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A real all-star

Cross Examined
|Written By Mike King
A real all-star

Junior lawyer Matthieu Proulx probably works out a little harder than most of his colleagues. After all, Proulx has to be in top shape if he’s going to play a sixth season with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

A new addition at Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP, the six-foot-one-inch, 210-pound Proulx began training in January to see how he feels while mulling dual careers in law and professional football. “I’m still considering returning [to the Als] and some lawyers here are encouraging me to continue playing,” the fierce competitor told Canadian Lawyer. His mind will be made up this month.

“We’re very proud to have him on board,” says firm partner Francis Meagher. “He’s made a point to identify himself as a full-fledged member of our team and has already shown abilities as a litigator.”

While articling with Marchand Melançon Forget LLP in December 2008 (that firm merged with Lapointe Rosenstein LLP at the beginning of 2010), Proulx won the first case he pleaded in Quebec Court.

Proulx, who turns 29 on April 16, is still savouring both being hired by the firm in December and winning the Grey Cup trophy on the last play of the 97th annual fall classic championship game in Calgary two weeks before reporting for work.

Often injured the past few seasons and after the Als suffered a heartbreaking title loss in their own backyard when they hosted the 1998 Grey Cup at Olympic Stadium, he considered quitting football last year. But perseverance paid off and the defensive back returned and was selected as an East Division All-Star for the first time in his pro career.

He passed the provincial bar and was sworn in last July, then was the last of 30 candidates interviewed by MMF. “They hired me even under the conditions that I was still playing football for six months of the year,” Proulx recalls. “They were very generous with me.”

He sees many parallels between making a living on a sports field and in the legal field, noting both require “focus, discipline, passion, and teamwork.”

Hitting the books was as important as hitting opponents while he studied law at Université Laval in Quebec City while starring for the powerhouse Rouge et Or collegiate team he captained. Both at the university and professional level, Proulx carried heavy workloads in order to balance training and studying. On the day he was drafted by the Als in April 2005, he had to write an exam worth 100 per cent of his final grade. He earned an A.

One of his major inspirations when it comes to law has always been his grandfather, Albert Gobeil — named the first chief justice of the Quebec Court in the fall of 1988 after the sessions, provincial, and juvenile courts were amalgamated that year. “I try to emulate what he did,” the proud grandson says of Gobeil, who practised for 17 years in the Eastern Townships before being elevated to the bench and was chief judge of the juvenile court when chosen for the higher post. “He’s wise and impressive with his contemporary vision. I still consult with him.”

Proulx also has respect for Jock Climie (featured on the cover of the September 1999 issue of Canadian Lawyer), another Als player who excelled in football and law. Climie, a partner at Emond Harnden LLP, joined the Ottawa firm in 2000 while still playing for the Als. He was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts in 1990, his first year of law school at Queen’s University, then earned his degree in 1994 while playing for the now-defunct Ottawa Rough Riders.

As Proulx experienced balancing law studies and football training/playing, Climie called it “by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.” But Proulx is up to challenges, including giving back to the community. There is a substantial drop-out rate in Quebec schools and during the off-season, Proulx and many of his teammates visit students to encourage them to finish their studies. They use the growing popularity of football, especially among francophone students, to give a focus to stay in school.

It’s one of the reasons Proulx has lent support to Marc Bellemare, the veteran Quebec City lawyer who has devoted more than five years trying to secure a CFL franchise for the provincial capital. Bellemare, who was justice minister and attorney general under Premier Jean Charest’s government in 2003, leads a group of investors who have raised about $30 million toward acquiring an expansion franchise. It is yet more proof of the strong Quebec connection between the legal community and football.

Although Proulx and Climie aren’t the first Als players to juggle both football and law, Proulx is only one of three in nearly four decades to also win a Grey Cup ring. Team president and CEO Larry Smith, who earned his civil law degree from McGill University in 1976 while a running back for the Als, was on championship teams in 1974 and ’77. They join George Springate, senior citizenship judge of Canada, who helped the Als win the 1970 Grey Cup against the Calgary Stampeders as the kicker.

Unlike Proulx, however, Springate already had two law degrees (from McGill) under his belt and was a member of the Quebec national assembly when he won the coveted cup in his first year with the Als. The former police officer and 11-year MNA was also a tenured professor in civil and criminal law at the police technology department he helped found at Montreal’s John Abbott College. Despite that and being a citizenship judge since 2000, Springate said the only thing anyone ever wants to talk about is his university and professional football career.

“Everyone remembers that and winning the Grey Cup remains with you forever,” the spry 71-year-old Springate said in an interview during a break from the bench. “It will be the same thing for Proulx, it will remain with him the rest of his life. No matter how good or not good a lawyer he’ll be, he won a Grey Cup.” 

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