Janet Chong (3rd year, LLB) is VP Promotions of the Osgoode IP and Technology Society
“Law is a tough mistress is you want to be a good lawyer.”
So spoke Toni Ashton, Senior Partner at Sim Lowman Aston & McKay, busting the myth that the practice of IP affords a better work/life balance than other areas of law. Many more practitioners shared their thoughts on practice-related issues with a student audience at the Annual IP Career Panel at Osgoode Hall on February 19, organized by the student-run Osgoode IP and Technology Law Society. Among the panelists were Osgoode’s very own Professors Carys Craig and Rex Shoyama; Albert Cloutier, Director of Copyright and International IP Policy at Industry Canada (who travelled from Ottawa to attend the event); Sue Diaz and Michael Migus, associates at Deeth Williams Wall; Martin Herman, Senior Legal Counsel at Bombardier Aerospace; and Jason Kee, Director of Policy and Legal Affairs for Entertainment Software Association of Canada.
The panelists were frank about the pressures of the practice of law in general, and the challenges of practicing IP law in specific. The private practitioners admitted that ebbs and flows in their work are unpredictable and inevitable, and that the practice of IP law is a minefield involving complex regulatory processes and demanding close stewardship and attention to detail. Client development is a must. And the maintenance of their competence requires nothing short of a commitment to staying current with legal developments, and hence never feeling too comfortable with what they know. In managing everything from professional obligations to personal responsibilities, something has to give. The speakers in in-house and government positions face unique challenges of dealing with dissenting opinions from within their organizations and balancing the interests of various stakeholders. They spoke of the danger of misspeaking in public and having it attributed to, and thus reflect negatively on, their respective organizations. And not surprisingly, they often must navigate the institutional politics to have their voices heard. Alas, everyone agreed that the trappings of the “golden handcuffs” are very real throughout a lawyer’s career, no matter which route he or she takes.
But all is not gloom and doom. Passion for their work exuded from all the speakers throughout the discussion. Toni Ashton analogized the practice of law as a beach (she loves the ocean). Sometimes it’s sunny and calm, everything is dandy. Other times the ocean is angry and stormy, making it the last place you want to be. Passion for what you do, she said, is what will carry you through the tough patches. Professor Craig finds gratification in seeing students absorb her teaching and share the same enthusiasm. Martin Herman spoke of the “post-closing high” that he experiences at the end of major projects and his role in influencing the actual decision-making in a major corporation (not to mention being able to fulfill his childhood dream of being close to airplanes). Albert Cloutier gets excited in seeing his ideas reflected in a legislative provision, knowing the difficulty involved in achieving that because of the multiple checks and balances in the legislative process and the political nature of his work. The private practitioners and in-house counsels on the Panel revel in being intellectually stimulated, being immersed in the creative world of marketing people and inventors who open their eyes to a different world, and contributing to the success of an innovation from the start.
The parting words of the panelists were poignant, particularly regarding our tendency to do what we think (or what others say) we should do, rather than what we truly like. “Listen to your gut,” says Sue Diaz, “If something seems interesting, try it!” She cautioned against getting too wrapped up with listening to others’ “murmurs”. Rather, we should always do what we feel is right. Jason Kee echoed that sentiment with the round-hole-square-peg analogy. “Don’t try to force yourself into something you’re not,” he insists, “Be true to yourself. Opportunities will present itself because you gravitate towards what you like”. “Life may take you to different directions,” says Toni Ashton. To both her and Rex Shoyama, in our navigation through the various options in the IP practice, we must go out there, keep our eyes open, talk to as may people as possible to get different perspectives, and work hard. “And you will find your way,” concludes Rex.