When Doug McLeod (LLB ’09) was in his second year at the Allard School of Law, he accepted a summer student position in Toronto, Ontario. The born-and-raised British Columbian didn’t know a soul in the city. In fact, he had never set foot in Toronto until he had flown there for interviews earlier that week. Fast forward ten years and he now has a multitude of contacts, both professional and personal, an incredibly successful commercial litigation practice within Blakes, Cassels, & Graydon LLP, and legal experiences he wouldn’t have been able to access anywhere else. Doug McLeod is a prime example of the success that can be achieved if you embrace the unknown and pursue the legal market you are most interested in.
We decided to feature his interview here to inspire and provide advice for any alumni, recent grads or current student who may wish to apply or transfer to a market where they lack strong ties.
Q. Being a native British Columbian, what initially drew you to the Toronto legal market?
“I think it was just that – I lived my whole life in BC and at that point lived in Vancouver, which was the only place I had lived since leaving my parents' home. Finishing my degree and starting a new career path is, in my view, a natural time to go somewhere different and take the plunge. For me, somewhere different was Toronto. I was attracted to the idea of living in the center of Canada’s legal action. Even before my first visit I was more than excited to make the move over to Toronto. Once I accepted the position I had been offered by Blakes I went back to Toronto the following summer, that summer went very well, and after my last year at the law school I returned to article and have been there ever since.”
Q. Was there ever a time you were nervous about leaving BC and moving to a new city?
“I was. I had been in BC my whole life and I was nervous about what would come next. However, I was also ready. It is all a matter of what your personal pace is. I am someone who loves the idea of the big city and the bright lights and a ton of people and activities constantly surrounding me. Toronto is quite a bit bigger than Vancouver, and it allows me to be in the middle of a lot of bustle and activity, and ups the intensity in my day-to-day practice. Another person may find it far more appealing to stay in a city that offers a smaller city feel, such that is available in Vancouver. For me, it is safe to say that my excitement overtook my feelings of nervousness.”
Q. From your perspective, how is practicing law different in Vancouver and Toronto, and what are your favourite aspects of practicing in Toronto?
“One interesting thing about the legal landscape is how the regional industry dictates the practice of law – practitioners in Calgary tend to focus on oil and gas, but there are less obvious examples as well. Many firms in Vancouver have prominent insurance related practices for ICBC claims, etc, and this isn’t quite as prominent in Toronto. Toronto is much more finance and securities driven, and having a background in business, this naturally appealed to me.”
Q. We’ve all heard the common advice for students to go to law school where they want to practice, but what would be your advice for students attending the Allard School of Law or recent graduates without strong ties to a different market, who ultimately want to apply there?
“Go somewhere new and try something different – a year later if you miss it, you can move back and at least you tried it. The reverse isn’t true. It’d be a lot harder to move once you’re established in your career and city, as the stakes are higher. Naturally during interviews or career shifts, that is the best time. I am a pretty extreme case of someone who had no connection to the place that I was applying to. Concerned you won’t be considered a sincere applicant? The bottom line is you should wear your heart on your sleeve. If you’re flying to the city, whatever city that may be, there is a reason you’re there and not somewhere else. Don’t come up with a blurb, be sincere, and say earnestly why you’re excited to be in that particular city that you’re applying to. For Toronto specifically, it is common that it is where many Canadian lawyers go if they want to be in the capital marketplace with the greatest exposure to capital transactions. Take the time before you interview, reflect and list out reasons why you want to be there, your inner motivations, and really make that the part of your story that shines through during interviews.”
Whether you’re interested in a new market for professional or personal reasons, the reality of the Canadian legal market is that there is often mobility between the major legal centers of this country. Good luck, and don’t forget to check out the the Career Service Office’s Symplicity support for alumni to find opportunities in your ideal location.