Welcome back to Thrillable Hours! As I said in my introduction to the series, the aim was not to dismiss the practice of law but rather to highlight people who have decided to do something out of the ordinary, whether inside our outside the profession. Lucie Laplante certainly qualifies for the former, and she’s worked as a lawyer in Mexico City, Sierre Leone and the Ivory Coast, as well has in her native province of Quebec.
I got to know Lucie through my friend Nadia and we roomed together in New York the year she was writing the New York State Bar. She also visited when I was in Chiang Mai and it was great to hear about her new work in Geneva with IFRC face-to-face. She’s a wonderful, dedicated and very stubborn lady and I’m thrilled to have her here for a Thrillable Hours interview.
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What made you decide to leave private law firm practice and work in the public sector? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
I wanted to become a journalist but I had a coup de foudre when I did my first international law course. From then on, it was clear to me that I wanted to do international law. The only question remained whether I would apply my studies in the private or public sector. The road to get there was long, and I tried my hand at both. For some time, I built up my skills in Montreal while applying for international postings.
I then worked as a foreign law advisor in Mexico City for a law firm specialized in business and foreign investment law. I was happy with my job, but I still was curious about humanitarian field work. So I tried my luck and accepted a legal position in West Africa. Some people did not understand my decision but I honestly felt I had nothing to lose.
This was the point of no return for me. I realized that work in the public sector (and at the international level) fulfilled me personally and I felt in tune with the goals and mandate of the organization I worked for. From then on, my daily routine involved a lot of comparative law, international politic and learning from other cultures.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
Right now, I have the best of both private sector and public sector worlds. In my current job, I apply contract and business law to humanitarian work. The ultimate goal of my work is to support my organization in assessing and dealing with legal risks, which helps people in need around the globe. On a daily basis, I am able to apply my legal skills and adapt them to a multidisciplinary and multicultural environment. Sometimes it is politically and culturally sensitive, but as a result it remains a great challenge. I also get to visit our field operations every now and then – these travels are always a good thing, forcing me to touch base with basic realities.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving private practice but concerned about what is out there?
I’ve got a few. The most important is to trust your capacities and try and reach your dreams. Do not be scared to take risks. Do not listen to every little piece of advice the pessimists and ‘experts in catastrophic scenarios’ may have for you. Take what looks relevant and reasonable in the circumstances to mitigate your risks. Last but not least, be persistent, don’t give up.
It is sometimes a long process to go off the beaten paths and revisit your values. But it’s worth it to make such an important decision and find the right road to get where you want to go. If you dare chasing your dreams, you won’t be haunted by the ‘’if only I had done this and that’’.
At the end of the day: worst case scenario, you go back home, start where you left off, without any regrets.
Do you think skills you learned in private law helped you when you moved into the public sector?
Obviously it did. Even after several experiences in different environments (public and private sectors at national and international levels), I do think private practice is the best school out there. It enables you to develop your skills, this lawyerly sense of things that will be an asset for anything you may want to do afterward, even if not law related. As we say, law leads to anything.
Ultimately, it’s just a matter of how to apply your skills to another environment. When it becomes trickier, you will have to show a strong ability to adapt. Depending on your past experiences, it may be a big shift in work culture and you may need to be more flexible and compromise. You will work with others who may have different approaches and work methods. Their cultural and political references will be different to yours. All of this requires a great deal of humility.
However, it does not mean you cannot stick to your principles in terms of professionalism and work accomplishment. I keep saying that a good private practice experience is a critica key to opening many doors.
What do you see for yourself in the next five years?
I see myself being challenged and using my skills and experiences to do something I believe in at the personal and professional level. I will be surrounded by great people who supported me and still are, or who I met along the way and I can count on, be it relatives, friends, colleagues. After all, my secret is to keep a good life-work balance.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
Well they can. I’ve had a lot of fun along the way.
Look at the world around you, try to get rid of these prejudices and stereotypes and engage in conversation with others. You will need to dig in a bit in some cases but everybody has interesting life experiences to share, a passion to talk about, be it Thai food, extreme sports, African masks, Latin American music, philately, fencing, cribs, capoeira etc.
Just open your eyes.
Oh and by the way .. lawyers? Read something else than the civil code or latest statute!
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Lucie is currently working for the Legal Department of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (www.ifrc.org), a Geneva-based international organization bringing relief to the disaster-affected people and communities, such as the populations hit by the 2004 Asian Tsunami, 2009 Haitian earthquake, Pakistan floods and Niger droughts, 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami to name a few recent disasters. Previously, Lucie worked in West Africa, in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast and before that, her career brought her to Latin America where she acted as Foreign Legal Counsel for a Mexico City-based law firm in business and investment law.