Probably the most important thing that Don Boykiw has learned in his 27-year career is that, to truly experience success in law, you have to know your stuff, think outside the box—and have fun as often as possible. Living his life according to these lessons allowed him to succeed in, and enjoy, a career that he essentially stumbled into—and wasn’t originally exceptionally interested in.
“I had no friends or relatives in law, and no real interest. I was argumentative as a kid, so my parents said I should be a lawyer—but that wasn’t really my desire,” he explains. “I wrote my LSAT on a whim after my third year of business at the University of Alberta—it was ’83 and the economy wasn’t great. So it was more than an impulse, but never really a mission in my life, to become a lawyer.”
When it came time to article, Don set his sights on Bennett Jones because he’d heard, through a number of lawyers at smaller firms, that the big Calgary firm was where “all the stars are”. He turned down several offers —including one at the Court of Appeal—while he waited for an initial interview from Bennett Jones. The interview (and luckily, the accompanying offer) eventually came, and he accepted.
It was during his time as a junior associate at the firm, shortly after he was called to the bar in 1988, that he discovered an aspect of law he could truly be passionate about.
“A major turning point in my career occurred early on. I was working on a big transaction that everyone thought would die, but I firmly believed there was another solution,” he recalls.
“I suggested an alternative, got some people to agree to try it, and it worked. The experience showed me how thinking outside the box and doing things that hadn’t been done before can add value and be much more fun.”
Don embraced the role of “problem solver” and began to constantly seek out different or unusual ways to address issues, rather than simply trying to do things the same way. It gave him a new lease on his chosen profession.
While he learned a lot at Bennett Jones—and benefitted from a number of phenomenal mentors—by 2005, he was ready for a change.
“Things were fine at Bennett Jones, but I felt that work wasn’t as fun as it once was,” he explains, adding that he decided to reach out to some lawyers he knew at Osler’s new Calgary office to explore other opportunities. “They were a small office at the time, about 20 lawyers, but with the Toronto office pedigree and support system. It appeared like a no-risk, no-downside career move—just a way to start something new and help build the local business. So it was a bit of a refresh.”
Moving from a large, well-known firm like Bennett Jones to a small (and, at the time, not well known in Calgary) office like Osler required a bit of an adjustment. For one thing, there was no long established culture—so the lawyers at the new office were responsible for creating it. Because most of them were just starting young families, the pressure to work evenings and weekends just wasn’t there in the same way. The new culture also offered Don an opportunity to play a role that was different than the one he played at his previous employer.
“When I arrived at Osler, I was suddenly a new senior guy. So I had a greater responsibility to mentor, help others and get involved in assisting with the firm’s local growth,” he explains. “I had a much greater responsibility in the office—and ownership over the culture.”
Don was also responsible for helping build up the Osler brand in Calgary, as well as the reputation of the Calgary office in the eyes of their Toronto counterparts and clients. After 10 years, he’s proud to say they’ve accomplished that feat.
“The Osler Calgary office is now seen externally as a legitimate and full service office, able to solve the full suite of client issues. There’s nothing any client wouldn’t consider calling our Calgary office to do.”
The office has also grown and matured over the last 10 years. Now that they’re no longer newbies, the lawyers there have a better understanding of the Osler institution, Don says.
“The Calgary office now has an established infrastructure and a strong support staff. There are lawyers who have been there for nine or 10 years, so there’s institutional knowledge now, when there wasn’t back when I started,” he says. “Because of this, Toronto lawyers that may have doubted our abilities earlier now realize we have a depth of expertise and knowledge, especially in the energy space and the western transactional space. They see we can add value.”
One thing that hasn’t changed at the office, however, is the family-oriented culture.
“The culture still respects the fact that people have family lives. Everyone here realizes that’s important, and I think that’s a positive thing that hasn’t changed.”
Bring on retirement
Although Don’s official working days are over—he retired on April 30—he hasn’t yet stopped working. He’s sits on three volunteer boards, and is still holding onto a few clients—although he’s hoping that won’t be for too long.
“What’s funny is that I have a group of friends I golf with, and I haven’t been out golfing with them all season, because my retirement has been getting in the way.”
It doesn’t sound like things are going to let up anytime soon, however. Don says his goal for his retirement is to simply do things he hasn’t done much before. He wants to travel to new places, start road cycling—and potentially build a house next year on the west coast. The first thing he has formally planned, however, is a month in the south of France.
“I want to spend the month learning the language, experiencing the culture—and then I want to move on to different countries too,” he says. “I would really like to go to the South Pacific, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Japan, South America. It’s a pretty long list—my wife and I are in the middle of comparing lists right now.”
More than anything, he’s looking forward to keeping things light—and having fun.