In an uncommon move, a former law firm executive has joined the legal academic world. Iain Scott, former chairman and CEO of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, has been appointed dean of law at the University of Western Ontario.
“It wasn’t on my wish list of job opportunities, clearly, I’m not an academic,” he says in an interview with 4Students. “But what attracted me to the opportunity at Western is the fact that it’s a leading institution with a great brand and therefore I was going to continue to be associated with a well-regarded institution, and I felt I’d come from a good firm.”
Warren Bongard, president of UWO’s Law Alumni Association, sees the appointment of non-academics as “a new direction and possibly a future direction anyways for law schools to go.”
He adds that Scott’s appointment confirms Western law’s efforts to be a leading business law school. “While an academic professor can certainly groom students with academia, there’s something to be said about a dean such as Iain who really has the experience and influence of Bay Street and major cities, and more importantly national law firms,” he says.
Scott believes his experience at McCarthys will help him in his new role. “It’s an interesting time for firms in Canada with some of the mergers that are going on and more foreign firms coming into Canada, so the opportunity for students and new graduates to think about what their career choices are going to be is changing and my experience should help with some of that. I certainly know a lot of the firms and a lot of the players.”
He predicts managing faculty at a law school will be similar to managing partners at a law firm. “It’s like any management role, people in management don’t have to know all of the minute details of what it is that make the engine tick, as long as they have the right people in the right positions to know how the engine ticks,” he says.
However, not having an academic background, Scott recognizes he will face some challenges as dean. He says his two associate deans might have to handle a heavier load since they have the background knowledge.
His term doesn’t begin until September, but he already has plans for Western law. In the face of government cutbacks, he says he wants to increase faculty’s fundraising by reaching out to the school’s alumni. Bongard predicts Scott will enhance the school’s ability to raise money from corporate donors and establish research chairs.
Scott also wants to recruit additional esteemed faculty members and continue the school’s initiative on educating students about their ethical responsibility in the profession.
For the long term, Scott sees an opportunity for Canadian lawyers to play a greater global role, which he says starts at the law schools. If students are “exposed to the right external experiences, whether it’s through secondments or internships or a term abroad . . . that kind of cross-fertilization increases the selling power of the students.
“If they’ve got experience in other parts of the world, seeing how other economies work, how their legal regimes work, if you’re looking for a job in private practice or public service, that experience looks great on a resumé. I know that from looking at resumés,” he says.
Scott adds that with Western law’s business law focus, the school should be able to expand its global footprint.