Catherine works as a negotiation and strategy consultant at Juniper, a boutique consulting firm. Prior to her current role, Catherine worked at Cirque du Soleil in the strategy and business development team, as the director of operations at Ecofuel, a cleantech Startup Accelerator, and as an associate at Norton Rose Fulbright where she practiced for 3 years. She currently volunteers at the Dr. Julien Foundation (she has been a big sister for the last 15 years!) and the Welcome Collective.
Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s)
I work as a negotiation and strategy consultant for a boutique consulting firm called Juniper. What I do changes on a daily basis, but my focus is to help people and organisations develop their full potential especially by building/strengthening their negotiation capability and helping them develop bold strategic plans.
I developed a passion for negotiation while in law school and it has since guided my career path from working as a litigator/mediator to managing the operations of a startup accelerator and negotiating venture capital investments, to negotiating partnerships for Cirque du Soleil and finally to working as a negotiation/strategy consultant.
Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?
No, not at all. While in undergrad (poli sci), I wanted to become a diplomat and was planning to do a master’s degree in international relations. I was advised to get a law degree instead, as it would open more doors throughout my career, which it did! I ended up not following the initial plan and the most exciting part is that I ended up getting jobs that I didn’t even know existed while in law school.
At what moment did you realise you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction? What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?
While in law school, I knew from the outset that I wasn’t going to follow a traditional path. I felt quite lost during the two first years until I took a mediation class that was a real game changer for me. I knew that I was on to something, so I decided to take as many classes as possible on mediation and negotiation inside and outside the Faculty and did as many internships as possible at different institutions, such as at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and at the Canadian Embassy in Lima, Peru. These learning experiences allowed me to specialize in a field that I became truly passionate about.
While I decided to take a more traditional path after graduation (i.e. working at a law firm), I used my non-billable hours to further develop my skills in negotiation. For example, I started to give negotiation training to my colleagues as well as to some clients of the firm. After 3 years of practicing law, I was ready to move away from the traditional law firm path and take my career in my own direction.
What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?
I don’t give legal advices. I rather help people and organizations find solutions to their most difficult challenges and empower them through effective negotiation and strategic thinking/planning. I also spend quite a bit of my time training people, including students from the Faculty, to become effective negotiators.
Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?
I’m grateful to so many people that have influenced the choices I made in some way or another. There are some key individuals, such as Louise Otis (former judge at the Court of Appeal and pioneer in mediation) who sparked my interest for negotiation. There are also many other people that have had a small but impactful influence through small gestures, such as introducing me to someone meaningful, giving me that first experience, opening me a door or just making me know that they believed in me.
What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?
Being surrounded by so many inspiring and ambitious classmates that wanted to have a positive impact on others. I would also say classes thought by practitioners and the fields of mediation and negotiation.
What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?
The classes that were more theoretical.
Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?
The challenges I faced were more in the transition from working at a law firm to my other off-the-beaten-path jobs. It was not easy to stay focus and determined while some people were discouraging me to make these moves. I wasn’t sure where I would end up, but I knew I had to make a move and trust my instincts to choose an alternative path that would lead to opportunities more in line with my strengths and the kind of impact I wanted to have.
Do you still see the law all around you?
Yes, but in a non-traditional way. While I don’t work as a lawyer, I like to say that I still practice law, but in a more creative and innovative way.
What advice would you give to a first-year law student?
First, try to identify what motivates you, what keeps you awake at night. Once you have identified it, build around it.
Second, identify what your strengths are and focus on finding a career where they will be used and have the greatest impact. While you want to work in an environment that will constantly stretch and challenge you, you want to make sure that your strengths are used most of the time.
Lastly, surround yourself with people that believe in you.
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 learn a new language, probably Arabic or Portuguese… Actually, I could also use an extra hour of sleep ;)
Not really. When faced with a decision, I always ask myself whether I might regret it or not. This has pushed me to listen to my intuition and take calculated risks. In the end, those decisions led me to where I am today. I love my career and I’m quite excited for what’s to come next.
The Lawfully Uncommon initiative is supported by the McGill Carrer Development Office.