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GC Profile: Julia Shin Doi adapts to the new normal at Ryerson during the COVID-19 crisis

Shin Doi explains how technology is helping her to guide Ryerson’s legal and governance teams

GC Profile: Julia Shin Doi adapts to the new normal at Ryerson during the COVID-19 crisis
Julia Shin Doi

Like many legal department leaders, Julia Shin Doi has dealt with numerous challenges since the COVID-19 crisis paralyzed the world in March — not least of which is assisting the faculty at Ryerson University in transitioning 45,000 students to an online learning environment. 

“It has been very important to the university sector as a whole that students have the opportunity to complete the academic term and staff and faculty have the support and resources they need to help students achieve that,” says Shin Doi, who holds the title of general counsel, secretary of the board of governors and privacy officer at Ryerson. She participates in online meetings with the other members of Ryerson’s executive team almost every day to discuss COVID-19-related challenges and to brainstorm solutions. 

Shin Doi’s team has been adept at using technology for some time, but since social distancing became the norm around the world, technology has become a staple for daily communications. As team members transitioned to remote work, a list of Zoom protocols was quickly established by Ryerson’s legal department to ensure that meetings run smoothly, and three orientation sessions were held for board members. Ryerson’s IT team explained the software and Shin Doi’s governance team determined how motions would be called and carried. Most attendees learned the technology within 15 minutes. Ryerson’s communication is even developing a virtual background for Zoom.

“We’ve conducted board business on Zoom and staff meetings on Zoom and stayed on top of legal issues through webinars,” says Shin Doi. “We’ve ensured best practices and governance through university listservs across Canada.” Many industry sector groups have come together remotely to share best practices and work together to cope with the crisis situation. In addition to Zoom, Shin Doi finds Google Hangouts useful for meetings while Docusign is beneficial for electronic signing of contracts.

“Technology has made such a difference. There will be no turning back after this,” says Shin Doi. “Now that we’re all on Zoom, we’re going to want to see each other every time instead of just making a phone call.”

When she was first called to the bar in 1994, Shin Doi had no idea how her career would unfold or what her true calling was. Before finding her direction, she articled and practised at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto and subsequently moved to Ottawa where she practised with Gowling for three years in the business law group. In 1998, she returned to Toronto and took her first in-house role as assistant general counsel at IMAX and her career took off from there. She went on to spend nine years as counsel at York University before landing at Ryerson in 2011.

Since moving to the in-house world, Shin Doi has made her mark as an accomplished legal professional and earned many accolades, including the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and the Canadian Corporate counsel Association Award of Excellence in 2017. 

Not only has she excelled in her legal career, but Shin Doi also has a notable career in academia, serving as an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and at the University of Toronto faculty of law, and she taught in contract drafting workshops for Osgoode Professional Development and the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association. She recently added bencher at the law society of Ontario to her list of duties and she joined the board of directors of LawPRO, an insurance provider for the legal profession. Shin Doi is also the co-founder and past president of the Korean Canadian Lawyers Association.

As general counsel, Shin Doi is the chief legal advisor to the president and the executive group, so she advises on anything that has a reputational impact on the university. While Ryerson’s legal department works with external counsel for matters including labour negotiations, international legal work and real estate transactions, Shin Doi also aims to manage legal work in-house where possible. The legal team recently argued an injunction in court, sharing the legal duties with external counsel instead of outsourcing completely, which ultimately saved 50 per cent of the legal costs.

“We shared the load of the file, which is great for both parties,” says Shin Doi. “We’re really harnessing our legal power in-house. When in-house counsel is involved in cases, we have in-depth knowledge of the case and we can help with managing client expectations and providing history and preparing graphs.” 

Another initiative that Shin Doi has been working hard to support is the launch of Ryerson’s law school, which is expected to open in September, under the leadership of Dean Donna Young. Shin Doi and her team have been working on legal community relations, providing input for course outlines and advising on all corporate commercial aspects of opening a law school. Students at the new law school will receive a legal education that examines contemporary issues such as technology, equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as access to justice and social innovation.

“It’s a great opportunity for us, as a legal team, to be involved in the business aspects of the university,” says Shin Doi.

Shin Doi’s goals for the year ahead include succession planning and career development for her team of 20, which includes six lawyers and three law practice program candidates. 

“I want to ensure that everyone in the legal department is learning, developing and engaged —especially in this new environment,” she says. “I want to ensure that team members have the opportunity to pursue certifications, graduate programs and continue professional development, all the while engaging in high-quality legal work.”

Name: Julia Shin Doi
Company: Ryerson University
Title: General counsel, secretary of the board of governors and university privacy officer
Years in the industry: 26
Career highlights: Being general counsel, leading a team and teaching law to students
Career lowlight: At the beginning of my career, I could not see how my career would unfold or what my true purpose was. What I didn’t know at the time was that there would be so many opportunities. I just needed to be patient and have some faith.

 Fact File:

  • Adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and at the University of Toronto faculty of law 
  • Bencher at the Law Society of Ontario 
  • Co-authored Behind and Beyond Boilerplate: Drafting Commercial Agreements (Thomson Reuters) 
  • Member of the board of directors of LawPRO, an insurance provider for the legal profession 
  • FACL Lifetime Achievement winner (2019) 
  • CCCA Award of Excellence winner (2017)
  • Co-founded Diverse Champions for Diversity 

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