Julia Shin Doi: Building success one community at a time

By Lynne Yryku April 6, 20186 April 2018

Julia Shin Doi: Building success one community at a time

Julia Shin Doi, GC and Secretary of the Board of Governors at Ryerson University

Julia Shin Doi developed a strong sense of community from a young age. Her parents immigrated to Canada from South Korea when she was only 2 years old. “We lived in one of the poorer areas of Toronto,” she explains. “The Korean community nurtured me and became my extended family. I felt a great sense of belonging.” She adds, “When I was called to the bar, the whole Korean community was excited!”

This immigrant experience shaped her outlook early on, helping her define her purpose: “to be a community builder, a real connector.” “As an immigrant, you lack social capital,” she explains. “I have founded organizations to create and be a part of those communities. I always say, ‘If there isn’t one, let’s build it!’”

From grassroots to national

Over the years, Julia has founded (and co-founded) numerous legal organizations, such as the Diverse Champions for Diversity, Women General Counsel Canada, the Korean Canadian Lawyers Association, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, the Roundtable of Diversity Associations and the Council of Ontario Universities Legal Counsel Group.

“I like working with others to get things done,” she says. She helped found Diverse Champions for Diversity in 2016, for example, to promote awareness and actionable change for diversity. Diverse Champions for Diversity has held a session on board and public appointments, and a diversity pitch event that matches leading corporate counsel with racialized and diverse private practice lawyers. “It was a grassroots initiative to build and promote diversity.”

Women General Counsel Canada started in a similar fashion. “When I started as GC, I got a call from other women GCs to have lunch. When we got together, we said, ‘There must be more of us.’” And it grew from there. Now there are more than 100 members across Canada who share the goal of helping women in general counsel and executive legal leadership roles succeed as legal and business executives.

“I’m a social entrepreneur,” she explains. “I see starting organizations more like community building, pulling together peoplewith similar interests and similar challenges. It helps you work through them. The added benefit is the networking.”

Work and recognition

Julia became , General Counsel and Secretary of the Board of Governors at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2011. As an Executive Group member, she provides legal and governance advice to all the areas of the Ryerson community, and has operational responsibility for access to information, privacy and records management. Julia leads a team of lawyers, professionals and law students, and advises a board of 24 members.

She is a member of the Board of Directors of Ryerson Futures Inc. and a past member of the national Board of Canadian Universities Reciprocal Insurance Exchange. She advises Ryerson’s Law Practice Program and is an ambassador for Ryerson’s Law School initiative.

In addition, she is a noted authority on contract drafting, teaching lawyers for more than 20 years. She co-authored Behind and Beyond Boilerplate: Drafting Commercial Agreements, the fourth edition of which will soon be released.

“In-house is a great place to practice,” she says. “I like the community and the reach it affords me. I feel as corporate counsel we are like the family doctor. People come to us with their problems, looking for answers. What’s wonderful is that we [in the organization] are all working towards a greater purpose.”

She especially likes working for a university, a sector “full of smart people,” because she has many opportunities to work with visionaries and a “magnificent” Board. “They are always questioning you—and they ask really great questions. They are always pushing you to be the best lawyer.”

Julia certainly is one of the best. Among her many recognitions, she was awarded the CCCA R.V.A. Jones Award in 2016, and the Osgoode Hall Law School Dean’s Alumni Gold Key Award and the CCCA Ontario Chapter Award of Excellence in 2017. She was also named one of Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential In-House Counsel in 2017.

“I could not have done all this without the CCCA,” she reflects. “Younger lawyers are always asking me, ‘What can I do to build my career?’ Don’t just look at your workplace; look to places like the CCCA for more experiences, like operational; learn operational skills by participating in the chapter executive and organizing a CCCA professional development session.” 

Through the CCCA, she has met in-house counsel from across Canada. “It has given me a broader perspective. Hearing, listening, connecting with in-house counsel—that is why the CCCA is so important. It provides and enhances this national perspective that we have.”

Role model and lifelong learner

Julia sees her success as bigger than herself. Her highest priority is her family, especially her two daughters, 13 and 18 years old. “It is important to me to have a balanced home life as well as a great career,” she says—something that is possible thanks to the tremendous support she receives from her husband (“a great adviser, great supporter, great partner”), and her parents and in-laws. She is well aware she is a role model for her daughters.

Along that vein, she shows through example the importance of continuous development. “I am a lifelong learner. That is the greatest investment,” she says. Among her most notable achievements, she holds the CCCA’s Certified In-House Counsel – Canada (CIC.C) designation; the Institute of Corporate Directors, Director (ICD.D) designation and the Master of Laws (LLM) degree.

“Any continuing legal education is valuable,” she advises. “It gives you a [different] framework to think about matters you are dealing with.”

For instance, she was an executive-in-residence for the CCCA’s Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel, in the leadership course led by Professor Mark Weber, an award-winning teacher, researcher and consultant. His advice that she has taken to heart? You create the situation you are in—so create the situation you want.

“Focus on your strengths. That is where you’re going to be the most happy,” she advises, adding, “The only thing you can fix is yourself.”

As in-house counsel, she says, “we are multi-talented. In addition to lawyers, we act as interpreters and great managers; we are adaptable and strategic. We are not one- or two-dimensional lawyers. We have the opportunity to be so much more.”

For her part, she says, “I am trying to make things better.”

Julia is a prime example that you don’t have to start out big to impact your communities. Rather, it is in building, connecting with and empowering her communities that she has become so well renowned.

Lynne Yryku is the Executive Editor of CCCA Magazine.

This article was initially published in the Spring 2018 issue of CCCA Magazine.

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