No place like home: Law alumni preach devotion to Montreal community

Dean Nicholas Kasirer, Faculty of Law, McGill University, with alumni Julie Latour, Loto-Québec, and Jan-Fryderyk Pleszczynski, Digital Dimensions. / Photo Owen Egan
Dean Nicholas Kasirer, Faculty of Law, McGill University, with alumni Julie Latour, Loto-Québec, and Jan-Fryderyk Pleszczynski, Digital Dimensions. / Photo Owen Egan

By Pascal Zamprelli

“As Dorothy said to Toto,” began Dean of Law Nicholas Kasirer as he addressed a packed room in the Moot Court at McGill’s Faculty of Law, “there’s no place like home.”

That message rang out loud and clear on Tuesday, Oct. 7, as students gathered to hear a panel of McGill Law alumni share their thoughts on working in Montreal’s legal community during an innovative event organized by the faculty’s Career Development Office: Contemplating a Career in Montreal?  Insights for the Next Generation of Jurists from McGill.

Stressing the emerging international market for legal services, Dean Kasirer noted that the high demand for McGill Law graduates in centres like New York, Paris, and London represents “the ransom to be paid” for the success of it’s transysstemic program – a comparative approach to legal education expressly designed to transcend boundaries – something he says he wears as a badge of honour. “In my day, the adventurous ones would go to Toronto,” he quipped.

But Kasirer went on to emphasize that Montreal is the “natural and necessary” home for such an approach to law: a cosmopolitan, bilingual, multicultural city. Hoping this event would help “widen the dialogue between McGill students and the Montreal legal community,” he encouraged students to consider their options here, and turned things over to a panel of guests well-placed to explain just why they should.

“The great focus of the event was to provide tangible testimonials and information for students to sink their teeth into as they’re contemplating what to do next after graduation,” said organizer Ali Martin-Mayer, Acting Assistant Dean (External Affairs) at the Faculty. The idea behind the panel, she said, was “to involve different constituencies,” and bring together “people with a variety of experiences, who could tackle this discussion from different angles.”

Julie Latour, in-house counsel at Loto-Québec and former bâtonnière of the Montreal Bar Association, spoke of her experiences working in different legal centres across Canada, while Martin Valasek of Ogilvy Renault and Alix D’anglejan-Chatillon of Stikeman Elliott shared their stories about setting off to work in New York and Paris before eventually deciding that a return to Montreal was the right thing to do both personally and professionally.

Robert Raich, of Spiegel Sohmer, has spent his entire career in Montreal, a city he considers a great place to work and live. “Our legal community is first-class,” he said, urging students to also consider the many opportunities that exist in small and medium-sized firms.

Jan-Fryderyk Pleszczynski, the youngest panel member, also spent some time in New York, before coming back to practice and serve as president of the Montreal Junior Board of Trade, and has now taken a more entrepreneurial route working at an animation and visual effects company in Montreal. He spoke of the importance of being involved, giving back, and “making your community what you want to make it,” a thought echoed by other panelists.

For Martin-Mayer, this notion of devotion to one’s community was the “common thread” that ran through both the panel presentations and the student questions. “It was the first time I witnessed students being so in tune with the message that it’s not just about the job, it’s about the career you’re building and the ties that come with that,” she said, “as well as the responsibilities that come with that with regard to your community.” She feels it was this “human side” of the city that shone through – one of the many things that “resonated with the immediate concerns of students deciding between Montreal and other cities.”

Dean Kasirer summed up what was clear to everyone in the room by discussion’s end: “This city is a superb place to work and practice law.”