What corporate lawyers really do: Konata Lake on why he loves what he does at Torys

Lake loves the high-profile deals on which he advises, but is honest about the struggles he faces

What corporate lawyers really do: Konata Lake on why he loves what he does at Torys
Konata Lake is a partner and corporate lawyer at Torys LLP.

For a young lawyer, deciding what area of law to pursue can be daunting. Not only do you have to determine what interests you despite little work experience, you also want to know what it is “really like” to practise day to day.

Corporate law, unlike litigation, is also often shrouded in mystery for new lawyers, and visions of grinding it out in a boardroom for endless hours may be the only image that comes to mind.

Despite having “no clue or perception about what corporate lawyers did,” Konata Lake says that image never matched his experience.

“I'm from a single-parent household [and an] immigrant kid [who] grew up in Jane and Finch in west-end Toronto. I was so excited to be in that world that the work I was doing, I don't think I ever thought of it as grunt work.

“One person said to me one, where the rest of us with a new deal see a minefield, you see candy.”

His enthusiasm is a sure sign he found the right practice area when he chose to pursue corporate law. But his attitude may also be a sign of perspective, where other obstacles he overcame seem much more significant than a mountain of paperwork.

Lake grew up in Jamaica and moved to Canada when he was 12 with his mother and sister.

In his family, he jokes, “there are certain professions that you are told that you should be. The law was the one that kind of fit my personality when I was younger, so I was always encouraged/instructed to pursue law.”

Reluctant to stray from the strict instructions, Lake completed a joint JD/MBA degree at Osgoode Hall Law School after completing his undergraduate in business.

He was always drawn to business and economics, but he also toyed with working in public policy and government.

Lake had an opportunity to work with the Department of Finance in Ottawa, but he chose instead to work at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP in New York. He was drawn to corporate law and also to living in New York.

“My heart was probably [drawn] toward the idea of going to the government, but the life experience won out.”

While Lake did love New York, his heart eventually drew him to Torys, where he could be closer to his mother, who was suffering from cancer, and his now wife, both of whom were in Toronto.

“The goal was to come back to Toronto and Torys was fantastic in that I think they probably saw that I still loved New York but had family obligations that was taking me back and so they allowed me to work part out of New York, part [out] of Toronto.”

Lake regularly comes back to such work/life choices when he talks about succeeding in corporate law. In other words, the “what is it really like” to practise corporate law that young lawyers are so keen to know.

“I think the starting point is [to ask] ‘what is most important?’ which can be challenging. So, being clear about priorities is really important and then not being swayed by what others are doing, by what you think you should be doing. You've got to pick . . . what's most important, and then the other decisions fall around that.”

For Lake, being upfront about the balancing act he is playing, with a two-year-old son and a working wife, is important.

“I've accepted that there are times when I will miss [bed] time with my son. And there are times when I will miss a client event. I am very honest on emails that I can't make that meeting at 7:30 because I'm putting my son to bed [then]. I think for me it's being authentic in that this is a part of my experience and reality.”

Lake’s insistence on authenticity shows confidence, since Black lawyers especially have cited their inability to be authentic at work as a major obstacle.

For Lake, though, the onus is on leadership to address these systemic issues.

Senior leaders, he says, need to take “the time to think through hiring practices, promotion practices, sponsorship within the organization like and really think through ‘What is the culture of a firm or company and how do we make that culture more inclusive?’ That probably takes some soul searching.”

While Lake struggles to balance his personal life with work demands like all young lawyers, he is also keen to share what fascinates him about his work. He is involved in recruitment at Torys and has been involved in many high-profile deals at the firm, including being one of the lead lawyers representing Ontario in a deal that saw it enter into an agreement in principle to sell shares in Hydro One to the First Nations of Ontario. He is currently working on M&A transactions in the technology space with strategic and private equity parties and on distressed M&A files.

With those roles, he inevitably gets asked “what do corporate lawyers actually do?”

“We're assessing benefits and risks. And we're trying to decide between our client and the other party's client, who gets what and how do they get it and when do they get [it]. That conceptually is what we do day to day. And it comes out in very long documents. But, fundamentally, that's what we're trying to do.”

With those fundamentals and a dose of authenticity, Lake assures lawyers that they can succeed in corporate law if that is what they choose to pursue.

Hear more from Lake, who is a speaker at the Canadian Lawyer Young Lawyers Summit on Nov. 24.

Profile

  • Konata Lake
  • Partner, Torys LLP
  • 2019 Lexpert Rising Star
  • Law school: Osgoode Hall Law School – York University
    Career highlight: being admitted to the partnership at Torys
  • Career lowlight: not having my mother here with me to share in that admission as she passed away while I was a senior associate

Deals of note

Lake has worked on the following deals:

  • Technology M&A transactions with strategic and private equity parties (not currently public)
  • Distressed M&A files (not currently public)
  • Ontario’s privatization of Hydro One and sale of shares to First Nations
  • Aon’ acquisition of Cytelligence Inc
  • eShares’ acqui-hire agreement with Kik Interactive
  • AmeriVet Veterinary Partners’ minority investment by OPTrust and scale-up investment by Imperial Capital
  • Zendesk acquisition of Smooch Technologies Holdings ULC

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