Lawyer - Commercial and International Law

Thomas, 25, practices commercial and international law at a large law firm in Montréal, Québec. He studied health sciences at CEGEP Marianopolis College and completed the National Programme at McGill University’s Faculty of Law. He was in school for four years. He completed his Québec bar examinations and completed his articling period at the same firm. He mainly works in the field of banking and corporate finance, international development projects in emerging markets, and international flows of money.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become a lawyer? What is your field of specialty, and how did you decide on that field? How did you become a lawyer?
My family has owned a grocery store located in downtown Montréal since 1984. I’ve worked there since I was seven, and I realized that there’s a lot of law involved running a small business. That’s when I decided I wanted to go to law school.

I currently work in project financing in the developing world. What that means is that when a international bank, such as the World Bank or the Inter-American Bank lends money to a government in the developing world, it’s people like me who structure the deals. Sometimes, the office gives me some banking transactions to complete, as well as the occasional litigation file where I have to go to court.

I chose this field because I love anything related to international affairs – I’ve lived in a multicultural environment all my life and I enjoy experiencing different cultures and people from different countries.

I became a lawyer once I completed my law studies at McGill University and completed the bar requirements for the Québec bar association. That was something I hadn’t realized before – going to law school doesn’t make you automatically a lawyer. You have to get a license from a bar association in order to actually practice law.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
I love dealing with people. A lawyer’s job is to protect the interests of his client but, more importantly, to give the client solutions to his legal problems. In commercial law, which is what I practice, the client is primarily concerned with getting the deal closed with the other party.

Another aspect I love is negotiating with the other side to come up with a mutually beneficial agreement to avoid lawsuits in the future.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Litigation, no doubt about it. The trial scenes you see on television are only a small part of a lawsuit. Most of it comes from filing different procedures and motions before you even get to plead in front of a judge. It’s time consuming and engenders hostility on both sides. Clients get mad when proceedings are delayed; sometime it can take a year before a case is heard. But once you get in front of the judge, I will admit that I enjoy the buzz of advocacy.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a lawyer?
You should go to a well-known law school, because employers do take into account where you studied. Also, you should be prepared to study hard.

When you start working, it’s a good idea to work in the biggest firm you can; you want to be exposed to different fields so you can pick your specialization. Then, if you want, you can go to a smaller firm. But it’s important to get that exposure early on in your field – the legal world forces lawyers to specialize very quickly and that specialization sticks with you for a long time.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be a lawyer? What kind of education did you get?
It’s different for me because I’m from Québec. Law schools here don’t require that you have an undergraduate degree but a CEGEP diploma, which is what I had when I started law school. McGill accepts both undergrads and CEGEP students, though with the latter they expect your marks to be quite high. If you want to practice in Québec, you’ll need a degree in civil law, whereas in the rest of the country, you’ll need a degree in common law. McGill offers both degrees, however, all Quebec universities have a one-year exchange program with common law schools in Ontario to permit their law students to get a common law degree.

Once you finish law school, you’ll have to write the bar exams of the province in which you want to practice. The Québec bar exams are very difficult – trust me on this! – and have a high failure rate, but most people do pass in the end after the retakes. After completing the exams, you’ll need to complete several months of articling at a law firm (in Quebec it’s 6 months).

Stephanie: What is your favourite law-based TV show?
I know this will sound weird, but it has to be The Associates. The wooden acting, the unrealistic scenarios, and the cheesy plots made for great caricature of law firms, especially the episode when they recruited students in law schools.

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