Emily Lee, Partner, ZSA Legal Recruitment, interviews Alexander Singh, Director and General Counsel, Acasta Capital Inc.
1. Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
I completed a business undergraduate degree and from there I launched right into the workforce. I started looking for more of a challenge and after speaking with practicing lawyers I gained a great sense of studying law and the variety of fields I could move into afterward. I decided to pursue my law degree to see what possibilities it would bring.
2. What is the biggest professional challenge you have faced during your career?
I think the biggest challenge was transitioning from a lawyer in private practice to becoming the sole legal counsel at a hedge fund management firm. The expectation is that you will provide a hybrid of business and legal advice and you truly begin making decisions that affect the business. It’s such a challenge because you don’t “learn” in private practice the practical necessity of giving business advice; the business often demands a yes or no answer as opposed to a paragraph-long opinion. The best way I found to overcome this challenge was to really understand the business. An in-house lawyer must be confident in their ability to analyze a situation and apply the law to come up with an answer.
3. If you could change one thing about the practice of law, what would it be?
Certainly the billable hour. I feel it decreases the external legal advisor’s ability to manage their time and not be a commoditized service. It speaks to a lack of integration in clients’ businesses because you are not vested in a positive or negative outcome. I think the billable hour does a disservice to the lawyers providing the service and in turn clients are so cost-focused, especially in the current rate environment. I have researched alternate fee models and I realize that, particularly in a transactional practice, it is a challenge to find a model sophisticated enough that all parties will be satisfied, but I think there is room for improvement on both sides.
4. What advice would you give to someone starting his/her career in law?
The first thing I would say is that law school is not “lawyer school.” When you go to law school, you study the law, and when you embark on your career in practice, you need to learn how to be a lawyer. In that respect, the articling program and process required in Canada is a great tool for law students to learn and get exposed to a variety of practice areas. My second piece of advice would be to find an area you are genuinely interested in. Your passion for a practice area will drive your success because your clients will see that. Thirdly, to be a great lawyer you really have to have a good understanding of your client and their business. That is a crucial element of being a good advice giver.
5. What was the last good book you read/movie you saw
I’ve got a 2-year-old so I don’t get to see many movies anymore. The last good book I read (and there are currently 6 on my bedside table in various stages of development) was, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. It’s about how farming has digressed to such a process that even eating conventionally-raised meats means you are eating a highly processed product with very little that is natural. It was such an education that our family has changed our eating habits as a result.
6. What is your favourite restaurant?
In Toronto, it is Splendido [88 Harbord Street]. My wife and I are big fans – we always enjoy the quality of the food and the service. In the world, my favourite restaurant is Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain. That was an unbelievable and playful experience of food and atmosphere.
7. Where would you most like to travel?
We would really like to do a South American trip full of yoga and surfing. If I ever get a month off, that’s where you’ll find me.
8. If you were not a lawyer, what would you be doing?
I would probably be in an entrepreneurial environment, likely in a finance setting. This is actually very similar to what I’m doing now, just not as a lawyer.
Alex joined Acasta in September 2014 as a partner, where he is focused on value creation transactions and co-investment opportunities as Director & General Counsel. Acasta Capital is a unique merchant bank that aligns its interests with those of its corporate clients and investment partners to proactively uncover value by innovatively identifying unseen opportunities.
Alex was previously General Counsel to West Face Capital, one of Canada’s largest alternative asset managers, where he was a member of the senior executive through its growth to approximately $3bn in assets under management, from April 2010 to August 2014, and was actively involved in West Face’s transactions, fund formation, compliance and regulatory matters, and operations.
Alex was chosen as Tomorrow’s Leader at the 2013 Canadian General Counsel Awards.
Alex previously practiced corporate and securities law at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP’s Toronto office, has a J.D. from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University and a B.Comm from McGill University.