After growing up in Kingston, Ontario and earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from McGill University, James Reid knew he wanted to go to law school and knew he wanted to do it on the West Coast.
“I was so excited to be in Vancouver. Just the vibe of Vancouver—it felt very new and fresh,” he said. “It just felt, at least at that time, like it was the place to be … young people like me just seemed to be moving there.”
Reid said his earliest memories at the school were some of his most profound, and that the connections he made early on have been among his most important.
“I vividly remember going to the salmon barbecue during orientation week. It would have been in September of 1992. It was a long time ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said.
“I have a circle of friends here in Toronto—there’s about seven or eight of us—who met really in that first week in 1992 and we’re all great friends. We’ve stayed in close contact. Our spouses have become friends. We’ve all been each other’s wedding parties, and our kids are now friends. We spend time together regularly.”
His experiences at law school, including an upper-year course in corporate transactions inspired the beginnings of a distinguished career in business law.
Reid said he chose to article in Toronto because he felt it would provide him with the most learning opportunities in the particular areas of practise in which he was interested.
He was a partner with Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP in Toronto where he practiced for 20 years. During that time, he developed a diverse corporate and securities law practice with an emphasis on mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance.
Reid said the breadth of the field has kept him interested in corporate law over the course of his career.
“I was in private practice for 20 years and I never felt bored. I was always learning new things. I worked in a range of areas, whether it was public M&A, corporate finance, banking, securitizations. It was always a challenge. There were always things that were new,” he said. “You’re learning all the time in this career.”
In 2018, Reid became the Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary at Fortis Inc. The company had been a long-time client, and Reid said he was familiar with its people and culture, adding the he welcomed the opportunity to get to know a business at a deeper level than one would as a solicitor.
“Being an executive in a large public company requires you to move beyond a strict functional role, whether it’s law or some other function. It also requires you to shift from being an advisor—which you are in private practice—to being someone who is part of a diverse team who are working through problems and making decisions and being accountable for decisions,” he said. “That’s really what’s both exciting and challenging about this role.”
Reid has previously taught the Advanced Business Law Workshop as an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall and served as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the Centre for Business Law at the Allard School of Law until the end of 2019.
“It’s been a really great experience, from my perspective, to stay engaged with the law school, to interact with these great faculty members and the dean, and to give some advice from time to time on how the school can continue to build its excellent business law program, which I feel strongly about because I benefited from it so much,” he said.
While he said an education from the Allard School of Law provides a strong foundation for a career in the field, Reid said it is important for students to remember that one of the keys to success is to pursue opportunities in areas in which they are truly interested.
“I think there are always a number of law students who end up going to corporate law firms because it’s very remunerative as a career, but if you don’t really like the subject matter, you’re not going to be very happy,” he said. “That’s not a sustainable career. You have to be happy doing what you’re doing.”