We at McGill Alumni Career Services are very excited to launch our 3 Questions blog series. The series features career related questions and answers from alumni professional leaders. These posts will provide a quick glance at what motivates inspiring alumni and how they eventually got to where they are today, always using the same 3 questions.
Bernard Amyot, BCL/LLB’82, is a partner in Heenan Blaikie’s Litigation group. In addition to his distinguished career in litigation and commercial law, Mr. Amyot served as National President of the Canadian Bar Association from 2007-2008. In 2009, Mr. Amyot was a recipient of the Quebec Bar’s honorary title of Emeritus Lawyer. In 2011, he became Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is recognized as a leading practitioner in the area of corporate and commercial litigation in the 2012 edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada (Woodward/White).
Amyot’s professional life is surpassed only by his commitment to his community: he has served as Chairman of Brébeuf College from 2005 to 2011 and was a director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. In 2012, he was named Chair of the National Theatre School of Canada.
Bernard Amyot, lawyer extraordinaire, shares his answers to our 3 Questions:
1- What inspires you in your career?
If the question asked is who inspired me in my career, the answer is clearly the extraordinary mentors that I had the chance of meeting and made me the person that I am. There were many whose help has proved to be most useful throughout my career. Louis-Philippe de Grandpré was clearly the most inspiring. Almost 40 years older than me, I met Mr. de Grandpré (Class of 38 at McGill Law School!) after he returned from having served in the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1978, he resigned and came back to private practice at Lafleur, Brown, de Grandpré (now Gowling’s) where I was articling in the early 80s. He immediately took me under his wing and gave me continued invaluable advice, until the very week before he died in January, 2008, at age 90.
He was an extraordinary individual: he was the only Quebec lawyer who ever served as Bâtonnier of the Bar in Montreal, Bâtonnier of the Province of Quebec and President of the Canadian Bar Association (not to mention as Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada). A great litigator, he instilled in me the highest ethical standards, and also taught me how important it is to provide practical advice to clients, to be a “problem solver”, not a “litigation nurturer”. He always reminded me that facts were paramount to law and that if you mastered them well, you would find a solution within the existing law. He often said that “Law is 95% facts”.
Struck by a terrifying illness in his late 20s that would leave his right side almost completely paralyzed, Mr. de Grandpré made a point of continuing a full life at home and at the office, showing exemplary courage and a quiet dignity in the face of adversity. He was then given 5 years to live by his many doctors. Late in life, he was proud to say that he had attended each of their funerals.
A natural leader, he synthesized complex issues quickly and tackled difficult situations with an unsurpassed sense of strategy.
I can no longer turn to him for advice, but I now count on his memory for inspiration.
Mentorship is a bilateral thing that needs to be nurtured. You not only need a good mentor, but you need to be a good mentee and interact in a proactive, respectful way with your mentor.
If the question is what inspires me in my career, I would add that I have the utmost respect for people in the public service. They are essential to preserve the rule of law in our democracy. They are often not so well paid and are open to constant criticism from the media and the population, but they play an invaluable role in our society.
Finally, as recently appointed Chair of the National Theater School of Canada in Montreal, I am always inspired by the passion and creativity of our youth. They keep us all young and hopeful for a better future.
2- What, if any, are the broad patterns or themes that define your career path?
My career path has been a very traditional one for a young French Canadian in the 1960s. I went to Brébeuf for 7 years, a Jesuit run school, and immediately into McGill Law School to graduate from what was then known as the “national program”, with two law degrees, one in British common law and one in French civil law.
A traditional career ensued as a commercial litigator in private practice in Montreal (a “barrister” as they call them in the United Kingdom), I was lucky to become involved in important cases as “second chair” to remarkable senior lawyers who taught me all the important skills of the trade. However, throughout this career path, I believe that my parallel involvement in my profession and in my community have given me the best sense of accomplishment. Early in my career, I became President of the Young Bar Association of Montreal and later, became national President of the Canadian Bar Association after a long time involvement within this great organization that represents 38,000 Canadian lawyers. Mr. de Grandpré always said that all lawyers owe a special duty to their Law Society, to advocate for the highest ethical standards for lawyers to protect the public, and to advocate for a greater access to justice for all. It was both telling and sad to see him go after 28 years of an exceptional friendship, while I was President of the Canadian Bar Association.
3- What is the best career advice you have ever received or given?
There were two best pieces of career advice that I was most fortunate to receive.
The first one came from my father, a successful obstetrician at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal, where he spent his entire career, taking care of his “smiling patients” as he used to call the new mothers, and that special advice was: “Go to McGill.” I have been most thankful ever since. It gave me not only an opportunity to attend one of the best universities in the world, but also to learn English and to get to know better all the vibrant components of my beloved city, which made me in the end a better Canadian, I hope.
The second advice came from another McGill grad, Camil Tremblay, who was my “Maître de stage” at Lafleur, Brown, de Grandpré in 1984 and who told me: “If you get involved, do it all the way, with passion and with clear goals.” This bold advice has continued to serve me to this day. It is useless to do stuff if you are not totally committed and engaged. In fact, you’ll be more in the way than helpful if you do that. When at any time during my career I reached a point where I felt doubtful, Camil’s advice always reminded me to put my head down and give it my very best.