An Interview with Professor Peter Kissick: The Fundamentals of Being a Corporate Lawyer
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
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When most think of law, they boil it down to a very small scope: judges with white wigs and large juries in grand, old courtrooms. When most think of the areas of law, typically only two come to mind: corporate and criminal. In reality, only 12% of Ontario lawyers work in criminal law1. The fact of the matter is, the legal field expands so much further than just its most popular constituents. There are numerous fields of law and within each field, one could have a choice of several careers. In fact, according to the 2016 Lawyer Annual Report, 20.1% of lawyers spend at least 30% of their time in two, or more, legal fields1. Today, aspiring lawyers have more choice than ever in building their careers. This is why it is so important to learn about the nuances of each field and figure out what is right for you.
Queen’s Pre-Law Society (QPLS) is proud to present the first instalment in its World of Law series. We aim to educate students about the vast opportunities in the legal field in efforts to support those who share the dream of earning a legal education. On the last Monday in each of the coming months, QPLS will release articles featuring experts in different legal careers to educate the public on the facets of various legal professions. Please fill in the attached feedback form at the end of the article if you would like to hear about a specific legal field.
“...in reality, corporate lawyers are constantly interacting with people. Their lives are about problem-solving and being creative.”
This month, we had the honour of interviewing Professor Peter Kissick, one of Queen’s University’s most esteemed law professors. Professor Kissick has practiced in the field of business law since 1990, more specifically in the areas of securities law, banking, intellectual property and most recently electronic business and business start-ups. Find more on Professor Kissick’s accomplished career at the end of the article.
INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR KISSICK
1. What is the essence of corporate law?
By “essence”, I assume you’d like a broad definition. It’s an area of practice that, unfortunately, doesn’t have a precise “boundary”. However, effectively corporate (or sometimes “corporate and commercial”) law relates to providing legal advice concerning the “life” of a corporation or business – its creation (incorporation), operation and its transactions. It involves giving legal opinions on tax, corporations statutes, securities law and other government regulation, and writing contracts – lots of contracts! It also involves creativity (what legal solution will satisfy or help my client?) and negotiation (with other companies, the government, etc.).
2. What misconceptions are there about corporate law?
I think when a lot of (especially younger) people think about practicing law, they see themselves in court - like Harvey Specter in Suits! I did. Even when I was in Law School I was convinced that I would become a litigator or trial lawyer. I thought that litigation would be so much more dramatic, and that boring corporate lawyers sat alone in their offices scribbling documents. I learned that in reality, corporate lawyers are constantly interacting with people. Their lives are about problem-solving and being creative. While litigators are given a set of historical facts they can’t change, corporate lawyers have the opportunity to alter what will happen in future. And every new file is different, so as a corporate lawyer I am always learning something new. I can’t imagine being a litigator now!
3. What is the most interesting case you have come upon?
In almost every file I find that there is a moment of novelty, something that I will remember that was unique about that file. But the most important “case” (court decision) to my career is still a judgment I lecture about to this day: the Supreme Court‘s decision in Lac Minerals v. Corona. That is the “leading” Canadian decision about the rights of corporate joint venture partners; and in its decision, the SCC ordered large mining company Lac to sell (what turned out to be) a massive gold mining property to the junior company Corona. The firm for whom I was articling was legal counsel to Corona, and Corona had now become a major player in the Canadian mining sector. Our firm needed a young associate lawyer to do Corona’s now significant corporate law work – and that young lawyer turned out to be me! So the case gave me my first job!
4. What qualities do you think a good corporate lawyer should have?
I think there are qualities that anyone wishing to be a successful lawyer – or someone who wishes to enjoy the practice of law – should have or should cultivate. You must be prepared to read, and read a lot. Likewise, you should take great care with your writing. You should be a good “people” person, because as I alluded to above, you will be speaking to people all day. Above all, you need to be analytical: you can’t jump to a conclusion before looking at a problem from every angle. And, I suppose, it doesn’t hurt to be a little “anal retentive” (!) - your client is paying you to ensure that every little detail has been looked after.
PROFESSOR P. KISSICK
For the past 17 years, Peter Kissick has taught business law in the undergraduate Commerce and MBA programs at Smith School of Business. He is also currently teaching the Commerce Program's Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility course. In the Faculty of Law, Professor Kissick has taught various courses, and has been a Lead Instructor in Queen’s Law’s introductory course in law for undergraduate students. He is also the Past Director and of the Queen's Business Law Clinic, which he founded in 2009. Professor Kissick has received faculty awards for his teaching, as well as several nominations for university-wide teaching awards at Queen's.He is a past Director of the Smith Commerce Program.Since his call to the Ontario Bar in 1990, Mr. Kissick has practiced as an associate at the Toronto law firm Smith Lyons, after which he joined the in-house legal department of The Toronto-Dominion Bank. Currently, in addition to his work at Smith, he has his own consultative business law practice in which he specializes in providing advice to smaller entities at various stages of their growth, and he has participated on the advisory boards of several companies and organizations. Professor Kissick is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Ontario and Canadian Bar Associations.
Authors: Sami Babayan and Subhadra Menon, Events Coordinators
Contributors: Michelle Gilmour and Christopher King, Events Coordinators
1. Law Society of Ontario (2016). Statistical Snapshot of Lawyers in Ontario [Fact sheet]. http://annualreport.lsuc.on.ca/2017/common/documents/Snapshot-Lawyers18_English.pdf