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.
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.
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.
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!