CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix, BCL’76, MBA’81, explains, in classic McGill Law French and English, how his legal education shaped his career and offers his advice to new students and new graduates.
Q: What made you want to study law?
Do you want the real answer or the right answer? The real answer is that I lost a bet with my folks.
I was really into sports at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. I participated and played on different varsity teams and I wanted to study physical education. My folks said, “Phys ed – that’s not a real job. If you go into law, we promise that if you want to go back to school after to do phys ed, we will pick up the tab.”
So I entered law not really sure that I wanted to do law, more as a platform or a springboard to something else.
Puis je me suis fais prendre au jeu, car j’ai commencé à faire du droit. Finalement, sans que je ne m’en rende vraiment compte, je ne suis jamais retourné étudier en éducation physique.
Q: What was law school like for you?
I had turned 18 in July. I think I was the youngest kid in the classroom. It was a tough experience for the first year and a half, but then a couple of teachers kind of turned it around for me.
In my second year of law school, I met Professor Yves Caron, who was an extraordinary teacher and who made concepts that made no sense to us make sense to us. Caron’s tax class was on Saturday mornings and we all could have taken it during the week instead, but we all chose to take it with him because he was that kind of a teacher. He was a great teacher.
He and Professor Stephen Scott were the reasons I stayed in law.
[The summer after my first year], I clerked at a bank and I enjoyed it – learning about banking and negotiable instruments, and then in second year, I had a class that was about bankruptcy, about stuff that I had done during the summer, so everything became more concrete.
Next thing I know, I had practiced law for twenty-some years.
Q: What advice do you have for the student who is just starting law school?
I told Raphaël Grenier-Benoît – who is in Les Parents on Radio Canada and is now a student at McGill Law – not to do what I did.
For the first year and a half I was at McGill, I got caught up in milestones and preparing for exams. I didn’t understand that the stuff that we were actually doing was going to build a base for me as a lawyer and also as a person.
I was very impressed by what Raphaël told me about his interviews to get admitted to McGill. When we were admitted to McGill, it was a lot about marks and what you did in high school. But Raphael told me how open the Law Faculty has become, and the way it seeks out different people of different backgrounds. I think that diversity has a great impact on the classroom. I think it makes for better, more vibrant conversations. Le choc des idées, I like that and I think that’s the way to go.
Law school is more than simply making sure you have the grades to move on to second or third year and to graduate. It’s about the knowledge that you build to become a better student, a better citizen, a better person of the world. Law is the fil conducteur, but you have to be able to read the papers, understand what’s going on in the world. You can’t be focused on what’s going on only in Montreal, at the University or in the province of Quebec.
Whether it’s the job market or what I call job involvement, you have to think about where you will want to spend your time. How do you want to spend your life?
Q: And what advice do you have for new grads?
When I was at McCarthy Tétrault, I was involved in the management of the firm and was chairman of the recruiting committee for years, so I am going to say ‘we’ because I worked in that environment for such a long time.
We tell the world about work-life balance, but when you enter the environment of a big law firm, we violate that rule from the moment you come in as an articling student. We will drive you to the bone and it’s difficult for everyone.
So I think that you need to in some way balance your life with something, whether it’s music, walking, running, playing something, there has to be a way for you, both as a student and as a new hire, to stress bust.
Because if you don’t, you’re not going to make it.
Q: There is no sugar-coating the matter, I guess. What about this idea that there is a crisis in the legal profession, of too many lawyers and not enough jobs?
I have never seen so many opportunities for young lawyers. Law is the best conduit and the best springboard to a whole bunch of things.
I am one of the examples but look around me. Look at Calin Rovinescu, who runs Air Canada and Yves Desjardins Siciliano, who is a lawyer who now runs ViaRail. All of these people, we have the same background. We were lawyers, we were in very very good law firms, coached and mentored by spectacularly good lawyers who took us under their wings and taught us what they knew and our responsibility is to do that for the people who follow us.
It’s a great career and it is filled with opportunities.
Q: Anything else you wanted to mention?
Yes – being une personne complète means being able to tap on different resources to build your knowledge base. You have to be curious, all the time.