Last month, I won a challenge that was part of the summer student orientation. My prize was an outing with Kate Lyons, one of the most highly regarded municipal and environmental lawyers in Canada. Kate took me for cocktails at The National Club, a private-members club, where she served as president in 2004. I quickly discovered that Kate is a fascinating human being and was excited to sit down with her again for this interview.
What made you begin the career path to law?
Well, initially I was avoiding law because it’s something of a family business.
I thought of it as mindlessly following in my family’s footsteps – and I didn’t want to do that – but then I actually realized that I wanted to practice law.
My great grandfather was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, my grandfather was on the Court of Appeal for Ontario, and then my dad was a lawyer. So I thought no no, I don’t want to be a lawyer.
Then I was working as a clerk at a tribunal and I really saw the advantage for the parties who had lawyers, so I thought maybe there’s something to this law thing. Out of seven kids, I’m the only lawyer. The others are very creative (one sister is an art professor, another just retired from a career at CBC in broadcasting, another is an artist, one brother is literally sailing around the world – currently in Fiji, another brother is a handyman who is really good at making things, and another brother who is a stand-up comic).
What drew you to Goodmans?
The very open atmosphere. It’s not hierarchical and people enjoy working with each other.
When prospective students ask me whether they should go to the cocktail parties, and what they should do at the cocktail parties, I always tell students to just go to the cocktail parties to see how the lawyers treat each other and to see how they get along because it’s a good way to get a glimpse at the culture. It’s a very casual culture and I think that’s important to practicing law in an efficient way because if you have to book an appointment to go see a lawyer just to bounce some ideas off them, then that’s not great teamwork and you’re not going to achieve what you can in a firm with a culture like this.
What is the strangest experience you have had as a lawyer so far?
I had to tour the Keele Valley Landfill site for a specific client. You go there and get in a mini-van and they drive you around. I got out of the van at one point and it was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcook’s The Birds. There were so many seagulls dive bombing and I ran back to the van as fast as I could. So attacked by seagulls at a landfill site.
What would you be if you weren’t a lawyer?
A food critic.
If you had a one-year sabbatical, what would you do?
I would travel the world and practice being a food critic.
What do you think makes a great lawyer?
Creative problem solving and keeping your client’s objectives first and foremost. Lawyers take instructions and give advice. You have to find that magic balance to really help the client.
After Kate had answered some questions, Anne Benedetti, a partner, Lexpert Rising Star, and member of the executive committee of Goodmans stopped by to chat with us.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Anne: I would clone myself like Jack Jack in The Incredibles. Then I could go to the council meeting, draft emails, and play with my kids all at the same time,
Meg: I thought yours would come from a children’s movie.
Anne: You’re right! We just saw it yesterday!
Kate: That was such a good answer. I think I would want to fly.
If you could have lunch with anyone alive or dead, who would it be?
Kate: Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a strong advocate of women’s right to vote, an intellectual, and an inspirational person. She was powerless, on one hand, but she wielded a lot of power by persuasion and other means, which is a kind of feminist approach and a necessity.
Anne: I think I would say….
Kate: Jack Jack?
Anne: *laughs* I think I would say a younger version of my mother. I would want to get to know her and understand who she was as a young person. When you meet your mother she’s already your mother, but I would have liked to know what she was like before then, to have gone to school with her, to know that side of her.
Favourite Toronto Restaurant?
Anne: There’s a place called the Greek Grill north of the Danforth and Pape. It’s a fun, family restaurant that always has great food especially for take away. Ali [Anne’s wife] and I are going to pick up from there tonight!
Kate: Dandylion (Queen street). It’s a small restaurant that doesn’t sit too many people. There’s a great chef (Jay Carter) who makes amazing food. I’m not vegan, but they do vegan and vegetarian dishes that are amazing, and they also do meat dishes. It’s a different menu every day. It’s very fresh It’s very much a fresh-food oriented place – a lot of local food. You can do tasting plates – if you have a group of like six you can try everything on the menu and it’s all curated so that it goes together. It would have a Michelin star if Michelin ever bothered coming to Canada.
What’s your favourite show to binge on Netflix?
Kate: Orange is the New Black is the best to binge. I also just finished watching the mini-series Godless, which was fantastic.
Anne: Sens8. It’s so diverse in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, personality etcetera. It’s by the Wachowski sisters – the people who did the Matrix. It’s gorgeous, well-written, and totally unexpected.
Kate: Godfather II, Master and Commander, Alien
Anne: Right now, probably The Heat with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy - The opening scene, when Melissa McCarthy throws the watermelon is so perfect. Ali puts it on whenever I am having a tough day.
Kate: My favourite sport to watch on television is tennis and to watch in person is baseball.
Anne: Lacrosse. I’m a lacrosse player. It’s a great team sport and some of my best friends are my teammates.
Meg: I know you played field. Would you rather watch field or box lacrosse?
Anne: I watch the Toronto Rock [of the National Lacrosse League] with my best friends every year and it’s so much fun. I do love to watch field too though.
What is one item on your bucket lists?
Kate: I want to see what’s left of the Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the coast of B.C. The original Haida Gwaii is dissolving into the B.C. rainforest.
Anne: I’m intentionally not a bucket list person because some of my most exceptional experiences are things that I would have never predicted or planned. If I made a list at 19, I think I would have been quite disappointed as I would not have been able to even dream where life has now taken me, including here at Goodmans.
Between the two of you, who is more likely to forget her key card/ID?
Anne: Oh, that’s obviously me. I’ve been using Elliot’s [Pobjoy] card for at least two weeks now.