Thursday, May 17, 2018

Jackman Law Building entrance
Jackman Law Building, University of Toronto

As the head of the Agency for Public and Social Innovation (ASPI) in Toronto, Kevin Vuong is focused on building better and healthier Canadian cities. That can cover everything from bike racks to accessibility. He speaks the language of social entrepreneurship. Yet in a recent meeting he found himself conversing fluently about something else.

“I sat across the table with a potential partner in health care and asked them, ‘How are you going to protect your intellectual property if we work together?’ That’s a crucial aspect of this partnership that I would not have considered before.”

Vuong was employing the insight he gained from the University of Toronto’s Global Professional Master of Laws (GPLLM) program.

Today’s leaders need to draw on a broad range of knowledge to keep atop current and pending challenges. The one-year GPLLM is aimed at managers and executives in any private, public or non-profit sector, as well as practicing lawyers. The program offers them the legal skills and mindset needed to deal with many of the biggest issues they face.

“Leadership is a much more legally-immersed position,” says Ed Iacobucci, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto.

Vuong has been named one of Canada’s “Top 30 Under 30” by Corporate Knights magazine for his work in helping to foster more resilient and livable communities. He says his new legal literacy allows him to reflect differently about business opportunities. “I can now drill down into different topics that are important for me and my company with more precision,” he explains.

GPLLM students can tailor their studies to suit their professional pursuits through the program’s four concentrations: Business Law; Law of Leadership; Canadian Law in a Global Context; and Innovation, Law and Technology. The scope gives students the legal framework to grasp everything from contracts and corporate governance, to cryptocurrencies and cybersecurity.

Consider a hot button issue like workplace harassment, which has not only HR implications but serious legal ones. Emma Phillips covers it as an instructor in the Law of Leadership concentration.

“I’ve seen too many cases where managers or senior leaders in a workplace or organization may lack a clear understanding of the rights of their employees,” says Phillips, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLM.

In her practice, Phillips has done extensive work around harassment, discrimination, and unconscious bias. She says sharing these lessons in the GPLLM enables participants to grasp some of their fundamental duties.

“Being in the classroom with senior managers creates a great opportunity to help them understand the legal frameworks that regulate them and their work, and help them understand their roles,” says Phillips. “The way leaders manage their workplaces can have such a significant impact on the health, happiness and productivity of their employees.”

For many GPLLM students, the program opens new doors. Meaghan Hepburn was a German studies professor, long interested in the intersection between education and technology. That led her to want to probe the role of the law and technology on other aspects of work and life. So she enrolled in the GPLLM for 2017-2018, mainly to satisfy her curiosity.

Hepburn got answers to her questions in the program’s Innovation, Law and Technology stream. Moreover, she discovered a whole new career. In March 2018 she landed a job as a project manager at Stikeman Elliott LLP in Toronto, where she works in the European Practice group.

“I wasn’t sure where this course was going to take me,” says Hepburn, “but in my work now I have the ability to approach problems, challenges and questions with the critical lens of the law. The program has given me a framework for thinking differently about the world, especially about the legality of the increasing role of technology in our lives.”

GPLLM graduates like Hepburn and Vuong have come to recognize that business matters are legal matters. Legal literacy cuts across so many of the top items on the agenda of any leader.

“Lawyers are trained to think a certain way and for a year I was able to practice that thinking, which was invaluable” says Vuong. “Whatever the purpose of your business, you need to operate within a system that’s full of legal challenges and nuance.”