desk at 7:45 am to try to get a head-start on the day. A typical day sees me in meetings starting at 8:00 or 8:30 am and running through most of the day. Meetings can be on a wide range of topics: assessing new business opportunities, launching new sales and marketing campaigns, attracting and developing talent, conducting financial reviews, and etc. My role covers a number of areas of our business and so the topics covered in meetings are varied and interesting. I’ll either have a business lunch meeting or I’ll eat at my desk, depending on the day, and I usually leave the office at 6:00 pm unless there is a business meeting or event to attend. Do I work at night and on weekends? Sure, sometimes, but if I didn’t like what I did, I wouldn’t do it

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be? 

I spend most of my free time with my family. For me, that’s what it’s all about. So if I were to be given an extra hour I might carve it out to do something for myself – I have a strong desire to improve my French-language skills. I also have a creative side and would like to write poetry and sketch more than I do currently.

 

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that) 

I don’t think I have any regrets, but I do wonder what my life would have looked like if I had made other choices. If I had chosen to study fine arts at OCAD instead of Political Studies at Queen’s. If I had chosen U of T Law instead of Dal. If I had chosen not to article on Bay Street. If I had chosen to stay on Bay Street. If I had not chosen to go to Carswell, but to stay in practice, or had chosen to leave Carswell after one year. If I had chosen to leave Toronto post-Call to practice in a smaller community. If I had taken that great job at that cool tech start-up back in the ‘90s…

 I think we all feel that way – we wonder what would have been. But I have no regrets, not one. I have a close and loving family. I have a great job and work for a great Canadian company. And I feel extremely fortunate and am grateful for what I have been able to accomplish, and contribute, in very large part because of my law degree. Go Dal!

 

 

Aicha Tohry/ Art Lawyer

After being called to the Bar, Aicha decided to go off the beaten path to start ARTY LAW, a legal practice that offers legal services to creatives. Fuelled by her love of contemporary art and innovation, Aicha makes it a point to educate her clientele, whether in fashion, arts, tech or entertainment, on the legal side of their business and to eradicate some legal myths through online content.

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Photo by Rym El-Ouazzani

Photo by Rym El-Ouazzani

Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).

I have my own legal practice called ARTY LAW where I offer legal services to creatives. I work with freelancers and corporations in a variety of fields such as fashion, visual arts (including marketing), entertainment, and tech.

Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

I think I started considering law school when I was in high school, so I think we can say that's relatively early. It stemmed from a love of music, so I really wanted to be a music industry lawyer at the time.

At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? 

I never liked taking the same path as everyone else. I always got involved in fields and activities that most people in law school weren't interested it or just weren't getting into, so I always had the need to take my education in the direction I wanted. However, I think it hit me when I realized I had no interest whatsoever in la course aux stages.

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What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?

I knew I wanted to work with creatives and that usually requires a very good foundation in intellectual property, so I took every single class related to IP: IP basics, entertainment law, etc. I was a research assistant for Ysolde Gendreau, UdeM's IP professor, for a bit. I also wanted to know more about how creative industries actually worked so I volunteered for a few non-profits in the arts. I love writing so I spent a good part of my bachelor's and bar school writing for online publications. I was an editor for Osgoode's IPilogue for more than year and I've been writing for Law on the Runway, a San Francisco based fashion law firm, since the summer of 2016 (a job I found on Twitter by the way).

What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?

The type of people I work with and the way I do it make my practice relatively uncommon. Not everyone knows that fashion law is a thing or that lawyers who work with creatives exist and because of that, I spend a lot of time trying to educate my clients/potential clients. Social media is a big part of what I do and I make it a point to keep up a very aesthetically pleasing branding because I know creatives are most likely to read a caption if they like the picture it comes with (my brain functions the same way). I publish blog posts every single week, which more and more law firms are doing, but I still find that a lot of the legal content online is written for lawyers and not for entrepreneurs. Some would say that the fact that I've never met some of clients is uncommon, but seriously, it's 2017. 

Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?

Rachel Fischbein, Law on the Runway's founder, really confirmed where I wanted to take my career. She gave me the chance to develop my knowledge of American law and fashion law, and most importantly, she did it with the kind of trust very little people are able to give (she didn't even interview me, she just read some of my IPIlogue articles and decided to hire me). Francois Achim, my maître de stage at Technology Evaluation Centers, where I articled, was also very influential. Being exposed to his thought process taught me how to stop thinking like a lawyer and consider the business repercussions of the legal advice I give.


What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

I just loved intellectual property. Nothing made me happier and I still love talking about it today.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

To be frank, I thought most classes were boring. The only thing that kept me going were IP, entertainment law, information and communication law, and other classes in the same vein.

Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?


No one teaches you that law is a business, especially if you want to start your own practice. Many solo practitioners don't know how to market themselves, don't know how social media works, and are frankly just clueless about what works and what doesn't. I'm lucky that I got to manage Law on the Runway's social media accounts and that I learned a lot about content marketing through that, but maintaining a constant online presence is very time consuming. I also work with people who usually don't think lawyers are necessary (I'm often told contracts aren't needed, so you can imagine people's response when it comes to hiring a lawyer). Educating my clientele and demystifying the law is very demanding, especially because I keep stumbling upon individuals on social media who like to propagate some legal myths and I do make it a point to correct them and give proper answers whenever I can. 

Do you still see the law all around you?

Yes, and I do not think I will ever stop. It started when I first learned about trademarks in my IP class, and I think it only got worse from there. Frankly, the law really is everywhere and I'd rather acknowledge it than ignore it.

What advice would you give to a first-year law student?

This is going to sound very cliché, but there is no such thing as "the right path." Do what pleases you. Go out and get some real life experience because your legal knowledge will only be useful if you can apply it to real life situations. Do not give up your hobbies because they will make you a better person and a better lawyer. You might not realize it now but connecting with your clients on a level that does not have anything to do with the law is primordial. Finally, make it a point to learn things on your own.


If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

I want to be boring and say sleep, but I think I'd just take that time to go to galleries, museums, and visit local boutiques.

Any regrets?

I don't believe in regrets. You make decisions and live with them.

Photo by Bianca Diorio

Photo by Bianca Diorio

Bonnie Brown / Producer for CBC Radio and Television

Bonnie Brown is a news and documentary producer for CBC Radio and Television.  

During her twenty-year career in journalism, she has worked at The Sunday Edition, The World at Six, The National, The Magazine, Undercurrents, and Sports Journal. Her most recent documentary was "One Judge Down", which presented the untold story of how former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gerald Le Dain was abruptly removed from the court after suffering from depression. Previously, her documentary for The National, "Truth, Lies and Confessions", investigated how some police interrogation techniques coerce false confessions from innocent people, and led to the exoneration of one of former Ontario pathologist Charles Smith's victims, Brenda Waudby, who was wrongfully convicted in the death of her child.  It was awarded the Canadian Bar Association Stephen Hanson Award for Excellence in Journalism. She has covered a wide range of news and current affairs stories, from the 9/11 attacks in New York City, to federal budgets and original investigations, and won numerous national news awards as part of The World at Six production team. Since 2014, she has served on the jury of the Canadian Hillman Prize, an off-shoot of the New York-based Hillman Prize, which honours investigative reporting that advances democracy and social justice. She has an LL.B. from McGill University, and a Bachelor of Arts in French (Gold Medal) from the University of Winnipeg.

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

bonnie pic DSC_1628-Edit.jpg

I never imagined myself going to law school. I was an average student in school, and didn't have much of a career plan.  I did well in undergrad, though, and won the gold medal in French when I graduated.  I kicked around working in Winnipeg and travelling for a few years, and decided that I should find out what I was capable of.  Law seemed like the most challenging program I could get into, and one that would suit my interests. McGill was the most attractive option because I was keen to put my French to use, and I was curious about what it would be like to live in Montreal.  Fortunately, things worked out even better than I expected. It was definitely challenging, always interesting, my French improved, and I loved Montreal!

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

It was fast.  My articles were what  you might call a "bad fit".  I signed up with a huge, corporate commercial firm on Bay Street, and soon realized that was not an environment I'd enjoy.  I took my name off the re-hire list. I did get called to the bar, but I didn't seriously consider practicing after that. The law firm scene was not for me, and under Ontario's Harris government, the public interest options were slim to none.  I had worked at CBC Radio briefly in Winnipeg just before starting law school, and again in the summer between first and second year law school in Quebec City and Montreal, so I managed to work my way into a researcher job in the documentary unit at The Magazine at CBC Television in Toronto.  I wanted to do something intellectually engaging, but also creative, and I didn't think I was talented or imaginative enough at law to be creative at it. Broadcast journalism turned out to be a great choice for me.

Bonnie at the office.

Bonnie at the office.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

McGill Law gave me a profound understanding of the country.  As a middle class kid from Winnipeg, I didn't know much about how the country worked or where the big decisions were made.  This was illustrated to me when I first got to law school, in a poetic way. I remember walking toward Chancellor Day Hall on a beautiful, sunny day in the fall of 1992, and seeing perfectly-formed red maple leaves scattered on the ground.  In the prairies, we have different kinds of maple trees, and I'd never seen the leaf that adorns our flag in real life before. That experience really drove home to me that I was in a city and province that were seminal to the creation of the country.  And when I started classes, I was suddenly around some of the smartest people anywhere, at a law school with an outsized influence on the Supreme Court of Canada, and politics, too.  Then, three years later, that same province was teetering on the edge of separating from Canada. I'll never forget the jaw-dropping panic I felt watching the results of the 1995 referendum with my friends from law school.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

I’d say I was sometimes frustrated by the decidedly small group of students whose narrow focus in class was merely to find out what would be on the exam.  I suppose they had a clearer goal in mind for what they were going to do with their degree, but for me, engaging with the ideas, the students and professors, and debating the pros and cons of the judgments were the best part of law school.

Do you still see law all around you?

I put my legal education to use every day at work.  Law and journalism have a lot in common. We hear a story, and have to identify the issues, know the right questions to ask, understand all sides of a conflict or policy debate, and weigh their relative merits based on laws, principles, and societal values.  The only real difference comes at the end. For journalists, the goal is to communicate all that to an audience, in a balanced way. It's not advocacy. And of course, I'm still friends with many of my law school colleagues, and a lot of other lawyers in Toronto and elsewhere.  We're never short of things to talk about.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them?

Treasure this experience.  Learn as much as you can. Ponder the big questions. Speak up in class. Make friends.  Get involved. Keep going to coffee house!  It's such a privilege to go to law school, and you may never meet such a wide variety of smart, engaged people again.  Even if you don't end up practicing, the years you spend at McGill Law will influence everything you do afterwards, so make the most of it.

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

No two days are alike.  I could be interviewing a former Supreme Court of Canada justice in a radio studio one day, and helping a field reporter focus their story from a war zone the next.  I do everything from breaking news to investigative documentaries, and at CBC, there's virtually no subject that couldn't come across my desk. I'm learning something new, and using different parts of my skill set, education and experience, every day.  That's what I love about it.

Bonnie with Michael Enright, the host of The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One.

Bonnie with Michael Enright, the host of The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One.

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

Ideally, I'd like to bundle those extra hours together and travel more.  I've been lucky to have taken a lot of fascinating trips so far, but there are so many places in the world that I still want to see!

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that)

I wish I'd stayed in Montreal.  That's it.

Neil Sternthal / From Transactional Law to Multinational Mass Media Firm

Neil Sternthal leads the Thomson Reuters Legal and Tax businesses in Canada, and the Legal business in Australia and New Zealand. In his role at TR he has championed the cause of helping the legal profession adapt in a period of tremendous change. He holds an undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Toronto and a Master’s in Modern History from Oxford University. Neil graduated from McGill in 1995 and worked for Goodmans LLP as a summer and articling student and associate before leaving for Thomson Reuters where he served as the general counsel for Canada. In 2005 he left the practice of law and moved to New York where he took on a number of senior business roles, global in scope, with Thomson Reuters. 

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

Neil standing in front of the Times Squares location of Thomson Reuters

Neil standing in front of the Times Squares location of Thomson Reuters

No. I was one of those graduates who was a good student and didn’t know what I wanted to do. Law school was interesting; it was an environment where I thought I could put my academics to good use. Before coming to McGill, I did my undergrad in International Relations at the University of Toronto and went on to do a master’s in Modern History at Oxford University. Law school seemed like a safe landing pad in terms of career development and keeping my options open.

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

I clearly remember my first week at McGill. I had a friend who had just graduated and she asked me if I knew what I wanted to do with my law career. I told her I didn’t know but I was certain that I didn’t want to end up as a corporate lawyer at a big Bay Street firm. Guess where I ended up?

I worked in corporate finance and M&A at Goodmans. I was a summer student, I articled there and I stayed for over 5 years. I have no regrets. I had an amazing experience at Goodmans. I’m grateful for the practice skills, the transactional experience and the community exposure it afforded me.

I was approached by Thomson Reuters to take on a general counsel position in Canada. At Goodmans, I liked the client engagement aspect of my job and feeling like I was helping our clients achieve their goals.  As a transactional lawyer, I always felt a bit dissatisfied at the end of a deal as I wanted to know post-closing how the client’s business would evolve. Moving to Thomson Reuters allowed me to immerse myself in the business and gain even closer proximity to the 'client’ – as general counsel and as a business leader.

After being there for 3 years, I had the opportunity to take on a more senior position in global business development and moved with my young family to New York, where I lived from 2005 to 2015.  In mid-2015, I moved back to Canada.  I was asked to lead the Legal and Tax divisions for Thomson Reuters in Canada, and the Legal division in Australia and New Zealand and of course, I accepted.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

For me, a big highlight was working at Chez Doris, a local women’s shelter that supported at risk indigenous woman.  It was an unforgettable experience allowing me to apply my legal training to public service. Working for the legal aid clinic had a profound impact on me. It showed me how lawyers can really have a profound impact on the lives of individuals and society.

As well, I enjoyed the Socratic method of teaching with smaller classes and more room for discussion. This was really stimulating to me. At law school, you learn to consume huge amounts of information and distill it to the essential facts and significance - this is really an invaluable skill. In my first year, my case summaries were 10 pages. By my last semester, my summaries were reduced to 3 points. In a world of Big Data, this skill is so well attuned to the needs of our times. I also loved the mix of students as their diversity of experiences and level of engagement was so inspiring and stimulating.

On another note, Skit Nite was a ton of fun.

Dean Leckey photographed with Neil at McGill Alumni event in Toronto

Dean Leckey photographed with Neil at McGill Alumni event in Toronto

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

I found law school academically homogeneous. My previous experiences included students from far more varied academic disciplines – Modern History, Latin American, African and Middle Eastern Studies, Economics, Political Philosophy etc.  Law school felt a little like going back to high school. You’re always with the same group of people doing the same thing for a long period of time. Because I’m from Montreal, I sometimes felt I was taking a step back, going from living with students abroad to being back home.

Do you still see law all around you?

Yes. Thomson Reuters provides legal information and software solutions to lawyers across the profession – private practice, in-house, government and academic.  One of the things I love about my job is that I’m still a part of the community but engaging with it in a different and more global way.

Neil giving a talk at a McGill Alumni Event in Toronto.

Neil giving a talk at a McGill Alumni Event in Toronto.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

You’ve made a great choice. There are so many opportunities for lawyers. With the way the world is evolving, legal skills can be applied in so many arenas. There is more opportunity now than ever before. Law school doesn’t mean you need to apply your legal skills in a purely legal context.

You’re good at extracting and communicating complex information.  You can apply your capabilities in so many different ways within or beyond the profession. Legal tech for example is a robust and booming field in Canada. There are over 60 start-ups today and you can be a part of this dynamic community.  We have emerged as a global centre for AI and tech innovation.  If you want to be a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur or a process engineer, you can do all that. There are still so many parts of society and the economy that are susceptible to disruption and they need the help of lawyers or those with legal skills. Law firms and government agencies perform a critical function in our society. They all need top legal talent the likes of which McGill Law produces. Think outside the box and you will find opportunities.

Given the pace of change, legal training is great because it is really adaptable to change. There aren’t many university programs where what you learn in your first year will remain relevant by the time you graduate given the pace of change. Law school teaches you to think in a structured manner, consume complex information and communicate a solution to legal, business or policy problems. These tools can always be applied to new situations and scenarios.

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

Neil on holiday with his daughter

Neil on holiday with his daughter

I always try to spend time with customers because ultimately that’s who we work for and they provide the most insight in how we need to add value. I spend time with product developers, technologists, lawyers, editors, people in HR or finance department and the list goes on. There are no two days alike. I try to stay close to the changes in the profession and try to problem solve in both internal and external contexts. I also try to engage and motivate our talent and identify new talent to attract to Thomson Reuters.  At the end of the day it’s all about your people and fortunately our mission is a very attractive and motivating one – helping to enable lawyers and the rule of law. I’m going to Australia next week and to Hong Kong the week after. My work takes me around the world which is so interesting as I get to learn from and compare developments in the profession from all sorts of lawyers applying their skill in different jurisdictions.  I’m so lucky to view the profession from a global perspective.

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

I would take the time to decompress and just think. The pace of change is so quick these days. I would love more time to sit back and reflect on challenges, opportunities or new developments. When you take the time to decompress, you often have your best ideas and insights.  When you’re super busy you sometimes become overly transactional. You’re only going to be given more things to do in less time so it’s important to find ways to work more efficiently and consider what you should stop doing to free up bandwidth.  Sometimes you have to slow down so you can actually go faster.

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that)

Honestly, I really don’t have any regrets. I don’t think that way. I often get asked if I regret leaving the practice of law or leaving New York. I don’t look backwards other than from the perspective of learning, inspiration, and foundational relationships. I take whatever deck of cards is laid before me and I use my past experience to work with it.

Any final thoughts?

Being a student at McGill Law was a fantastic experience. The institution has a world-class reputation with a bilingual and bijuridical tradition. McGill students have such an advantage and I believe with that advantage comes an obligation to do something important with your legal education and career. Best of luck to my friends at the Faculty!

Tony Hoffmann / Behind the (Legal) Scenes of the Toronto Stock Exchange

Tony is Senior Legal Counsel at TMX Group, which he joined when the Canadian Depository for Securities (CDS, where he started in 2005) was acquired by TMX, the company that runs the Toronto Stock Exchange and several other financial services markets and systems. As one of several in-house counsel to TMX and CDS he is a legal jack-of-all-trades, which is a good thing because, since CDS holds $5 trillion in securities, its systems process $500 billion dollars’ worth of securities trades a day, and CDS is also a financial data vendor, you have to be a good plumber. In his role, Tony provides counsel to management relating to a variety of legal domains, including securities law and regulation, outsourcing and technology law, intellectual property law, regulatory relations, and the arcana of payment clearing and settlement law.

Tony’s interests beyond law include rock climbing, indoor skydiving, a semi-professional photography gig, carpentry, and waiting for the bottom to drop out of the Habs’ season.

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Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

Tony and his grandfather: William R. Eakin, McGill Law ‘34, Chairman of the McGill Board of Governors, ‘76-‘78

Tony and his grandfather: William R. Eakin, McGill Law ‘34, Chairman of the McGill Board of Governors, ‘76-‘78

No, I didn’t, but I suppose it was kind of inevitable that I ended up in law; my grandfather and father both graduated from McGill Law - in ’34 and ’75, respectively - so I guess it might be something like a family business. My undergraduate degree was in human (as opposed to rocks) geography, because it was the major with the broadest scope and world view I could find. I’d intended to find my way into the financial world, but 1998 wasn’t a banner year economically, so I decided to apply to McGill Law. All I remember from those days is that a single field of study wasn’t for me – my curiosity always got the better of me. That peripatetic mentality is still there; it’s why I end up diving down Wikipedia rabbit-holes all the time!

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like? 

Well, for starters, I was never actually in BigLaw, so the journey to my uncommon career was a short one! I articled at the Investment Funds Institute of Canada, and I started on September 10th, 2001, so the days that followed were an entirely new education for me. I was skeptical, right from the start, whether private practice would be right for me, so my time at IFIC, then a contract position with the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, then completion of my LLM at McGill, then to CDS and TMX, was a something of an oddity in and of itself. It was certainly not as straight-forward as summering and articling at a firm, returning as an associate, and going into private practice, but for all its uncertainty, I don’t think I would do it differently.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

I was the guy who sat at the back of the class lobbing questions at the teacher, because that’s how I learn best, so when a professor was willing and able to engage with those questions, it made even the driest subject interesting. I was, and am, fascinated by the intersection of law, business, and society, and the subjects and professors that managed to integrate this cross-pollination, and involved serious mental gymnastics, were what I enjoyed most.  

I was also the production manager for Skit-Nite three years running, which was both exhausting and a bucket-load of fun.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

Tony at his graduation from McGill Law. 

Tony at his graduation from McGill Law. 

Preconceptions, of whatever sort, when based on pure ignorance or disinterest, drove me, and still drive me, absolutely bananas. The most important prerequisite to learning, both in law and in life, is to have an open mind. I’m also reasonably sure I slept through most of the courses which were, at that time, called JICP and Admin Pro.

Do you still see law all around you?

I do. I firmly believe that, whether people admit it or not, law informs life, and life should inform law. It’s when life and law fall out of sync that the legal system can turn from good to bad, and part of what I do is find creative ways to untangle the legal hairball in a way that makes sense to the people whom I advise.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

Do you want me to write a book? Probably not, so before I hit the bar in earnest, I’d say this: don’t focus so much on legal theory that you lose sight of the larger world outside the walls of the Faculty. The material that you are asked to absorb in law school is of lesser import, in the long-run, than learning how to think critically and analytically about the problems that you will be asked to solve. Thinking itself is going to be your trade, so concentrate on developing that muscle and it will serve you well, whether you actually practice law or forge a different path.

 

 

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

My day starts whenever my son decides he wants to wake up. During business hours, though, my day can best be described as a semi-chaotic series of meetings, reading, writing, and solving problems big and small for the people that I work with and for. I’m fortunate that my lawfully uncommon position also allows me to get home for my kid’s bath-time, which is my favourite time of day.

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

I think I would spend it climbing rocks, because the mental and physical challenge is such that your whole consciousness is focussed on solving the puzzle in front of you, and everything else falls away. It’s quasi-meditative for me, immensely calming.

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that)

It’s not a problem for McGill’s law students anymore, but I was in the last class in the National Program, which allowed one to choose whether to complete only one of either the BCL or LLB. I chose to end with only my LLB, which makes working in Quebec, where I was born, much more difficult. All else being equal, I regret not completing both degrees!

Julia Hanigsberg / Lawyer to Kids Healthcare Champion

Julia Hanigsberg joined Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital as its President and CEO on January 12, 2015. Holland Bloorview is Canada’s largest paediatric rehabilitation hospital and each year serves close to 8000 children and youth with disabilities and complex medical needs. Holland Bloorview is an academic hospital fully affiliated with the University of Toronto and carries out its academic mission through the Bloorview Research Institute (a Research InfoSource Top 40)  and the Teaching and Learning Institute.

Julia with a patient at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation. 

Julia with a patient at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation. 

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

Julia Hanigsberg37.jpg

Definitely not! I didn’t have any lawyers in my family or in the circle of family friends unlike many of my classmates. I applied to graduate school and law school and decided on law school out of a sense of pragmatism. The real surprise was in first year when I realized I loved it. Over the course of my four years in the National Program (as it was then called) I took classes in both French and English, mooted competitively (Laskin), was Editor in Chief of the Law Journal, worked as a research assistant for a professor – all sorts of great experiences with great intellectual depth and the deepest friendships lasting until this day.

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

As close as I came to “big law” were summers at Ogilvie Renault (as it then was prior to merger to become Norton Rose) and McCarthy Tetrault, and a couple of months of articling at McCarthy’s in Ottawa. These were fantastic experiences where I learned from great lawyers and my peers. I clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992-93 (for Justice Peter Cory) which inspired me to apply to graduate school. I spent 3 years at Columbia Law School before moving to Toronto.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

I loved my charter courses – remember I started law school in 1987 so the Charter was still in its early days! I was really intrigued by different critical approaches to law that at that time felt still pretty new: feminist legal theory, critical legal theory and critical race theory.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

Not sure I want to incriminate myself but “lives in being plus 21 years” is all I’ve retained from common law property (and not sure I ever really understood what that meant).

Do you still see law all around you?

I do. At Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation hospital we not only provide services, treatments and technology for kids with medical complexity, disability and complex rehabilitation needs, but we see ourselves as drivers of social change.  Law and public policy are an important part of eradicating the stigma that children and youth with disability face every day.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them?

Be curious. Your legal training is part of this great toolbox you will take with you down many possible career paths. Learn about as much as you can on your way. And don’t hesitate to take on new opportunities and new responsibilities especially ones where there are big problems – that’s where the most interesting work happens.

Julia with a patient (who happens to be a Raptors fan!)

Julia with a patient (who happens to be a Raptors fan!)

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

There is no typical day. I’m really fortunate because as the CEO of Holland Bloorview, an amazing children’s hospital in Toronto, I work with an incredibly accomplished and multidisciplinary team. I love greeting new employees at the beginning of their orientation and talking about our vision of enabling the most healthy and meaningful futures for all children, youth and families.

As much as possible I talk to children and youth who we serve and their parents directly – they give me the greatest insights into what we are doing right and where we have opportunities to make more impact. I love spending time with the scientists in the research institute at Holland Bloorview because their work gives me insight into the future of care and inspires me keep working to get them the resources they need.

I’m often giving media interviews on new initiatives, working with CEOs of other hospitals or partners in social or children’s services to build out solutions for more seamless care and greater access to what kids and their families need, and I am frequently talking to government decision-makers. I spend a lot of time with funders of all kinds, donors, foundations and other community supporters to champion our work and to seek support and resources for all of the work our team does every day.

Because we are a kid’s hospital we like to have a fair amount of fun – funny hats, slab cake or fruit punch anyone?! -- which I document on Twitter and Instagram!

I’ve got some volunteer passions as well including advancing girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

I’d spend more time with my family.  I’ve got a husband and 3 kids who all have their own busy lives and I’m so lucky that when my dad retired my parents moved to Toronto to be close to me and my family. More time with them would be a precious gift.

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that).

I shouldn’t have stopped taking math. Seriously! So much of the work we do today requires data analytics, modelling, statistical analysis – I should have had more self-confidence as a young woman in my math abilities and not given up as soon as it stopped being a required course. And I’m still planning to learn some rudimentary coding skills so I can have a better understanding of the technology that impacts every part of our life.

Julia and her team wearing capes at the inaugural year of their annual fundraiser  Capes for Kids

Julia and her team wearing capes at the inaugural year of their annual fundraiser Capes for Kids

Nicholas Caivano / International Human Rights Lawyer

Nicholas Caivano is an international human rights lawyer and policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, working to advance the health and human rights of marginalized, high-risk groups. He monitors human rights violations in Canada and advocates for a rights-respecting Canadian foreign policy. He articled at Amnesty International Canada and has worked for the United Nations in Geneva and Human Rights Watch in New York.

Nicholas interning at the UN. 

Nicholas interning at the UN. 

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

I did, since fairly early on, probably starting right after high school. I started thinking about it seriously during my undergrad (in finance – which seems to surprise people). I was doing research for a small NGO on international financial institutions and the impact on odious debt on international development, and that started it. I didn't think I could make a career out of it it then, but figured law school would provide some backup options if NGO work didn't pan out.

Nicholas on vacation, taking some downtime in Portland, Oregon.

Nicholas on vacation, taking some downtime in Portland, Oregon.

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?

I don’t see my career as all that uncommon. I think lots of people get into human rights work but not as many get to do it out of the gate.

My volunteer work with NGOs helped me land an internship at Human Rights Watch after 1L and to work with some of amazing people – and that remains one of the most transformational experiences of my life. I discovered the whole realm of international human rights law at HRW, and even though I wanted to pursue that, I wasn’t sure the market would absorb me right away. I did OCIs and summered at one of the big corporate law firms, but decided to turn down articles at the firm to look for something in the human rights space, which was always the game plan.

I was offered a position at Amnesty International beginning a year after graduation, so I had some time “off” between law school and articles. I used that time to prepare for Amnesty by writing a few academic articles and doing both volunteer and consulting work for OHCHR, a legal clinic, an NGO, and a few professors.

In retrospect, turning down an articling position at the firm was a risk but I’m glad I went for it.

Nicholas participating in a protest to free Raif Badawi while articling at Amnesty Int’l.

Nicholas participating in a protest to free Raif Badawi while articling at Amnesty Int’l.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?

Research work with some great professors; meeting inspirational people in the legal and NGO space; kicking it in Montreal. Anything outside the classroom really.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

The legal job market tends to perpetuate a narrow definition of success that can spread to law students, so that made me snooze. There isn’t a big focus placed on encouraging law students to spend time thinking about what they actually want to do on a day-to-day basis, and the result is that a lot of people go into law and find themselves doing stuff they don’t really want to do. But with a legal career there’s a lot of opportunity to find work that you would engage in willingly because it’s meaningful and energizing. 

Do you still see law all around you?

I do, although law is only one tool to improve human rights outcomes. A legal victory can be one part of the picture, but there may be more strategic ways to get the results you want.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them?

Question the status quo. You don’t have to do what everybody else is doing. You need to create a life for yourself on your own terms.

This is not the moment to be risk averse. Many law students are in their twenties and free from the major obligations they'll have later on in life. Now is the time to go for it.

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

I’m what you might call a "human rights generalist" at the Legal Network, an organization with a really broad mandate across a range of issues – so there really is no average day, and I might be working on anything from drug policy, to the rights of sex workers, to how international trade deals impact public health.

Nicholas' workspace complete with dinosaurs and hot wheels.

Nicholas' workspace complete with dinosaurs and hot wheels.

I’ll usually start by doing the most intense research and drafting for submissions to the government or international bodies in the morning—right now I’m participating in Canada’s consultation on the renegotiation of NAFTA. I’m also preparing an oral statement to deliver at the United Nations in Geneva in a few weeks to advocate for the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use as part of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s review of Canada. I’m in constant correspondence with other NGOs and human rights lawyers in Canada, and might jump on one or more calls to touch base on whatever we’re working on.

 

 

 

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

I think I’d try to go on the offence—to focus and zero in on something I’ve been putting off. Or maybe I’d do nothing. It's a good idea to cultivate slack and empty space in your schedule—because no one will give it to you.

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that).

I regret putting my laptop in the trunk of my friend’s car a week before finals in my last semester of law school while we dove into a bar for a post-library nightcap. You can guess what happened next. Still stings.

Stephanie Kyoko McKinnon / From Paul Weiss to Vice Media

Stephanie is the Vice President, Mergers & Acquisitions, Legal for Vice Media in Brooklyn. New York.  She manages legal for all of VICE's strategic corporate projects, including international expansion, joint ventures, market entry, investments, equity raises and acquisitions.  Recent projects include joint ventures in the Middle East, India and Africa and a $450 million investment by TPG in VICE.  She's very proud of VICE's content, even if content creation is not really her area of expertise.

Stephanie is very far from her hometown of Camrose, Alberta.  She graduated from Simon Fraser University and will sometimes tell Americans that she's from Vancouver, unless they, too, are big hockey fans and could find Edmonton on a map.  She was an adventure guide in the Rockies prior to law school and she still spends all her free time adventuring in new places.  She likes to pretend she's a pretty good travel photographer.  Her Mom and her dog believe her.

Stephanie outside of the Vice office.

Stephanie outside of the Vice office.

Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?

Definitely not.  4-year-old me wanted to be an artist and 18-year-old me wanted to be a surgeon.  Most of my extended family had been telling me I should be a lawyer my whole life, so when I told my brother I wanted to go to law school, he laughed and laughed.

What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?  

I was a mid-level associate at Paul Weiss and I was just starting to look to leave.  Some former associates had told me to start looking before I really wanted to leave because it could take ages.  I asked a Paul Weiss partner for help and he set up a few introductions so I could meet people in the sports and media industries, since big law lawyers typically go in-house through people they know.  I also set up a daily alert for Glassdoor job postings for positions in the sports and media industries.  I responded to a job posting for a sports-focused digital media startup and I got the job, which is not typically how big law lawyers go in-house.  

Then a year and half later, I was looking to move again and a partner that I had worked for at Paul Weiss, who had left Paul Weiss to become Co-President of VICE, asked if I would come to VICE.  I jumped at the chance and haven't looked back.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?  

Law school is a wonderful opportunity to be surrounded by other intelligent, curious, and interesting people who are willing to share their thoughts and experiences and opinions with you.  The people that I met at law school were easily the best part of going to law school.

What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?

I had one interaction with a professor at the faculty who told me that he didn't read part of my final exam but it didn't matter because I wasn't in the running for the gold medal anyway and I shouldn't bother contesting the grade because professors generally defer to other professors unless the grade is really off.  That drove me nuts.

Stephanie at her graduation.

Stephanie at her graduation.

Do you still see law all around you?

I don't think I've ever seen law all around me, which maybe means I was doing law school wrong.  It is so much more interesting (to me) to see people and how people, in practice, handle particular situations regardless of what the law says they should, or could, do.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? 

Enjoy yourself.  This is the least amount of stress you're going to have in your whole career.

What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!

My work is deal-related, so sometimes I'll end up in all-day negotiations (sometimes in a foreign country).  When I'm not spending all my time closing a particular deal, I tend to have a few in earlier stages and my day can vary a bit more.  

In a typical day, I try to exercise in the morning before work.  Then I go to the Williamsburg office (or ferry to the DUMBO one).  

First, I try to triage the emails that have come in overnight from Asia and Europe over coffee and respond to anything that needs immediate attention.  

Depending on my meetings and calls for the day, I may or may not have a solid block of time to focus on larger tasks.  If I don't have a few hours to concentrate in between meetings, I'll try to knock out shorter documents or anything that needs input from others during the day.  I tend to end up reviewing long drafts at home after work or over the weekend.  

Stephanie with her camera while travelling in Krakow, Poland.

Stephanie with her camera while travelling in Krakow, Poland.

If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?

If there were no consequences and I didn't have any work, I would watch an hour of escapist TV and eat chips.

Any regrets? (Yeah, we are retrospective like that).

Never.  If I wanted to do something else or be someone else, I would.  It's never too late.