Ian Philp / Director of Partnerships, Advanced Energy Centre at MaRS Discovery District

A major innovation and commercialization hub in Toronto, the MaRS Discovery District is a public-private partnership working to unite industry, utilities and government to consolidate and extend Canada’s early lead in next-generation energy technologies by capturing new domestic markets and transforming local successes into international market opportunities. 

Previously, Ian worked with a boutique UK-based investment bank making targeted energy efficiency investments in developing Asia, and as an international trade lawyer defending Canada’s renewable energy procurement programs under the NAFTA. Ian also spent four years as a UN legal and political advisor in the Middle East. From 2005-2007, Ian was part of the UN’s humanitarian relief effort in Iraq, and advised the Iraqi and Kurdish governments on post-conflict legal reconstruction as part of a Baghdad-based legal team.

Ian was named a Future Energy Leader by the World Energy Council, is an Atlantic Council Emerging Leaders in Environment & Energy Policy (ELEEP) Fellow, and was a 2011-12 Action Canada Fellow. Alongside his McGill Law degree, he holds an honours degree in international relations and economics, and a MBA with a specialization in energy finance.

You can read more about Ian here.

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

No, it was something that I came to.  I was always interested in history and politics, and after I finished my undergraduate degree it was a natural next step.

What makes your current career "lawfully uncommon"?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have two “lawfully uncommon” career paths.  The first was working for the UN doing legal reconstruction work in post-conflict countries.  I started in Lebanon and Yemen, and then ended up in Iraq after the war as part of a UN legal team advising the Iraqi Parliament as they drafted new laws and revised Saddam–era legislation.  When I returned to Canada, I worked as an international trade litigator for the Department of Foreign Affairs, did a MBA, and then transitioned to the MaRS Discovery District where I help run a centre that connects innovative Canadian cleantech start-ups with global markets.

At what moment did you realize that you wanted to switch gears?

One experience I had while working in Iraq really changed me.  One of the pieces of legislation we were asked to advise on in Iraq their Hydrocarbon Law.  I didn’t know much about the energy sector, so I started reading up on it and quickly discovered the importance of the link between energy and climate change.  The more I read, the more urgency I felt and the more I realized that climate change will be a defining challenge of our generation.  This chance discovery led to me deciding to re-focus my career on the climate challenge, in particular through helping develop the technologies that will help us transition to a low-carbon economy.

Ian about to board a bush plane in Labrador.

Ian about to board a bush plane in Labrador.

How much has this shift in gears changed your life?

Enormously!  It took hard work, a MBA, and a lot of legwork, networking and persistence, but in the end I succeeded in shifting gears.  I’m passionate about the work I do – I could never have expected I’d end up here when I started law school, but it fits me really well.

What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school? Any good stories come to mind?

One of my favourite extracurriculars while at law school was anchoring the radio show “Legalese” on McGill Campus Radio.  Most of our shows were focussed on breaking down and explaining legal issues for a general audience.  The challenge of explaining law in plain language was a skill I was glad to have the chance to develop – and besides, it’s fun to be on the radio!

Do you still see law all around you? Or is that a thing of the past?

My work at MaRS isn’t explicitly legal, but my legal training comes in handy every day.  Even small things like understanding the constitutional division of powers, the basic principles of contract law, or the differences between legislation and regulation has been a really helpful and have made me more effective at what I do.

You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them? Please provide your answer in a tweet. Yes, that means 140 characters and hashtags. (We are millennials, so keep in mind that this will make it to the world wide web.)

Law opens far more doors than you can see now, but you’ll have to blaze the path to the best ones on your own. Follow your internal compass and keep exploring. #law #followyourpassion

What does the day in the life of Ian look like? Give us the rundown.

It’s incredibly varied – a regular day could include helping start-ups understand market opportunities in other countries, brokering partnership agreements with corporate partners and utilities who want to work with us, informing government on about opportunities for Canadian energy innovation, or speaking in public forums to raise the profile of the cleantech sector as a whole.

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 read more!  Take advantage of the flexibility you have in law school and use the time you have to read up on subjects you’re interested in – you never know where it will lead!