Sitting in a café during undergrad, Joel was looking for opportunities to pursue a PhD similar to his political science and history background, when he overheard a group next to him discussing a civil code and cases. Although he didn’t understand what exactly they were going on about, it was a conversation he wanted to be in on.
Joel went to law school at McGill University
. Like many law students, he understood very little about what the legal profession had to offer after graduation. There were two main focuses: OCIs and the Bar exam, which led to two outcomes: becoming a litigator or a corporate solicitor. As a born performer and former pro musician, Joel decided on the litigating route.
Playing into the standard and going for prestige is a short-sighted plan for achieving success
Joel found a job at a top tier appellate practice out of OCIs, where he was one of the only articling students ever hired that was not a former Supreme Court clerk. It wasn’t long before the imposter syndrome kicked in and in the back of his mind, Joel couldn’t shake the thought of not living up to the meticulous standards promulgated by the firm. He contemplated whether law was even the right fit for him and considered giving up on practicing. Following his articles, he turned down a contract offer with the practice in search of a job in the area he wanted to dive in on: disciplinary litigation.
His interest in this practice did not come from nowhere. While Joel couldn’t imagine practicing criminal law, he loved the subject in law school. He was also very inspired by his ethics and disciplinary law professor, a sitting judge, who would then become an important mentor early in his career. After doing a lot of research, Joel joined a small, specialized firm that mostly represented physicians in disciplinary and medical malpractice claims.
Do good things come to those who keep their head down and push through?
Despite the practical experiences he was gaining and the great mentoring he was getting from the firm’s managing partner, Joel wanted to dive more into client development and saw the opportunity to expand the firm’s portfolio in the healthcare space. Due to conflicts of interest and a heavy focus on the firm’s existing clientele, Joel was unable to pursue this endeavour where he currently was.
An opportunity to take over the practice of a regional practitioner helped Joel to solidify his client base. With his book of clients, Joel then chose to join forces with a local “disciplinary law guru” for about two years. During this time supporting a heavy litigation workload, Joel noticed that his favourite cases involved healthcare professionals being reprimanded for leveraging technologies. This trifecta of law, science, and technology inspired him. As a tech nut himself, Joel wished to dedicate his career to helping healthcare innovators deal with the pressures and constraints of the law. To him, helping the avant-garde of such life-changing potential seemed like the best use of his law degree. Slowly but surely, his case load moved from pure litigation to advisory work, and then switched to a fractional practice dedicated to helping early-stage start-ups in the healthcare technology space, with a special focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Though quite far from his original litigation aspirations, this is where he truly found his voice.
While the world was falling apart, everything seemed to be falling into place
Through the grapevine, Joel heard that Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.
was looking for someone to help support med tech in Montreal. It was an organization he had worked with indirectly in the past that aligned well with his ideal trifecta. At Novartis, Joel does standard pharma law with a tech spin. Anything from price listing agreements for new drugs, new drugs development, supporting the clinical trials team, contract review, and strategic positioning, to work in medical innovation and technology. He also has a growing interest in legal operations and legal technologies, and has made a push towards leveraging those at Novartis whenever possible.
As in-house counsel, Joel appreciates the ability to follow the business in a supporting role; he is able to see all the moving parts coming together while supporting each department when needed. Having exposure to a variety of talented and driven people is one of the things that Joel loves about his job. Specifically, the uncharted legislative territory of med tech provides him with perpetual challenges that feed his drive. Joel hopes that by starting the conversation, whether on LinkedIn
or otherwise, he can help build a more conducive place for the in-house community.
Blur the lines of work-life balance to best suit you
Joel strives for work-life integration, as opposed to balance. He says, “you’ll never have both on the same level; one will always encroach on the other, depending on when you need it and for what purpose. To be able to really go from one to the other and not have very strict lines, it allows you to adapt and be agile about what you're doing”. At Novartis, Joel has the flexibility to structure his days around what he needs to get done. As a young parent, this flexibility allows him to do things like spend quality time with his son and start dinner early while on a work call.
In addition to being a lawyer and full-time parent, Joel is a wine enthusiast and is starting to write again for his wine LinkedIn newsletter named May It Please the Cork
. He also collects vintage Soviet watches on the side and has rekindled his love of music by learning to play the piano. If you’re looking for some easy-to-listen-to music, check out Joel’s two albums on Spotify
“Be bold enough to ask the question: who do I want to work with?”
Considering the amount of time Joel invested in private practice versus as in-house counsel, he finds that it’s been a financial net upside since he transitioned into the latter – at least on an hourly basis. Joel thinks that “the worst thing you can do working in private practice if you’re not 100% sure [that it] is what you want to do for the rest of your life, is [to be] dependent on that money for your lifestyle”; it can trap you in a job you’re unhappy with.
Joel wants to emphasize that you shouldn’t limit yourself. There are so many opportunities and resources out there right now. If you’re thinking of joining in-house, shift your mindset from practice-focus to client-focus. Most importantly, figure out who you want to be as a professional while staying true to yourself and great things will come.