Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum: Interview with Shanin Lott of Stikeman Elloitt — Transcript

Topics: Diversity, Leadership, Podcasts, Q&A Interviews, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters


Hello, and welcome to the Legal Executive Institute Podcast. Today we’ll be speaking about the 2017 Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum, which was held in Toronto in late-June. With us today is Charlotte Rushton, the Managing Director for U.S. large law firms at Thomson Reuters. Charlotte will be speaking to Shanin Lott, Managing Director for Talent and Professional Resources at the law firm of Stikeman Elliott. Shanin was a co-chair of the event. Charlotte?

Charlotte Rushton:   Thanks very much. Well, Hello, Shanin, and thanks so much for joining me today. In addition to co-chairing the recent Women’s Transformative Leadership event in Toronto, which the Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute co-hosted with Lexpert, you also moderated a fantastic panel, featuring one male and three female panelists, in discussion about lawyers who transition from traditional legal practice to the business world, and importantly, all four were able to speak from experience. I’m thrilled you’ve joined us today to share the key takeaways, so let’s get started. Your panelists all received law degrees, but have since taken very different and fascinating routes along their career paths. Could you provide a quick glimpse into their journey for us?

Shanin Lott:              Sure, thanks, Charlotte, so we were really lucky to have such a great panel of experienced lawyers who have transitioned to a number of different roles. Our panel included Terrie-Lynne Devonish from AON, Anne Sonnen from Capital One, Christina Ongoma from the International Finance Corp. at the World Bank, and Jay Rosenzweig who is an executive recruiter. Jay was included both to tell us about his own experience, but also to tell us about his experience working with other lawyers who are transitioning into different roles. It was really important to us to start the panel by asking each participant to talk about their particular journey, both to show our audiences all the various roles that lawyers can play and positions they can move into, but also so that our audience could see that each person had a bit of a unique journey.

I thought it would be helpful just to recite for you what each of their paths looked like. Starting with Terrie-Lynne, Terrie-Lynne started at a big law firm. She then went in-house at HSBC Securities and worked there for a number of years. Then she was presented with a really interesting opportunity to move to AON to start up their legal department. This was obviously a new challenge for Terrie-Lynne, and required a number of different skills. She was there for about eight years, and then asked to take on a leadership role as Chief Compliance Officer for North America, which required her to move to the U.S. and is the role that she is in now, and she talked to us about that.

Then Anne Sonnen, so she started her career by clerking. She then worked at an insolvency boutique doing insolvency litigation, and then she said, “All roads lead to BMO.” We had at least two people whose roads led to BMO, and at BMO she had a number of different roles including overseeing litigation. She was the Deputy General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer, and she also had a senior compliance role there, and then transitioned to Capital One as their Chief Compliance and Chief Risk Officer.

Christina started her career also in private practice at Stikeman Elliott actually, so she’s one of our alumni. She moved in-house to a rating agency. Then she joined Scotiabank on the business side, so working a lot in structural transactions, hedge funds. She talked about covering precious metals and financial institutions before then moving to her current role at the World Bank, where she basically helps the International Finance Corporation make global investments.

Finally, Jay Rosenzweig, so as I said, Jay is an executive recruiter. He started his law career. Actually, he went to law school and was very interested… and talked a lot about his interest in human rights, and then after transitioned into recruitment, joining a large recruitment firm, and then going out on his own to start his own executive recruitment firm. He did also talk about the number of other initiatives, entrepreneurial initiatives and startups he’s involved with. I think that’s an important part of his career journey as well.

You can see that each of them had interesting journeys. They zigged, they zagged from private practice, to in-house roles, to business and entrepreneurial roles, but I think what their journey really tells us, and what I took from it, is that it’s certainly really good to have a clear idea of the direction you want to go in, and some have a clearer sense than others, but to keep your eyes open for various opportunities that present themselves along the way. As we talked to our panelists, we heard that come out very often that they were in one role and something else was offered to them, and so they stepped on that next stepping stone, and then stepped on the next stepping stone to lead them in many different directions and where they are today.

Shanin H. Lott, Managing Director of Talent and Professional Resources at Stikeman Elliott

Charlotte Rushton:   Yeah, that’s just fantastic. That’s a really, really great panel that you put together. I think those different career experiences, which is fascinating, and to your point, the zigging and zagging I thought was particularly interesting. You did pose to them one big question I think that’s on all the minds of trained legal professionals, which is where are the opportunities for lawyers. What practical insights and examples did the panelists share?

Shanin Lott:              In my mind, I though the key takeaway for this discussion was the world is our oyster. I’m usually using that term when I speak to Millennials, but I think it applies really well here. If you look around, and certainly from my experience looking at our Stikeman Elliott alumni as an example, they are in a broad range of roles from purely legal ones on one end of the spectrum to nonlegal business roles on the other end of the spectrum, and lots of different things in between. The panelists talked about those different opportunities. Jay gave us his experience as someone who works with lawyers moving into different roles, gave a number of examples including talking about lawyers who have transitioned to business, lawyers who’ve transitioned into sports and entertainment roles, including senior roles in the NBA and the NHL, and the role of agent being one where lawyers can often find themselves, given the contract and legal elements of that role.

He gave some specific examples. He talked about Katie Taylor, who began her career in law, was the CEO Four Seasons and then as you know is the chair of the Royal Bank. He also talked about the CEO of Shopify, who started his career doing law and NBA, and then lots of other examples. Personally, one of the things that I’ve noticed is lawyers who transition into the non-practicing role in their law firms. Maybe they’re doing professional development, or education, or business development, or communications and marketing, and then taking that new skill and moving into a corporate environment. Then, of course, as we saw in our panel, going in-house into a legal role, and then moving over to the business side. Certainly, our panelists talked quite a bit about their experiences there.

Then, finally, another thing that we’re seeing more of is lawyers moving into entrepreneurial roles. One area in particular is around innovation in the practice of law. Whether it’s making the practice more efficient, or staffing, legal files, supporting the legal industry in unique and innovative ways. We’re certainly seeing a lot of those examples in the last several years. I think again the takeaway here is many, many options, and that legal expertise and legal training is a very valued skill in the marketplace today.

Charlotte Rushton:   Yes, absolutely, and I thought the panel had some really interesting opinions on the pros and cons of transitioning from practicing in a firm to in-house counsel, and even beyond that into a purely business role. Can you share some of those takeaways?

Shanin Lott:              Sure, I think there was really three main positions, roles that we were talking about, private practice, in-house roles and business roles. The sense from the panelists was that they were each through their various career decisions ultimately weighing those pros and cons for themselves, whatever stage of their career they were at. Of course, this is an astatic analysis, but certainly a fluid one, depending on both what was happening with the individual at the time in their career, but also in relation to the potential role. I think they were advising the audience to take that same approach and to continue to weigh those pros and cons.

In particular, they talked about the pros and cons of first of all, private practice. Each of them had experience in private practice and recognized the things that are great about private practice, and those things that make it challenging. On the pro side, very great work in private practice, lots of interesting novel issues, challenging work. Great training and resources, that was a good theme. Then the range of work and clients, obviously depending on the size of the firm, but certainly having access to a variety there, and then learning from other great lawyers at the firm. The cons, not surprising, are the demands of a private practice, the unpredictable nature of it at times. Then one of the other themes that came out I thought was that when you’re in private practice, you’re a legal advisor and you’re certainly advising on the legal requirements of the transaction or whatever matter you’re dealing with, but you don’t always get to see the broader context for the client. That was a pro identified there.

Then in-house, so Anne, Terrie-Lynne and Christina all had experience in in-house roles and talked quite a bit about them. There were lots of pros to the in-house. For example, Terrie-Lynne talked about the idea of having one client that you understood really well, and you understood that business really well, and partnering with the business, and understanding their needs. She also talked about how interesting the day is and the work is, and talked about never knowing what was going to be on her desk on any given day, which she did also note could be a con, but for her mostly was a pro. Christina talked about moving in-house and working for one client. The key theme for her was what an amazing place that was to learn, to learn about the business and the business side of whatever transactions were happening.

Charlotte Rushton, Managing Director for US Large Law at Thomson Reuters

Then Anne talked about the opportunity to move around in-house and get all kinds of different skills as you moved, and certainly that was her experience. The cons for the in-house role was that the client was literally at your door, so having that one client and being there with them at all times, that you’re no longer a revenue generator. That definitely came up, and the resources that go along with that or not having as many resources. The one thing that they talked about was this idea of not wanting to be seen as the no police, that there is in-house that perception that oh, there’s the in-house lawyers. They all wanted to make sure they were seen as obviously analyzing risk and talking about risk, but not putting up obstacles, but rather again back to the theme of partnering with their internal client to get things done.

Then finally on the business role, lots of pros on this, seeing a different side of the business, not being a cost center but being a revenue generator, getting really close to clients, and depending on your role, you may have a number of different clients, different than legal clients, but business clients internally. Christina talked about how her experience in her role at the World Bank really brought together everything that she had done up to that point, so all the different legal products that she had covered, and all of her experiences to date. That really struck me as a key takeaway this idea that you build and layer upon your career. Maybe you’re at a law firm and you learn some things, and then you move in-house and you learn some new things. It all accumulates into a role that is a mosaic of a number of different skills and can take in a number of interesting directions.

Nobody really talked about the cons of a business role other than I think this idea that after going to law school and getting legal training, it’s a big decision to give up a purely legal role, but certainly none of them had any regrets. We also asked them to talk about their own roles and what they loved about them, and many, many examples of what attracts them and keeps them motivated in their current role.

Charlotte Rushton:   Right and then that comes up to really broadening the impact they can have I think was something I really took away from the discussion. You closed the panel, I thought on a really inspiration note because you asked everyone to share a key piece of career advice. I thought the panelists had great career advice. I wondered if you could impart for our listeners some of the words of wisdom that were shared on the panel.

Shanin Lott:              Sure, I was listening to it the other day to just pull out what I thought were the really key takeaways and there were many. I just thought I would just go through each person and share a couple of words that they passed on. Terrie-Lynne talked about stretching outside your comfort zone, taking a chance and failing fast, just really not being afraid to stretch yourself. Anne talked about life being messy, that there’s not really a quote, unquote normal trajectory, but that you want to know what makes you happy and what’s important to you, and find an organization that supports that. Christina talked about never discounting your legal skills. You don’t leave them behind. They really come in handy. We just talked about that, and that came out loud and clear. Then finally, Jay talked about being true to yourself. He talked about people giving you all kinds of advice and all kinds of expectations, and we all know that’s certainly true, but to really have integrity, not just with how you deal with other people but how you deal with yourself.

I would sum up all of their advice to say the journey has its ups and downs, it can have its zigs and zags, but to be clear, and not dismiss those opportunities along the way, but to be really clear in your mind in terms of what’s important to you, and what you value, and let that be a guide for you as well.

Charlotte Rushton:   Great advice, so thank you so much, Shanin. This has been a really enjoyable and illuminating discussion. And our thanks for spending not just this time with us today, but all of the time that you spend with your work and planning for what I thought was just a fantastically successful Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum, so thank you.

Shanin Lott:              Well, thank you for including me. It was great.

And thank you for listening to the Legal Executive Institute Podcast. For more podcasts, go to our website at www.LegalExecutiveInstitute.com.

You can hear the podcast about the 2017 Women’s Transformative Leadership Forum, featuring Charlotte Rushton, the Managing Director for U.S. large law firms at Thomson Reuters, speaking with Shanin Lott, Managing Director for Talent and Professional Resources at the law firm of Stikeman Elliott.