Julia walked into the boardroom at York Research Tower, where she invited us for the interview. Greeting us, reflective of her outgoing personality, she instantly brightened the room with her smile. Even after the interview, she openly connected with each one of us while graciously providing catered dinner from the best campus restaurant. We are excited to share Julia's field experience in law and her personal advice for the next generation of leaders.
Who was your role model? Was there anyone that you’ve looked up that influenced you to become a lawyer?
My first role models were my parents. My mother worked night shifts at a company so that she could take care of us during the day. It was important to her to have a career and also raise a family. My mother is also great with people. She is able to connect with individuals very quickly and establish a rapport. She also has great empathy and can see the best in people. My father who was a metallurgical engineer, came to Canada to start a professional career and build a life for his family. When he left his company to become a small business owner, he poured an enormous amount of effort and care into his business. He has a strong work ethic and taught us the value of work and most importantly, resilience.
Regarding the influence on my decision to become a lawyer, I really didn’t know any lawyers as I was growing up. I just thought that law was a very powerful tool to achieve justice.
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
I was always interested in law as a career from a very early age. But I also wanted to become a teacher, a professor, or a journalist. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to try all three of those professions. When I was at the University of Toronto as an undergrad, I worked at the CIUT Radio station; I did the Friday night news and gained some experience in journalism. I was always interested in teaching so I worked as a teacher’s assistant when I was younger.
You mentioned that you always wanted to teach. Why did you choose not to be a full time professor?
As an adjunct professor, I teach practical legal skills. So I teach what I do in my professional career, which is contract drafting. The lessons that I learn as a lawyer, I pass on to my students and that’s the role of the adjunct professor. It’s a great privilege and honour to be appointed as an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School which I believe is one of the best law schools in North America. As much as I like teaching, I also enjoy being a lawyer and practising law. Practising law helps my teaching.
When was the most rewarding moment of your career as a lawyer?
When I was first called to the bar in 1994, people at my church made an announcement, which was a pleasant surprise. It meant a lot to me because I was raised as a part of the congregation at the Toronto Korean United Church. Only later did I realize that my becoming a lawyer was not just a personal accomplishment but it was an accomplishment for the Korean Canadian community in Toronto. I remember one woman who came up to me to hug me—she was so proud and excited for the next generation of Korean Canadians.
I also consider teaching law as another noteworthy accomplishment in my legal career. I think it’s so wonderful to go back to law school, back to the classroom, talk to students, and teach law.
One of the most rewarding moments as a lawyer was when I joined Osgoode Hall Law School as Director of the Osgoode Business Clinic. I was able to help small business owners with their legal problems. The Osgoode Business Clinic is a student run legal clinic that is offered by the law school. This clinic reminds me of my father and the start up phases of his small business so it’s heart-warming to be able to assist entrepreneurs and give back.
Another rewarding moment was the publication of my book, Behind & Beyond Boilerplate: Drafting Commercial Agreements.
As a new lawyer, were you ever overwhelmed by your responsibilities and legal/financial implications of your job? How did you handle the workload and stress?
When I started working, we worked 12-14 hours per day including weekends - we worked all the time. But I thrived in that type of fast challenging environment, I loved it. We were a group of single young students starting out in our legal careers so there was a sense of camaraderie and we went through the stresses of work together. There is always stress but manageable stress can be energizing.
Did you go through any burnout period?
I don’t think I went through a burnout period, but very early in my career, I came to the realization that work is not everything. There is much more to life – family, friends, community.
Articling is tough, both physically and mentally, as it’s a continuation of your legal education, but when it’s over, you can spread your wings.
For me, it would have to be fitness – pilates and skiing. I also enjoy watching movies, and hanging out with my family and friends.
What challenges did you face when you first started teaching?
My mom said I was always teaching and explaining things at an early age. Upon reflection, I was always teaching. I was a TA in both high school and law school and I always contributed to the development of legal education. It’s very rewarding and if there are any challenges, they are worth it. As a teacher, you learn as much as the students do.
What led you to pursue a Legal Counsel position?
After private practice, it was a natural progression to the position of Counsel. Most people have a number of transitions over their careers and for me, it was natural to go from practising law in private practice into a corporate legal environment. My first transition was to the legal department of IMAX Corporation. Working as in-house counsel at IMAX was an incredible opportunity for me. It gave me the opportunity to work on not only local deals but also deals on the national and international stages. I got to travel all over the US to work on deals. One of my favourite transactions during my career at IMAX was the Smithsonian Institution and AOL sponsorship transaction for a film. IMAX really opened up the world of law for me.
After having my first child, I decided to pursue teaching and graduate studies. I wanted an opportunity to combine both practical and theoretical aspects of law in teaching. The university presented an opportunity to do that. I crafted my own career as Counsel and Adjunct Professor out of my own interests. You have to be open to career changes. There is much serendipity in life. You have to be true to your interests, desires and goals, but also have to be open to what comes along and pursue the opportunities.
During my last year of law school, I saw a posting for a careers seminar featuring the university counsel. I thought that a university counsel position would be “cool” and interesting. Ten years later, I was back at the university, working as counsel and I have now been here at the university for 10 years. At the university, I work with four other lawyers. I specialize in corporate/ commercial, intellectual property and privacy law. My colleagues all specialize in different aspects of law: litigation and human rights, real estate and education law, labour and employment law.
Do you have any suggestions on building the best career path for young people who are pursing their dreams to be a lawyer?
Law is an umbrella category. You can be a commercial, criminal, family, labour, real estate, litigation, intellectual property or entertainment lawyer or a legal publisher. There are so many avenues and you can do so many things with a legal background.
Students aspiring to become lawyers should try to learn from everyone regardless of his/her position. In an organization, everyone works as a team. Undertake every task, no matter how small, with a smile. One of the duties as an articling student is just photocopying and even this task, as hard as it may be to believe, is a valuable experience. It helps build character and empathy so that you have a perspective when you ask someone to do the same job.
It’s also important to learn about organizational behaviour. In school, the rules of the game are to study and get high marks. Workplace rules are completely different. Rules are mostly based on the unique factors that make up how the specific organization runs and how people relate to each other in this environment. It’s always important to understand the business aspects and goals of the organization too.
What lessons did you learn when you started your career?
It’s important to get to know yourself. A part of career fulfillment is getting to know yourself. Aptitude tests such as Myers Briggs Type Indicators are really helpful. Managing oneself is really important when you start out and not taking the “small stuff” too seriously. It’s a continuum. Constant self-analysis of your strengths and weaknesses will help and constantly looking at how you have dealt with situations and how you can improve will help. There are day-to-day instances of difficult situations but we all start out in workplaces, where the rules of the game change. It’s important to learn about yourself as much as you can- learn how you can adapt.
To date, there are many immigrants in the Korean-Canadian community who are at a disadvantage when they start a business primarily due a lack of knowledge in commercial law. Many suffer financially and emotionally. How do you envision KCLA and yourself in helping to resolve this issue and help immigrants?
I was one of the founders when Korean Canadian Lawyers’ Association(KCLA) started in 1995. We had a vision of a legal clinic and we have taken small steps to develop a clinical format. Recently, KCLA has produced community legal clinics two or three times a year that include lectures and individual consultation. Also, there are many more lawyers now compared to the 80s and 90s so we have a lot more legal support for the community. We are still a young legal community and the legal clinic holds a larger potential. It would be fantastic if we can have a real brick-and-mortar or a virtual legal clinic one day. The journey continues.
Do you have specific plans for the virtual legal clinic?
I’m not as involved in KCLA as I used to be. A big part of starting an organization is knowing when to pass on your responsibilities to future generations. I do help out and participate when I can. I’m also involved in the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers.
How do you balance your professional work, community involvements, and personal life?
It is challenging. I have to consider my time commitment to an event very carefully and it requires being realistic with time. I have incredible support from my husband and my family during my busy times.
In your opinion, what is the one outstanding leadership characteristic that you can attribute your career success to?
I have clear ideas and goals. I am also resourceful and I try to see the best in people. I also enjoy encouraging people to formulate and achieve their goals.
What are you doing to continuously develop leaders in our community?
One new group that I am helping to start is the Toronto Chapter of KOWIN (Korean Women’s International Network). I am also active in the broader community.
You work with many people who possess high levels of intelligence and strong opinions. How do you go about resolving the conflicts that arise in dealing with them?
I think you have to be respectful of the strong opinions and understand that everyone in a team has something to offer. It is important to recognize beyond the delivery of the opinion and see the opinion itself.
Do you have any final advice for the growing generations?
I think the key to success in the working world is to find mentors, whether they be peer mentors or those above in the senior level. One of my mentors is a partner at the law firm that I used to work at in Ottawa. We wrote a book together in 1998. She really encouraged me to pursue my passions. So when I shared the idea of writing a book together, she said, ”Great! Go for it!” York University also has a great collegial working environment and I have found a host of mentors. You can always learn from others who have forged a path before you.
Could you share advice on how young people can effectively reach out to potential mentors?
Starting at the workplace is good. Professional associations are recommended. At Korean Canadian Lawyers’ Association, for example, informal mentoring relationships occur just through social interaction. It’s a great place for the junior lawyers to senior lawyers and obtain advice on careers paths as well as even general life advice. Organizations are great for establishing an instant network. It is a blessing to be Korean Canadian as we have these opportunities to network with people of the same ethnic background. Anyone can be a great mentor. You just have to seek them out.
About Julia Shin Doi
Julia Shin Doi is Counsel in the Office of the Counsel at York University, practising corporate/commercial law, intellectual property law and privacy law. Ms. Shin Doi also represents York University in a broad range of legal matters.
*Update: As of August 2011, Julia has been serving Ryerson University as General Counsel & Secretary of the Board of Governors
Prior to joining York University, Ms. Shin Doi was Associate General Counsel of Imax Corporation and an Associate with the Business Law Group at Gowlings.
Ms. Shin Doi is an Adjunct Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School where she has taught Legal Drafting since 2001. She is the past Director of the Osgoode Business Clinic, past Assistant Director of the LL.M. in Business Law and past Instructor of Osgoode Professional Development’s Commercial Legal Drafting Workshop.
Ms. Shin Doi is the co-author of the leading Canadian text on drafting boilerplate contract clauses, Behind and Beyond Boilerplate: Drafting Commercial Agreements (Carswell). She has also published and presented in the areas of licensing, securing copyright, and privacy law, and serves on the Editorial Board of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada’s Canadian Intellectual Property Review.
She is a member of the Canadian Association of University Solicitors and participates in the Privacy Task Force of the Council of Ontario Universities. Ms. Shin Doi is an executive member of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, Greater Toronto Area Chapter and the Ontario Bar Association’s Privacy Section, and past executive member of the Entertainment, Media & Communications Section. She is the founding member and past director of the Korean Canadian Lawyers Association and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers. Ms. Shin Doi has been nominated as an early and exceptional lawyer from a diverse community for The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Diversifying the Bar: Lawyers Make History Project.
Ms. Shin Doi holds a B.A. with Distinction from University of Toronto (1989) and J.D. and LL.M. from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (1992, 2007), is called to the Ontario Bar (1994), and is a Registered Trade-mark Agent (2006).
Interview Date : Dec. 22, 2010
Interviewers: Solbi Hong, Steve Ha
Videographer: Jooseok Lee
Photographer: Gerald Law
Editors: Phil Kim
The views expressed in the interviews are not necessarily reflective of JoinTheLeaders' opinion.