It is four o’clock on November 20th, and I’ve been travelling around the office to say my goodbyes. It doesn’t take long to do the travelling, but the goodbyes take a while. There’s only nine members of the legal department in all at Cineplex, but for a multi-billion dollar corporation, they do the work of ninety.
Cineplex has rapidly expanded in the last few years beyond acting as a plain film exhibitor. With a constantly growing portfolio of activities under its wing, the world of the legal department is massive. I worked on files relating to e-sports, liquor licensing, real estate, public authority procurement, media sales, trademarks, copyright, contra agreements, popcorn flavouring production, securities and privacy law to name very few. If it looks as though the intellectual property topics take precious little room in that shortlist, you’d be right. In-house counsel roles rarely get to focus on one area of the law, and everybody’s desk at any given time has an enormous stack of different items for their attention. It’s never quiet, but it can get very busy, as was the case when I arrived.
My very first day at Cineplex was during the closing stages of a multi-million dollar deal to purchase one of the largest e-sports companies in North America. Although Cineplex will employ outside counsel to work on much of these deals, there are still a thousand things to be done to ensure a deal is properly concluded. Before anyone in the office could even take a breath, another multi-million dollar deal was in its closing stages. All hands were on deck!
Heading into the placement, I had been given notice that, compared to some of the other placements in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program, my role would not be focused so much on IP, but would be mirroring the workload of the other lawyers on staff. This is certainly true, and bears mentioning for any other students considering this placement. That said, I cannot feel anything other than benefiting from this, as I was exposed to multiple areas of law, and was able to add significantly to my skill set as a lawyer. That said, when IP jobs did come into the office, they were generally dropped at my desk. These included procedural tasks like cease-and-desist letters, but ranged up to substantive research in service of a licensing problem. I found myself drafting memoranda for circulation either within the legal department, or for company-wide circulation, which requires a new set of skills. Rather than presenting IRAC-style information, you’re producing a document with colour and graphics that is designed to draw the eye to the relevant elements, while breaking down the law into digestible chunks.
One of the most interesting roles to come my way was actually related to municipal zoning regulations. Although I could never have imagined taking an interest in this before, a request to research Toronto’s bylaws led to a national comparison as the company developed its next big venture, The Rec Room. This project involves building massive licensed amusement complexes across Canada, with a huge range of activities in mind. Nothing on this scale has been attempted before, and so anticipating the approach of a municipality to a proposed multi-purpose licensed business required research far beyond a simple reading of the law. It became a question of strategy, and looked at areas like Criminal Code gaming provisions and provincial liquor laws. The answers provided to these kinds of problems are not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but become nuanced and rich with context. As a result, the research you provide as a lawyer at Cineplex has real-world effects, and, most importantly for someone whose legal efforts have only been (literally) academic, it has value.
The role of in-house counsel is not one that law school traditionally positions you towards. Your role is often more akin to that of an advisor, and litigation is generally handled by external counsel. This means that lawyers at Cineplex become much more entwined with the business, and Cineplex is an extremely dynamic, fast-moving, and exciting one at that. As was noted to me on my last day, “It’s nice to be the client.” It’s certainly a career path I’d be very happy to take.