How the GPLLM program helps executives master the law

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jackman Law Building entrance

When he's looking at something like data-sharing, Hitachi Canada CEO Howard Shearer isn't just thinking about the technology. He's contemplating the privacy considerations that accompany it, and the regulations that govern it.

Shearer is currently enrolled in the Global Professional Master of Laws (GPLLM) at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law. The one-year program offers robust exposure to the legal ins and outs of today's business world.

"The GPLLM awakened a consciousness in me to carefully consider the legal implications when introducing or pursuing new technologies," he says.

The program aims to do exactly that: reshape the way leaders think, says Ed Iacobucci, Dean of the Faculty of Law. The law has an impact on a large portion of issues in the business world, yet executive education often doesn't have a legal orientation. The GPLLM, geared towards executives and not just law graduates, offers that lens.

"The capacity to look at complexity, recognize nuance and apply legal reasoning to come up with the best answer to a difficult problem is invaluable," says Iacobucci.

The program, which began in 2011, has four concentrations: Business Law; Law of Leadership; Canadian Law in a Global Context; and Innovation, Law and Technology. The program starts in September and runs through the following August, with classes on Fridays evenings and Saturdays, every other week.

At Hitachi Canada, Shearer serves market sectors that range from information systems, to semiconductors, to health care diagnostic devices. He has spent 35 years in the tech sector, and has a degree in electrical engineering, but feels that his new legal training has added something vital to his toolkit.

Shearer says the program has given him a deeper understanding of the challenges his legal team faces, and has opened the door to more detailed and productive discussions in his boardroom, particularly around risk assessment.

The GPLLM has attracted people with widely varying academic and executive backgrounds, who bring an average of 12-14 years of experience, and who've worked everywhere from banks to hospitals.

For Iacobucci that demonstrates how the GPLLM's lessons transcend settings and positions, to help people ask the right questions, identify business issues, and add value to their clients and organizations.

"The ability to think like a lawyer has wide applications in a range of leadership roles," says Iacobucci.

That's what Ikram Al Mouaswas, a partner at Deloitte, has found. The Toronto-based consultant sought out the GPLLM because she wanted to better understand the business challenges her clients face.

Al Mouaswas works with mining companies in the Assurance and Advisory service. While she has deep knowledge on the accounting side, "I wanted to take a step back and get the other side of the story through the legal side, like anti-corruption law, which is something our clients deal with all over the world," says Al Mouaswas.

She'll graduate from the GPLLM program this summer, and says she is already feeling the positive impacts of this unique executive education.

"I knew that the combination of my practical experience and an understanding of the legal aspects of these transactions would allow me to advise my clients with more perspective and fluency. This has definitely been the case," she says.

The diversity of professional experiences represented by the GPLLM students adds an extra layer to the education people can expect from it, says Ben Alarie, a professor in the program.

"We have this group of people with varied backgrounds, addressing challenging and interesting material, and we want to encourage that and learn from it," says Alarie.

Shearer notes that the diversity he has encountered in the program will stick with him even after he graduates.

"The range of discussions in the classrooms, both from the faculty experience and the professional backgrounds of the students, brings a richness that I don't think you could find anywhere else," says Shearer.

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