ZSA is proud to feature the 8 Questions Series interviewing prominent lawyers in Canada, aimed at discussing interesting perspectives and the challenges that face those in the legal profession. These articles, entitled “8 Questions With…” will be published on our website www.zsa.ca and in the ZSA Daily Digest, a daily compilation of legal news circulated by email to more than 1,500 legal professionals across Canada.
Emily Lee, Partner, ZSA Legal Recruitment, interviews Kerry O’Reilly, Head of Legal, Corporate and Corporate Secretary – Base Metals Business, Vale Inc.
1. Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
Even as a young child, I liked to argue a lot. I remember from a very young age wanting to be a lawyer – I don’t even know if I knew what a lawyer was! I always enjoyed debating, looking at things and analyzing them, being very strategic and thinking through to the end of a problem. I also lived down the street from an RCMP officer, so that may have had something to do with it!
2. What is the biggest professional challenge you have faced during your career?
One of the biggest challenges in my professional career to date is working in Indonesia. The time difference, the distance, the cultural and political differences, the religious unrest, and the uncertainty in the regulatory environment all provide challenges. In order to be effective, you have to figure out how to balance all of these things. It is one of the most complicated systems that I have ever worked in.
Another tough professional challenge that I face is balancing family time with my career but I think that I achieve a balance, as I define it.
3. If you could change one thing about the practice of law, what would it be?
I would change how individuals can enter the practice of law. I don’t think the LSAT is an indicator of intelligence. I think the bar admission system should be more closely aligned with the role lawyers play. I think it’s scary that someone can go to school, complete a very short articling period and be admitted to the bar, and then hang out their shingle and represent the public. I believe there is not enough rigour around the requirements and qualifications to practicing law.
4. What advice would you give to someone starting his/her career in law?
I think it depends on what the individual wants out of their career. To take the same track I took, my advice is to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of things to focus on your career and become good at what you do. I received the best piece of advice very early on in my career at Davies [Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP]: “Be as close to perfect as possible; our standard is excellence.” That advice has truly driven my career. If you want to move forward and move up, you have to work hard and expect to make some sacrifices along the way.
5. What was the last good book you read/movie you saw?
I recently read “an Invisible Thread” by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski. It is amazing.
6. What is your favorite restaurant?
Hands down, my favorite restaurant in the world is The Stanton Social in New York City. It is not a particularly fancy place, but it has an amazing head chef [Chris Santos] and the vibe is incredible. All the dishes are meant for sharing and it’s just so, so good. They have a drink called Strawberry Fields, which is just to die for.
7. Where would you most like to travel?
I would love to go to Mauritius; that would be the next place on my exotic travel list. When my daughter is older, I would also like for us to take a tour of South Africa as a family.
8. If you were not a lawyer, what would you be doing?
What I would have loved to have done was get my medical degree and work for an organization like Doctors Without Borders. I practically faint at the sight of needles, though, so it’s probably best that I pursued law!
As Head of Legal Counsel, Corporate and Corporate Secretary, Kerry is the executive and senior legal officer responsible for advising executive management on legal issues and risk concerning corporate, treasury, securities, corporate governance, finance, tax, strategic alliances, IT and marketing. She also fills a senior strategic advisory role regarding Vale’s Asia-Pacific affiliates, where she faces all the challenges associated with being the legal representative of a multinational dealing with foreign governments, foreign regulators and significant business partners on sensitive environmental, labour and indigenous concerns.
Kerry joined Vale in 2007. Prior to that, she was a Partner at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP in Toronto. Kerry was a finalist for the 2010 Canadian General Counsel Award (CGCA) “Tomorrow’s Leader” and was named one of the 2012 Lexpert Rising Stars (Leading Lawyers Under 40).