What Would You Have Done Differently?

  • April 01, 2014
  • Andreas Kalogiannides

The Latin word 'corrigendum' refers to an error, typically in a printed work, in need of correction. This column began as an introspective look into the professional lives of Ontario’s most celebrated lawyers and legal scholars, in search of an answer to the question “What would you have done differently?”

The answers to this question were not what I expected; rather, what I found were personal stories that revealed how the most successful and interesting professional lives are fluid and dynamic: things never unfold like you thought they would and, most importantly, character and fortitude have the biggest influence on the when, where, how and why.

This column is not about sharing in the ‘errors’ or regrets of our colleagues. These are stories of people who have spent a life in law. And a life spent in the law can be, at times - and for lack of a better word - "messy": the nature of our profession tends to minimize the value of our personal life while aggrandizing that of our professional one. 

Thus, it is my hope that these stories remind us that, although we all experience life and work differently, we share many common experiences. And, in so doing, that these stories galvanize us not only as lawyers, but also - and more importantly - as people.

Nathalie DesRosiers Nathalie Des Rosiers
Dean, University of Ottawa Common Law Faculty

Nathalie Des Rosiers has earned a reputation as a builder of institutions and civic life: the Ordre du Canada (2013); “Nation Builder” (Globe and Mail, 2010); “One of Canada’s Twenty-Five Most Influential Lawyers” (Canadian Lawyer, 2012 and 2011).

She seeks out challenging opportunities in an effort to make the world a better place: “You should always approach leadership institutions with a view to make it better,” she says.

In 2009, troubled by the many ongoing institutional failures in the Maher Arar extraordinary rendition case, Nathalie felt compelled to do something to prevent this kind of injustice from happening again. “As a lawyer, I was particularly struck by the importance of continuing to work strongly, with all energy, to ensure the processes were followed.” Already a high-ranking administrator at the University of Ottawa, she seized an opportunity to join the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as its general counsel.

This was a tumultuous time to join the CCLA, particularly as Toronto was set to welcome the chaos of the G-20 Summit. Nathalie and her team pushed the Toronto Police Service to improve their tactics, establishing community monitoring and outreach programs, and generally tried to make sense of the situation for the rest of us. Again, Nathalie saw a challenging situation in need of a solution: “It’s easy to protect freedom of expression when things are peaceful,” she says. “It’s more difficult when there is friction.”

Nathalie’s move to the CCLA highlights her belief that personal reinvention and continued self-discovery form a significant part of what it means to have a meaningful career. It is about being honest with yourself regarding your goals, limitations and passions, and, even when things move slowly, you keep moving forward because you believe in the work.

I ask Nathalie whether there was something she would have done differently. 

I would have certainly learned English earlier!

We share a laugh (she speaks fluently). Nathalie takes a moment to recompose her thoughts.  “At times, you can’t do everything you have planned or hoped”she says, referring to unfinished projects and unwritten books. Ever the leader, her thoughts turn immediately to her colleagues: “Sometimes you wish you had a little bit more time to spend with people and ensure that you’re a good team member by reflecting the value of everyone’s hard work.”

Nathalie is humble about her accomplishments, despite building for herself a remarkable career over nearly three decades, including a Harvard LL.M., a Supreme Court clerkship, and several esteemed positions in the service of our profession’s most recognized institutions.“I’ve been so lucky. I’ve had so many great opportunities in terms of feeling that the work that I love was meaningful and was useful.”

And there will be more opportunities to make meaningful contributions; Nathalie will ensure that. Over the next five years, she aims to improve access to justice and legal education in the areas of Aboriginal, privacy and immigration law. Nathalie speaks enthusiastically about the future; there’s much to do, though she has already accomplished a lot.

Laurie PawlitzaLaurie Pawlitza
Torkin Manes LLP

Laurie reflects on the real reason she decided to go to law school: “I didn’t really know what lawyers do, except from TV shows like Perry Mason. Lawyers went to court, they talked a lot…”

She admits that it is possible that the “die was cast” early on in her life as a farm girl in rural Saskatchewan. At a young age, Laurie’s mother put her into speaking competitions; by all accounts, dinner at the Pawlitza’s could be something akin to a mock trial. “I grew up in a family where everybody talked over one another and whoever talked the loudest was the one who got heard,” she says. A natural-born litigator right from the start.

A recent break from private practice to assume the role of Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada (2010-2012) afforded Laurie the opportunity for more nuanced reflection on her life in the law: “How terrific this is - to have work that is so fulfilling, that you use your brain every day, that you get to use judgment that you’ve honed over a number of years?”

There was certainly no “master plan” for Laurie’s career, except when she ran for, and was elected to, a bencher’s position with the LSUC – there was a plan there, and she worked hard to execute it. Like most accomplished leaders, Laurie attributes her achievements to a mix of good fortune and the people with whom she has worked over the years. Laurie is almost reticent on this topic, describing luck as “a tremendous amount of hard work, and being able to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself.”

She situates her own career experiences within those of other women in the law, particularly young women who have recently entered the profession. The opportunities and challenges they encounter are similar, but also markedly different in some ways, to what she faced in the early days of her career. I ask whether those differences, at least in part, are generational; “They might be,” she replies. Either way, more women can publicly voice their accomplishments. “Women tend to credit their achievements to others that have assisted them along the way,” she says. “Women, more than men, are more reticent in that regard.”

Laurie’s proudest career moment is her successful 1994 court application challenging the constitutionality of adoption legislation for same-sex couples. She reflects passionately and unapologetically about the satisfaction she derived from having made a visible impact on the shape of the modern Canadian family.

I ask Laurie whether she would have done anything differently. Her thoughts turn to her days as a young lawyer working in a strange, new city, to the thing she would have wanted most at the time: mentorship. She recalls being “too aggressive”early in her career; chalk it up to the transition from the Pawlitza household to courtroom life, I suppose. “I would have learned the benefits of civility earlier. There are so many ways to resolve things in a way that doesn’t mean being difficult or achieving the best resolution for your client.”

Re-invigorated by a return to private practice, Laurie speaks enthusiastically about opportunities to take on new and meaningful trial work. She is not as aggressive as she once might have been, but she is just as fiery. “I’m never quite finished.  I’m having a huge amount of fun.”

Frank IacobucciThe Hon. Frank Iacobucci
Torys LLP

One could easily start an article about Frank Iacobucci’s career with an over-used rhetorical device - “What can you say about such a insert-reverential-adjectives-here career?” To be sure, many moments and achievements in his storied career are worth highlighting: Wall Street lawyer; revered academic; former Chief Justice (Federal Court) and Supreme Court Justice.

But, as Frank gazes out the floor-to-ceiling windows of his Bay Street firm – his current “professional home”, as he puts it – reminiscing about a career spanning five decades, I soon discover that Frank’s character is, more than any other factor, responsible for his professional successes: passionate; humble; a true polymath.

To understand the story of Frank’s career is to understand the influence on him of the most important people in his life: his parents and their values of hard work, courage and education; his older brother’s patience in teaching him cribbage and arithmetic as a young boy. However, nowhere is this influence more obvious than when I ask Frank to identify an inflection point in his career: without any hesitation, it is meeting his wife, Nancy.

The love and respect he holds for Nancy is strong and undeniable; you get the sense that he would follow her anywhere. Were it not for Nancy, neither would have Frank moved to New York City to work on Wall Street, nor would he have come to Toronto to teach at the University of Toronto. It is the people in his life, not the office, that matter most.  

Because of this, Frank is always open to new career opportunities, no matter where they might take him geographically – New York, Ottawa, Toronto, and occasionally, Connecticut. Because, for Frank, to be “home” is to be with his family.

Was there ever a master plan for how his career might unfold? “Gosh, no!” he exclaims.  Rather, Frank frames his career in terms of a mix of providence and planning. He tempers his successes - what most of us would consider momentous, perhaps unattainable, achievements - with self-effacing comments like “Well, that was just providence interacting with planning interacting with providence, again!”

Such humility is rare, but, in Frank, it is unquestionably authentic.

It is perhaps no surprise that Frank places tremendous value on following your passions: “I think a career choice involves a combination of factors: quality of life, material income, and finding your passion”.

Passions produce “psychic income”, as Frank puts it, “…a sense of satisfaction of contributing to society, serving your organization and your colleagues.” As long as you have that, with hard work – he is very clear on the hard work bit - the rest will take care of itself. But, soon he is right back to talking about the role of providence in his life. Again, that humility. 

There is a certain grace to Frank’s thoughts; his answers thinly-veiled nuggets of wisdom, delivered with an infectious enthusiasm that leaps across the table. You can “feel” talking to Frank Iacobucci.

I ask about the highest point in his career. His face lights up – that’s an easy one: “I pinch myself every day about being a member of the Supreme Court of Canada.”

I delve deeper. Were there low points in your career? Was there anything you would have done differently? My questions are met with a long pause, eventually culminating in an exasperated ‘gee-whiz’, only to be followed by more silence. Finally, an answer: of course there were twists and turns, opportunities foregone in favour of others, and the odd disappointment. But Frank would not change a thing. “My regrets are miniscule because I have been so blessed.”

His voice stresses the word ‘blessed’, smiling as he says it. Again, that humility.

Eugene MeehanEugene Meehan
Supreme Advocacy LLP

Says Eugene Meehan, “I’m not that smart — I was educated beyond my intelligence: I had to go to law school four different times (so ended up with four different law degrees), but my business card says I’ve been appointed Queen’s Counsel.”

He’s an average driver but continues to hold an Ontario licence with Z Endorsement (tractor trailer, air brakes, buses) and is re-tested every three years because, “these skills could be helpful as a backup career in case any of the six bars of which I am a practising member boot me out simultaneously.”

Eugene was born in Scotland, but he doesn’t like porridge (he was force fed it as a kid); he also doesn’t golf, curl or drink alcohol.

He passionately – “truly, madly, deeply”, as he points out - loves his wife Giovanna (The Hon. Justice Giovanna Roccamo of the Superior Court) and their four ‘kids’ Naomi, Marc, Mélanie and Morgan. “I also really love being a lawyer. I enjoy the work; I enjoy the responsibility. I cycle a wee bit harder knowing I’m going into work every morning.”

Two years ago, Eugene and his partner, Marie-France, set up Supreme Advocacy LLP, an Ottawa firm specializing in appellate advocacy. Comprised of four lawyers and eight staff, Supreme Advocacy ghostwrites factums for other lawyers in Courts of Appeal across Canada, and takes cases to the Supreme Court of Canada in all areas of law, from Agriculture to Zoning (A to Z). They also assist other lawyers with taking cases there, whether as co-counsel or SCC agents. “Marie-France and I used to work there, so it’s an environment we like, and to put humility aside, we are good at it.”

What would he have done differently? As one of five boys, he would have had a sister. His law partner Marie-France is an ‘only’ child, with no brothers. Eugene now has a sister (at work), and she, a brother.

Andreas KalogiannidesAbout the Author

Andreas Kalogiannides operates Kalogiannides Law, a Toronto practice in the areas of intellectual property, corporate, technology, and immigration law, with a focus on creative professionals. andreas@kalogiannideslaw.com.

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