George Iny is the Executive Director of the Automobile Protection Association.
Let’s start with the basics. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?
I did not always imagine myself going to law school. When I applied for college admission, I chose two other concentrations at different universities.
What did the journey from big law to your lawfully uncommon career look like?
While I was in law school, I joined the student-run legal aid service as a volunteer. I very much enjoyed working as a Clinic staff member and then directed the Clinic for two years. At that time, the McGill University service had the highest volume of information requests because it served the local community in addition to the campus, and the lowest operating cost among Quebec's university legal information services.
In the last year of school, I applied to a couple of the law firms whose lawyers I met through the Clinic, but did not really have a clear vision of a way forward. One of the lawyers recommended me for a summer job with a not-for-profit association, and that was my jumping off point; I never seriously considered a conventional law career after that. For most of my first five years of public interest activity, I was giddy with the work, as I had not considered many of the opportunities that came my way would ever have been possible. I was interviewed by and worked for Canada's major media organisations, made representations before committees of the provincial legislature, and prepared reports that contributed to legislative changes and multi-million dollar settlements. In those days, in the 1980s, the auto industry was deficient on a great many levels -- vehicle quality was appalling, safety issues were a concern, repair practices fraudulent, private auto insurance in crisis - the list goes on -- and opportunities for meaningful public interest interventions seemingly fell in my lap. The field of consumer protection was still young in Quebec, and had strong elements of social and remedial justice to it. The pioneers were giants, many with a strong commitment to, and understanding of, the importance of economic and social, as well political independence for Quebec, and it was a privilege to work with them.
What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?
The legal aid service got my juices flowing while at law school. I enjoyed the work, and learning useful everyday law that was often of immediate benefit to the client. As a director, I was able to meet many of my fellow students who became clinic volunteers (about 50 every year in those days). In addition to meeting many of the most interesting law students, I also got to know the heads of other student-run volunteer organisations at law school and on campus. At the time, the Clinic's directors were funded to keep the operation open over the summer; that was one of my most rewarding summer jobs and it motivated me to continue studying.
What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?
It was not until second year that I figured out that law school was mostly about the study of laws; most exams required not even a passing concern with justice, equality or remediation. One of my classmates, a former police officer, laughed when I shared this personal "discovery" with him; he thought I was incredibly naive!
My sense at McGill in those days (and I know it has changed a lot since)was that teaching undergraduates wasn't approached systematically and professors provided wildly divergent experiences. Casebooks were frequently excessively long, haphazard compilations; some profs even removed the case summaries at the beginning of decisions. Being able to plow through a mountain of inscrutable materials was perceived as a kind of Hero thing, like not being kicked of the island on Survivor. I studied law for one year at Laval University where the teaching was more structured and study materials better geared to learning.
Do you still see law all around you?
Of course. The first year of law school is almost like the first years of grade school; it's a time for wonder in which the universe seems to open up and you learn new ways to see and understand what is all around you. First year law school is when you learn about the rules it takes to create a country, what governs relations in a society, and the concepts for a framework to govern relations between individuals. I think that a functional grounding in law should be part of almost any political science, economics or business degree. It should be more than just one course taught as a sideline by a professor in those faculties or a visiting practice lawyer; a term or minor in law would enable students in other disciplines to understand the legal underpinnings of the work they will eventually do.
You are at a coffee house speaking to a first-year law student. What advice would you give them?
Advice to a student should be tailored to the actual individual and their circumstances, so I'm hesitant to provide One Size Fits All counsel. Here is the advice I would have given myself as a first year law student if I could travel back in time:
· Keep it lighter; try not to take things too seriously.
· If you find something you love while in university, consider investing time in it. Chances are, it will have a connection with some area of the law. If it’s something really new or an emerging area, it may be a subject one of the academics would be interested in either approving for a paper or collaborating on with you. This will probably turn into one of your more valuable academic experiences at law school.
· Invest in your friendships; law school is a great place to meet bright, interesting people with integrity; you may have to look outside the mainstream but you will eventually find them. Years later, they will be a great community for you.
What does a day in your life look like? Give us the rundown!
I spend about half my time in an office. When I'm away, it could be for vehicle testing, to meet an expert or lawyers representing the association I direct, for a media interview, or offsite to write an article. I spend about a three weeks a year in another part of Canada for field investigations, many of which are eventually broadcast on television. This part of the job has allowed me to discover a lot of Canada, at the real-world everyday level, which you wouldn't necessarily encounter as a tourist.
Like almost everyone else, the smart phone initially provided me the opportunity to untether myself from a particular time or place to do my work, and to respond to inquiries much more quickly. Now it has now become an appendage -- sometimes a blessing and sometimes not. In the late 1990s-early 2000s, I was able to take 2-3 week summer holidays, stopping in at internet cafés once a week to answer some messages. That would be inconceivable today.
If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?
To me, for renewal, it would be important to use that hour for a complementary, non-work activity. If you could throw in a few more months of summer weather, I would be out on a bicycle or some other outdoor sport or activity. I love to ski and if somehow I could magically be teleported to a ski hill for a full hour of every day, I think I'd enjoy it year-round.
The time flew by; I've always had more demand for my services/counsel/work than I could provide, so was always busy and the work was frequently interesting or pioneering in my field. In hindsight, I would have liked to try something different with one of my work decades. In my early career, I devoted more time to staying in touch with my counterparts and fellow travelers in the Washington DC area, New York, and Ottawa -- many of those relationships led to implicit or explicit overtures to try something elsewhere, almost seamlessly in some cases. The situation is less fluid when you get older.