Interview with Ian Van den Dolder

Q: How many years in total have you been at EKB now?

Ian: I summered in 2017. I was called in 2018. I’m a fifth-year call now. 

Q: Why were you attracted to EKB for your articling position? Why did you choose EKB?

Ian: Initially during the recruitment process, I found it really hard to tell one firm from another, as I think a lot of students do. You hear a lot of the same things from various firms, but when I got to interview with EKB, got to know the people there and then was able to contrast them with some of the other firms that I was speaking with, the distinction became apparent. 

Basically, there’s some talk about fit, but a lot of it is just, you know, sort of the respectful professional nature, but overriding that was just an ability to enjoy the people that I was speaking with. It was very much a relaxed environment. I found that other firms were highly structured, and I was happily making jokes about kale with one of the now retired partners. So that was my first hint of what drew me to EKB and it turns out that it’s been the best place I could possibly be. I feel like I kind of accidentally fell into that based just on a feeling I had. And I think a feeling’s really important when you’re searching for where to go. 

Q: What were your first impressions of the team at EKB? What was your experience like starting at the firm? 

Ian: The first impressions were definitely correct in terms of the personalities that I was meshing with. It was refreshing to deal with people that were free to be themselves and be casual. And there’s really no one that’s awful that is hidden in the closet like a lot of the big firms that they bring out, you know, after you’ve done the process. It’s consistently been very friendly and personal. So, I think that’s one of the aspects to EKB’s successes is that it’s a medium-sized firm that does really high-level work. 

So, during my articles, I was one of a few people on a couple different projects rather than one of twenty at a big firm where you’d be thrown a file and have to do something really small and minute for a long time.

One thing that stood out for me was working early on with Bill Hartley, Fraser Hartley, and Riley Lalonde on a file. It was an acquisition, and I was encouraged to take a very active role. They even gave me a share purchase agreement which is quite a lengthy document in that context and Bill said, Ian, take a shot at this and tell us what you think needs edits. It was a great experience to be involved at that level, a higher level and a more client contact-based experience than you would get at larger firms where you probably don’t speak to a client until you’re, you know, some kind of partner. So, the client contact was huge. The level of involvement was huge. 

Q: How did EKB support you as an articling student? 

Ian: They don’t throw you into the fire; they just hold you very close to it. (laughs) No, they’re very supportive. I think that’s one of the recipes for success of a firm like EKB. When you’re articling and doing these tours, you hear this concept of open-door policy everywhere. A lot of the times it’s not true. I have had colleagues burn out because they were left with a lot of rope and no support and weren’t able to talk to the partners that are working on things, whereas I’ve never had an issue with that. 

Occasionally, I would take it so far at EKB and sometimes still do, in that I’d seek a second opinion on certain things, which is, you know, if you go and get a renowned expert in the law’s opinion, and then are able to supplement that with some other opinion of someone else in the firm that’s really experienced, then that’s definitely a sign that the mentorship is there.

EKB takes mentorship very seriously because it’s one to three students a year. So, we can’t afford to have students just be working on some minute aspect of transaction or perpetually reviewing one document ad nauseam because we need to make sure that these people are well-rounded and capable of rising up and becoming partners. The stated goal of the firm is to make sure that all students go on to become partners. That’s definitely a big aspect.

Q: Could you speak a little bit more to your transition from student to associate? What was that like? 

Ian:  The transition happens early because you’re treated as an associate in lots of ways as a student. As one of three, you attend the associate development training, you go to associate lunches, you hang out with the associates. In fact, when I was just over halfway through my articles, the partner that I was working with the closest said that he forgot that I wasn’t an associate, which is, a great thing to hear when you’re an articling student. 

So, I think the transition happily is kind of about basically becoming an associate and taking on as much as you’re able to as soon as you can. And you’re supported in that. Part of that is a higher level of responsibility. But it’s how you grow as a lawyer. It was definitely a good experience and great to be treated as an associate from early on.

Q: Could you describe a day in the life of an associate. What’s your day to day? 

Ian: Sure. My day today might be bad example because I’ve just been working on one single transaction all day, but it’s something that I declared an interest in. It’s real estate law. The firm went out and found me a really good file that I’m taking on with a bit of support. And I’m growing my real estate practice. So, that’s been a lot of the day. 

On other days, there’s a circle session with our practice group once a week. And we talk about setting goals for ourselves to move forward and challenges that we’re encountering in the law, and we garner support from everyone else on the call for the purposes of tackling those challenges as well as talking about what we’re working on. A new potential client recently called me for the purpose of setting up a business, so I’m able to develop my own work and I’m supported in that. Otherwise, other than just nondescript working-on-things, a lot of collaboration with partners and then a lot of working with junior associates and students. 

Q:  Could you describe the culture at EKB? Is there an effort at a work-life balance?

Ian: Yeah. So, we’ve talked about how I’m driven to generate some of my own work, take on new files, so I’ve definitely been busy. But there’s also an understanding that there’s always the flexibility. Today, I did a tour of my daughter’s new daycare, and that was from 12:30 to 2, and that’s supported. So, there’s definitely an effort to allow for the flexibility, to realize that people have lives. And it’s there in terms of the balance. When you have a family and you’re a lawyer, it’s going to be a lot. I think most places that you go, it’s a work-in-progress to figure that out. But the firm is supportive of me pushing towards that work-life balance and developing strategies to get there.

Q: Why have you decided to stay on at EKB? What do you like best about working at the firm?

Ian: I think the people are the number one thing. They’re great people that are doing high-level work and there are days that are more challenging than others and having people that you like is what will keep you around. There’s also an entrepreneurial aspect to EKB and there’s a lot of opportunity to grow and position yourself to become a partner and be successful at that, so, I guess that would be the second thing. Generally, I like the work that I do and if I don’t, then usually there’s support to transition into things that I do like to do. So, there’s a certain amount of flexibility. 

Q:  What advice would you give to future articling students?

Ian: The first thing is, I think the recipe for success as an articling student is to take the ball and move it as far forward as you can before asking questions, before circling back. The partners want to know that the files are being handled with not a lot of contact on their part where possible. I think if you encounter something that seems like a barrier it’s important to try and think of ways around it or try and move in other avenues to assemble all your questions, and only when you’ve come to a standstill or you need to make a jump, a presumption to keep going, then circle back and ask the partner or ask the client. 

The second thing is, I think a medium-sized firm that has high-level work and has a great team is the way to go. It’s tough to last a long time in a lot of the big firms. I think a medium-sized firm is a really good way to go. I’m not saying that all medium-sized firms have proper configuration, but EKB does.