Michael Woods '76By Michael Woods, Class of 1976

Web-only content from the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Nexus.

I do not like to write about myself, but I thought that I would share a little bit about my unusual career path, one that shows that a University of Toronto LLB (or JD or LLM) can take you far—as geographically far away as Saudi Arabia and Korea, and as distant from first-year Torts and Civil Procedure as GATT, NAFTA, and WTO negotiations.  

My second year at the Faculty of Law included a course on international law taught by Professor Gerald Morris.  He was an early U of T LLB grad himself, and, if my memory serves me, had been a member of Canada’s Foreign Service. I was inspired by his course and his “war stories” about international diplomacy. A few years after graduating, I joined what is now the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD)—then known as External Affairs. Before that happened, I first got a solid grounding in litigation articling in Toronto (Coutts Crane Ingram), one year behind my good friend Robert C. (Bob) Topp (Class of 1975).  I followed Bob to Sudbury, Ontario (and joined Conroy, Huneault, Legault, Topp & Woods) where we teamed up on everything from small claims cases and criminal court duty counsel stints to murder trials and several Ontario Court of Appeal appearances. As many alumni know, we lost Bob, who was a Life Bencher and pillar of the Ontario bar, much too early to Alzheimer’s disease in the summer of 2012.

It was not easy to leave private practice but joining Canada’s Foreign Service turned out to the best move I, my wife, Louise Giguère, and our two daughters could have made. Of course I am one of many alumni to have made the made the move—see for example, the Fall/Winter 2013 edition of Nexus which features my former colleague, David Adam (Class of 1968)

In fact, my first real foreign service mentor when I joined in 1981 was Peter Sutherland (Class of 1969) who went on to become Canada's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and High Commissioner to India. I had a modest career which included postings to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Korea, but my U of T LLB helped me win a spot on Canada’s international trade law and policy team while at HQ. While there, I was able to benefit from the leadership of Jonathan Fried (Class of 1977). Jonathan, who is now Canada’s Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, is a giant in the international legal community. He essentially created the practice of international trade law in Canada as we know it. While working as a trade lawyer at External Affairs, I also worked with a number of distinguished U of T Law grads including Rambod Behboodi and Matthew Kronby.  Much younger than I, they are both leaders in the “next generation” of Canada’s very talented international trade bar. They have both always been very kind to me during my various sojourns.  

In 2001, I left government for what I thought would be a brief secondment to the trade law boutique of Gottlieb & Associates. Richard Gottlieb is the legal pioneer who established the private practice of international trade law more than 40 years ago. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work at his firm and I think that the U of T training and mentoring helped give me the competence and confidence to build my own international arbitration practice.  Along the way I met and teamed up with a young and brilliant U ofT law grad, Martha Harrison (LLM 2005).  Martha and I worked on NAFTA Chapter 11, FIPA, and BIT cases at Gottlieb & Associates. Véronique Bastien joined us and we moved the practice to Heenan Blaikie LLP at the beginning of 2007.  Until recently, Véronique was splitting her time between the Faculty of Law and cutting-edge work at Heenan Blaikie with former Québec Premier Pierre Marc Johnson, as adviser to the province during the Canada–Europe Free Trade negotiations.  At the Faculty, Véronique (LLM 2013)  completed her studies under the very distinguished Professor Michael Trebilcock (who taught me commercial law back in 1975).

Martha, whose LLM thesis was on WTO Dispute Settlement (again with Prof. Trebilcock, if I recall correctly), was very kind to nominate me for the 2013 Ontario Bar Association Award of Excellence in International Law.  Martha’s advocacy on my behalf was successful (and, as I told Martha it must have been a slow year for international law). Much credit for all this goes to my UofT Law training and the important law school network. 

Perhaps my career story will encourage both aspiring current U of T students and grads to go after new challenges in the international realm. “Old soldiers never die,” or so the saying goes. With the dissolution of Heenan Blaikie, I have decided to carry on with Woods, LaFortune LLP, an Ottawa- based international trade law boutique I founded with good friend, Gordon LaFortune.