Thanks to the wonders of television, most people—at some point or another—cite “lawyer” as a possible career path. The vast majority give up the dream once they find out exactly how much work is involved in becoming a lawyer—and, of those that actually follow through with it, only a lucky few carve out a career that truly reflects their personalities and interests. Dana Easthope is one of those lucky few—although it took him a while to find his ideal career path.
Like many teenagers forced to determine what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives, Dana didn’t know much about the legal profession when he decided to pursue it for a living.
“In Grade 12, my parents asked me what I wanted to do as a profession,” he recalls. “My mom felt I should be a dentist, but that was one of the last things I wanted to do. My dad was a teacher, but that profession really didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t interested in medicine either. But law seemed interesting.”
He primarily liked the thought of working indoors and wearing a suit all day. While he admits these reasons were rather naïve, it led him to his current role—corporate secretary of Barrick Gold Corporation—and for that, he has no regrets.
Simply the best
As the lone person in his family to pursue law, Dana had few resources to pull from when selecting a career path. Since Osler was one of the top, if not the top, business firms in Canada, he decided it would be his top choice for a summer position. It also helped that when he was applying, back in 1998, the firm had just started its hire-back policy, guaranteeing that all articling students would be hired back as first-year associates.
“Osler was the first firm to offer this policy, and it meant something to me that the firm was willing to step outside the normal recruitment process. It meant a lot to me that a firm was willing to make that type of commitment to students,” he says.
He became more confident with his decision to pursue a summer position at Osler when, as part of the summer interview process, he went out for dinner with a group of Osler lawyers and other candidates.
“It was one of the most fun nights I remember having,” he recalls. “We were a group of 10 or 12, and people like Clay Horner and Jeanie Fraser and Firoz Ahmed were at my table telling war stories about private practice—and telling me about what a good candidate they thought I was. It was easy to let it go to your head in such a fun environment.”
And the fun didn’t stop when he joined the firm, either. When he wasn’t working hard, he was playing hard. Dana became heavily involved in the firm’s football team in the Lawyers’ Touch Football League—eventually becoming captain for a few years.
“It was a good mix of partners, associates and students. We went and played football for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, then sat around and had a few beers. Some of these guys had been at the firm for a long time, they had amazing careers, yet they were happy to sit around with younger lawyers that were just starting out and socialize. It was fun.”
Dana admits that calling himself ”captain” was an overstatement; the role mostly involved bringing pylons and footballs to the games, but it nevertheless brought the team good luck.
“The firm’s team hadn’t been very successful to that point—we hadn’t won the championship for years,” he says. “For the two years I was captain, we won the championship. So I milked that for a long time—a lot of teasing about how we were suddenly unstoppable with me at the helm.”
In search of a new path
Midway through his sixth year as an associate, Dana reached a crossroads. Up until that point, he’d been pursuing the road most travelled—he landed a job at a top firm, worked hard to become a good associate and, from what he could tell, the next logical step was to kick it up a notch and become partner. The thing was, he wasn’t sure that was the path he wanted to take.
“I came to the realization that there was a difference between being a good associate and being a successful partner,” he says. “When I joined the firm, it was my objective to become partner. Now it was time to go all-in but I realized I was more inclined to explore what else was out there.”
So, while he didn’t actively ramp up his job search, he started to pay closer attention to the positions that were out there. When he saw an ad for an in-house counsel position at Sun Life Financial, he knew he had to apply.
“If I’d been asked to write about what I did at Osler, the job description in the Sun Life ad is what I would have written,” he explains. “The advantage of going in-house was that I’d be doing all the things I was already doing but for one company, rather than a bunch of clients. This was appealing because, not only was Sun Life a stable, international organization, but it was an opportunity that would allow me to learn something about business and travel to places I’d never been.”
So Dana made the leap and—in the beginning, at least—the transition was impeccably smooth.
“It was ridiculously easy to start, and I couldn’t figure out why everyone didn’t do this. Sun Life was very relaxed compared to Osler,” he explains. “Early on, someone in the communications department called at 5:00pm on a Thursday, sheepishly asking for help. I was waiting for her to ask for it to be done by Friday morning, but when I asked her the deadline it was 10 days away—and she was uncomfortable asking for help with that kind of timeline!”
While the work was similar in many respects, learning the ins and outs of the insurance business proved to be more challenging.
“The life insurance business isn’t really intuitive. The actuaries make a bunch of assumptions and when those assumptions change, the company can go from making $100 million in a quarter to losing $500 million. So it was challenging for me to get my head around how that worked and how the company made money.”
Fortunately, he had a couple years to learn the business before the financial crisis hit in 2008 and the pace of work increased dramatically—and never seemed to slow down. Dana put his head down and made the most of it and, by 2015, he had worked his way up to corporate secretary—a job he found fascinating.
“As the corporate secretary, you see and hear everything. You’re part of every important conversation with the board and the executive team. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say the CEO, CFO and corporate secretary are the three most knowledgeable people in a company and I found it fascinating to listen to what was said at meetings and observe expressions and body language,” he says.
Onwards and upwards
By May 2015, Dana was ready for another career change and decided to trade in his life insurance hat for a mining hat as corporate secretary of Barrick Gold Corporation.
“Sun Life was very highly regarded for its corporate governance practices—it was ranked number one in the board games for two of the three years I was corporate secretary,” he says.
“We would try to engage with shareholders but they never wanted to talk to us—they weren’t concerned about our governance or compensation practices. In that sense, the job became very routine and we were almost on autopilot in terms of governance matters relating to the board.”
Dana is excited about the opportunity at Barrick because the company isn’t as established in its governance practices. Dana’s job is to change this—and he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“At Barrick, the big selling point is that this is almost an investor relations job. I’m already meeting with shareholders, listening to their concerns, introducing best practices and figuring out how to respond to shareholder concerns. It’s a new challenge, and one that I’m very interested in.”
Dana is also looking forward to learning the nuances of a completely new business.
“My mining experience was previously limited to a couple of deals that I worked on at Osler,” he explains. “I had very little exposure to mining, so I’m kind of in the same boat as I was at Sun Life—just trying to understand a business that I didn’t understand before.”
The right fit
While a corporate secretary position was never on Dana’s radar when he launched his career so many years ago, it’s been a great career choice. “I learned more about Sun Life’s business in one year as corporate secretary than I did in several years in the law department, and I’m hoping my experience at Barrick will be similar,” he said. Although his workload is still full, he has more control over his schedule—and he can foresee when busy times are coming. This allows him to maintain a healthier work/life balance—and spend more time with his children, who are 15 and 12 (as well as watch more NFL football—which is one of his guilty pleasures).
He’s incredibly happy with the direction his career has taken, and encourages all lawyers to take a step back once in a while to ensure they’re pursuing the type of legal career that makes the most sense for them.
“I loved my experience at Osler—the firm did a great job of training me and its full of great people—but at some point you need to decide what you want your career to look like, and what might suit your personality,” he says.
“As I look back at my career, and even thinking back to when I started law school, I got caught up in what people said. Bay Street was where the successful lawyers worked, and to be truly successful you needed to be a partner. I know that’s not the case anymore—there are many amazing lawyers in in-house positions, and they didn’t leave private practice because they couldn’t handle it. There are terrific opportunities in both the legal field and the business world. It’s a matter of finding what you want to do.”