Jonathan van Bilsen
It is The Law
Becoming a lawyer requires a great deal of hard work and dedication. The industry has long been dominated by men, and only recently are women able to make a mark, raising the bar higher than it has ever been. Marie Riverin is such a person. Not only does she excel in her career, but she has also stepped into an area which has taken her to the Middle East, to handle stressful negotiations on behalf of her international clients.
To say Marie is busy is an understatement. Her three offices, Port Perry, Stouffville, and Uxbridge, keep her hopping. She speaks extremely highly of her network of paralegals and administrative assistants, which Marie refers to as the foundation of her success.
I am always curious how a person gets into their profession, and Marie tells an interesting story which relates back to her grandfather. “I have always been an avid reader,” she explains. “My grandfather was very interested in all things legal, as well as municipal politics and local history.”
Being the owner of a general store in rural Quebec, he had great opportunities to interact with many people of influence and knowledge, and would share his stories and opinions with Marie.
“I remember him saying how being a lawyer would be the ultimate profession,” Marie continued. “My grandmother subscribed to a legal magazine, and I could not wait for it to arrive.” Marie would read the magazine cover to cover. Remember, this was when she was only 12 years old.
Marie followed her passion and has two law degrees. The first is civil law; she is celebrating her 30th year since she was called to the bar in Quebec. For three years, she practised bankruptcy litigation until an opportunity to relocate to Ontario arose. Marie jumped on it. “My passion was making deals, rather than writing about them, and I loved negotiating on behalf of clients.”
Due to legal differences between provinces, Marie had to obtain a degree in Ontario. In 1998 she was called to the bar to formalize it. Obtaining two law degrees was a great deal of work, but Marie explained, it was well worth the effort.
I naturally asked the question, ‘Why not stay in Quebec?’ Marie explained how an opportunity to work in the aerospace industry presented itself, and the challenge sounded amazing. It was also a great chance to further her career, out of the bankruptcy world she was immersed in.
Marie admits, although she was very good at litigation, it was better to build things than to fight about them. For many years, Marie worked in-house in the transportation sector, which offered her a fantastic opportunity to travel.
She has travelled to 26 countries, negotiating contracts for fleets of aircraft and transit projects. Most of her travels were in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and she enjoyed negotiating in different countries.
Naturally, I was curious to know what the highlights of her travels were. Oman, a country she visited several times, was one of Marie’s more interesting locales. The country is a Sultanate and is entirely run by about 70 members of the Sultan’s family.
“The culture was very different from what I was used to,” Marie explained. “Everyone I dealt with was very intelligent and knew their area of expertise.” Being a woman, negotiating in a male-dominated culture must have had its challenges. Marie explained, how researching and respecting the culture helped her immensely.
Most of the people Marie dealt with were educated in the west, and her competence and confidence soon had everyone treat her as an equal. “I think you have to look at cultures from everyone’s perspective,” Marie explained. “My initial thoughts were, how difficult it must be for women to constantly wear veils, but then when I realized they were thinking, how terrible my life must be for me, having to go out and work. It was a matter of perspective.”
Marie’s first international trip was to Ethiopia. She was in a junior position with the firm, and travelling to such a different culture was a revelation. “I spent a great deal of time listening, learning, and gaining the respect of the people I was meeting with. Of course, I also learned to respect them and their ways.” Marie paused. “I think I matured ten years in that trip,” she added.
Having become quite seasoned in the corporate world, Marie found travelling 200 days a year took a toll on all aspects of her life. She decided it was time to open her own firm. In her corporate career, she specialized in the transit sector and still spends 20 percent of her time in that industry. “I find it very interesting, especially now that we are seeing electric buses and all types of new technologies being introduced.”
Opening her own business was a wake-up call, on so many fronts. There is an entire infrastructure in place when working for a large corporation. This is quite often a shock to many small business owners. Areas such as marketing, human resources and information technology, suddenly do not exist and have to be addressed by the small business owner.
Marie was fortunate, as she was still performing contract work for her previous employer, which enabled her to set up her own business, gradually. Interestingly, her practice gave her great insight into setting up a small business, and she began reaching out to other entrepreneurs to help them become established.
She had a vast amount of experience in contract negotiation, an area which is a necessity for many small businesses. She also became a leader in the field of incorporating a business. “The important element is to structure a business in a way [which] will enable it to grow.”
I asked Marie what her most important function was, in dealing with clients. Her answer was simple. “I need to be in tune with my client’s needs. Every business is different, and I need to be practical.”
Marie Riverin has certainly developed to meet the needs of the marketplace, and, at the same time, created an excellent work-life balance. With three offices, a business of the year award, and tremendous community involvement, she has no intentions of slowing down.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.