Under Bram Freedman's leadership, philanthropy and engagement with Concordia University's alumni, friends and supporters are on the rise. He was appointed to his latest position as vice-president, Advancement and External Relations, on December 1, 2015. That puts him at the helm of the university's fundraising, stewardship and outreach efforts- Advancement and Alumni Relations.
The external relations side of his portfolio involves oversight of the Office of Urban and Cultural Affairs and the Office of Community Engagement. The former is responsible for institutional projects connected to urban planning, built heritage, public art and cultural property, along with museum and festival relations. The latter supports, connects and promotes new and existing community-university partnerships.
As well, Freedman serves as president of the Concordia University Foundation which manages funds donated to the university. Freedman's almost 20 years at Concordia has included work in several key sectors. He was appointed Vice-President, External Relations and Secretary-General, in February 2008. He then served as Vice-President, Institutional Relations and Secretary-General, from May 2011 to June 2013, adding oversight of the university's Human Resources department during that period.
Before rejoining Concordia in 2008 (where he had served as general counsel and assistant secretary-general from 1992-2003, Freedman was the chief operating officer of Federation Combined Jewish Appeal- the central fundraising and community service organization for Quebec's Jewish community,
He is an active volunteer who has held several senior positions in organizations that include: the Centre local de services communautaires (CLSC) Métro, Jewish Family Services, the Jewish Eldercare Centre, the Reconstructionist Synagogue of Montreal, Destination Centre-Ville and Conseil Emploi Montreal. He is also a member of the board of directors of Institut Mallet, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of philanthropy in society.
Freedman is a two-time graduate of McGill University. He obtained civil and common law degrees (BCL/LLB) in 1991 and a BA (Honours) in history in 1987.
LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. DID YOU ALWAYS IMAGINE YOURSELF GOING TO LAW SCHOOL?
I did not. There are actually no lawyers in my immediate family. My father was a physician, medical researcher, McGill Dean of Medicine and then McGill Provost while my mother has a Master's degree in English. I was not a math or science guy and did a first honours degree in History at McGill. I did not want to become an academic and decided to give law a try and see where that took me.
WHAT MAKES YOUR CAREER LAWFULLY UNCOMMON?
I never actually practiced law in the traditional sense i.e. in a law firm. From the start, I knew that I didn't want to be a "hired gun" and move from file to file and client to client. In law school, I remember talking to as many people as I could about non-traditional legal careers. This was more than 25 years ago and many of the options that exist today did not exist then.
One of the people I spoke to was the McGill in-house counsel whom my father worked with as a McGill administrator. He talked about working for the government, a municipality, a labour union or a private company. As he talked, I asked him what he did and when he explained the range of legal issues that he dealt with and the fact that he had one client and was actually involved in the decision-making, I asked "how do I get to do that?". He had a good relationship with the in-house counsel at Concordia and I ended up doing a joint articling position for McGill and Concordia working only on university files.
When I finished my articling, Concordia was looking for a junior lawyer and I joined Concordia full time in 1992. The exposure to all areas of law was amazing- labour, real estate, administrative, contract, environmental, (which was barely a thing in those days) etc. Over the next ten years, I rose in the ranks to become Assistant Secretary-General and General Counsel overseeing the legal department as well as several other departments and being responsible for all corporate governance aspects. As the years progressed, I ended up doing less and less legal stuff and more management, administration and strategic dossiers which is what I really like. Plus, I was doing all this for a non-profit institution of higher education. I felt like, and continue to feel, that I am contributing to the betterment of society.
From 2003-2008, I left Concordia and did something totally different. I was Chief Operating Officer and Director of External Relations for FEDERATION CJA, the central fundraising and social services organization for the Jewish community of Montreal. My legal training was helpful as I oversaw risk management and legal stuff as part of my responsibilities but I was not practicing law at all.
I came back to Concordia in 2008 as Vice-President, External Relations and Secretary-General. Over the next 7 years, I had various areas of responsibilities as a result of the needs of the university and my skill set. During that period, I always kept the legal piece as part of my portfolio although I was not involved in the day to day legal operations since we had a General Counsel and very competent legal office.
In the summer of 2013, I was asked to take over responsibility, on a trial basis, of Concordia's fundraising and alumni relations efforts. I agreed to do so while keeping my other responsibilities. It turns out that I am pretty good at the fundraising and alumni relations stuff and as of December 2015, I gave up my other responsibilities including the legal piece to focus full time on my new position. For the first time in 25 years, I am doing no law whatsoever and I serve as Vice-President, Advancement and External Relations. I should point out that one of my law classmates, Marc Weinstein, holds the same position at McGill. Two lawyers from McGill doing fundraising for two of the major universities in Montreal!
AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO DO LAW YOUR OWN WAY?
I knew right from the start that I did not want to be a traditional law firm lawyer and I began exploring options while still in law school.
WHAT GOT YOUR JUICES FLOWING OR TICKLED YOUR FANCY WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?
I greatly enjoyed being with very smart people. It's a real treat to spend time, discuss and argue with smart, well-informed people who want to do good (most of them anyways!).
WHAT MADE YOUR BLOOD BOIL OR MADE YOU SNOOZE WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?
Not too much made my blood boil. I was pretty involved- Class rep, Yearbook Editor, LSA President etc. I really enjoyed my time there. If there was one thing that aggravated me (and which still aggravates me today by the way), it would be people who have fixed positions and aren't willing to listen to others. I certainly don't agree with everything that everyone says but I do try and listen and see where they're coming from. Some people were so dogmatic and fixed in their views that I found it difficult to exchange with them.
In terms of snoozing, we all have our classes/profs which we find less than scintillating. I wouldn't want to single anyone out but I do remember a common law property class at 8:30am one term. It was pretty brutal.
DO YOU STILL SEE LAW ALL AROUND YOU?
Yes. It is actually true that once you are trained as a lawyer, you see the world differently even if you aren't doing law anymore. Your mind just works differently from other people- like engineers or other similar professions by the way. My son is an engineer and he doesn't look at a bridge or a structure the same way that I do.
YOU ARE AT COFFEEHOUSE SPEAKING TO A FIRST-YEAR LAW STUDENT. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM? PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR ANSWER IN A TWEET.
Make the most of ur @Lawmcgill training. U never know what door it will open and where it will take u #lawfullyuncommon.
WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BRAM Freedman LOOK LIKE?
Pretty long and hectic. I travel a lot visiting alumni and donors around the world so when I am in Montreal, my days are jam-packed with meetings and events- anywhere from 6-12 discrete meetings and/or events a day. These can range from meetings with my management team, other university colleagues, my boss, donors, Board meetings, attending external events like Board of Trade luncheons or dinners at the University President's home with donors. If my first meeting isn't until 8:30am and I'm home for 7pm, I consider that to be a good day. That said, I really enjoy what I do and I'm passionate about it.
IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE BLESSING AND CURSE OF AN EXTRA HOUR EVERY DAY TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
My days are so jam-packed that I don't always have enough time to actually digest what has happened during the day and think about the next steps and follow-up.
ANY REGRETS? (YEAH, WE'RE INTROSPECTIVE LIKE THAT)
No career regrets. I have only worked for two organizations for my entire career and I am passionate about where I work and what I do. What's there to regret?