A learn-learn situation for Scott

While not from the world of academe, W. Iain Scott knows leadership is about appointing good people around you. Preparing to begin a five-year term as dean of the Faculty of Law this September, he is confident such guidance is already a part of the university structure.



Scott, who recently retired from an eight-year term as the first-ever chair and chief executive officer of one of Canada’s largest law firms, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, succeeds Ian Holloway, who will complete his second five-year term as dean this summer.

A graduate of Yale and Queen’s University, Scott specialized in commercial law from 1979 to 2002, developing an expertise in a financial restructuring and reorganization practice, acting for debtors, creditors and strategic investors involved in the forest products, manufacturing, financial services, and telecom sectors.

During his tenure as chair and CEO, Scott appointed and led a senior leadership team to oversee development of the firm’s strategic plan which focused on building the strengths of McCarthy Tétrault’s 600-plus lawyers and implementing a team-oriented approach to delivering exceptional legal services to the firm’s national client base.

Western News reporter Paul Mayne sat down with Scott discuss his new role at the university.

So how long have you been retired from McCarthy Tétrault?

I had two four-year terms and I knew when I was appointed for my second renewal that I was going to be out of a job after that. So it was 2009 that I finished, but as a condition of my renewal term the firm wanted me to stay on for one more year to help with the transition. So, essentially I was at the firm through 2010 and resigned Jan. 1 of this year.

Were the plans to actually stay retired or were you looking for another opportunity?

Definitely not the retirement world. My options were I could have stayed with the firm; I didn’t have to leave the firm, I just had to leave management. I could have returned to practice, but in my prior job as CEO it was also a condition of my accepting that role that I give up my practice. When my former employer adopted this new governance structure they wanted a CEO committed fully to the management of the firm and not also their practice.

For one who never contemplated the world of academe before, how was the process leading up to your hiring?

As I said to the committee, I did not have academe or any position like this on my list of possible things I was looking at quite frankly, because typically institutions like Western and others appoint from within the faculty or from faculties of like-minded institutions.

They asked it and I asked it – I didn’t want to come into a position where I wouldn’t be capable of making the contributions I know you need to make at an institution like Western. Like my former job, leadership is about appointing good people around you. I don’t know of any leader who can do it all on their own and so if you have the right team around you, you achieve what you need to achieve.

In my case, and this is already contemplated by the existing structure, there are two associate dean roles – one on the academic side and one of the research and graduate studies side – where I know there are strong faculty members currently in the roles that will be able to round off the gaps in my experience. While that’s an issue (academic experience), I think it’s manageable and ultimately both Western and I concluded that it is manageable. I know I’ll have support from people to help me through that and many of the faculty have already reached out to me with that support.

Could your background and experience in the area in law in some way bring new benefits to this role?

I will certainly bring an understanding of the practice and what clients expect from lawyers, if we just talk about the area of practice when the students graduate. I also bring a perspective on what firms, both in the U.S. and around the world, are doing and how Canadian lawyers and law firms are playing on those fields – or aren’t.

I think there is an opportunity for Canadian law graduates to have a role in the continuing globalization of the practice of law, but partly it’s going to start with the education and the experience they get, and part is obviously going to turn on the firms they end up working at.

The other aspect is that many lawyers that graduate don’t always – and I’m proof of this – practice forever. There are other things lawyers are well trained to do. It’s more about the educational experience, and the critical thinking and how you approach problems.

With perhaps a larger learning curve than most, coming into academe for the first time, do you see this as a learn-learn situation?

Once you get to my age, the minute you stop trying to learn and prove your game, you’re just going to get left behind. In this world, as you know, it’s very competitive and you want to surround yourself with smart people who are ambitious. That was key to me and Western filled that bill. You want to be at a great name and an institution with a great brand, and Western has that. These are aspects that ticked two of my key boxes, being smart people and good brand, and I get a chance to learn and hopefully impart some of my knowledge and experience to those around me.

At what point did you start to think the role of Western Law dean would be a good fit for you?

My dad always said ‘never close doors behind you’ and so when I got the call, even though my initial reactions was ‘you got the wrong Iain Scott,’ I said ‘you know what, I’m going to go and listen.’ I had a number of meeting with Janice Deakin (provost and vice-president, academic), who was very helpful and very committed to a successful outcome. Whether it was me or whoever, she did a great job running the process.

I listened to her and some of the other people on the selection committee and I began to actually see both the challenge and the opportunity, and I like challenge. I’ve done a lot of things over the last 30 years both in practice and in leadership, so I don’t shy away from challenges. And so the more I thought about it, particularly the juncture that Western is now taking with Amit (Chakma) as president and Janice, there is a real focus on ‘we’re going to do better than we’ve been doing and we’re all going to work together to achieve great things for the institution’ and that appeals to me. It is very fortuitous timing. I’m about results and focus and I think we can do that, both for the broader Western community and hopefully raise the game at the law school.

While you don’t begin your new role until September, have you thought ahead as to a strategic plan for the faculty and where you would like to see Western Law go in the years ahead?

The details of that will take some time. I do intend to spend a fair bit of time over the summer meeting with people and getting as much information in order to hit the ground running. I think, at a higher level, there are a couple things. One is the international focus, understanding which of the relations the law school has with quite a number of educational institutions around the world; and how that marries up with the curriculum needs of both the school and the students, being sure we have and are growing the right external relations so the students who want those broader experiences can get them. I think that’s an area where it corresponds with the broader strategic direction of the university, but also can be more focus on the law school side.