I am naturally suspicious of change. I think that this is a trait that a lot of lawyers have, since precedent is often the only safe road in a world of dangers and liabilities. I’m a firm believer in progress by increments, and I prefer to chart course adjustments in arcseconds rather than whole degrees.
So I might be the person who is most surprised to hear that I’m changing career tracks. I’m leaving employment at my long-time firm and starting up somewhere new. I am excited, sad, hopeful, and terrified.
I get a lot of questions about the whys, whos, whats, wheres, and hows of the situation. Those are a lot of nouns to cover. This entry aims to explain where I’m going, how this came to be, and what the reaction has been like. These are the first questions I usually get asked when I tell people about the move. I’ve covered my reasoning behind why I’m making the move in a separate post.
Where I’m Going
I have been hired by D-Wave. They make quantum computers (and not routers, as The Missus initially assumed). Specifically, they make superconducting adiabatic quantum optimization processors. These are ten-million-dollar machines that operate at temperatures much, much colder than outer space (around one-hundredth of one degree Kelvin). They are quite large; even if I could afford one of these devices (which I definitely cannot), I would not be able to fit it in my living room. Well, maybe if I put it on its side. Anyways, they do not run Civilization V, or any of the expansions, so I don’t have much reason to be displacing my couch for one.
All of this is to say that quantum computers are entirely unlike conventional computers, and the typical person would likely not have much use for one (not right now, anyways). D-Wave’s customers, however, are not typical people. Their computers are used by Google and NASA and, rumour has it, by the occasional shadowy government agency. Being as I don’t work there yet, I’m not in a position to confirm or deny any such rumours. Once I start work, I still won’t be able to confirm or deny such rumours, albeit for different reasons.
D-Wave is a small company with just over a hundred employees, mostly physicists, engineers, computer scientists, software developers, and the like. Their lab is full of PhDs, large monitors, and loud pumps. If you pick someone at random to strike up a conversation, odds are pretty good you will end up talking about cutting-edge cryogenics, exotic computing algorithms, processor fabrication processes, or even plain ol’ quantum mechanics.
D-Wave is my kind of place.
Where I’m Coming From
I have worked for most of the last five years at Oyen Wiggs Green & Mutala LLP, an intellectual property law firm in downtown Vancouver with 15 lawyers. That makes it one of the biggest IP firms in the country. I feel confident in saying that it is also one of the best IP firms in the country. I don’t know whether I should be considered a biased source (since, on the one hand, I do work there, but on the other hand, I am leaving), so I’ll note that other lawyers seem to agree, at least according to the various annual whos-whos of legal firms.
OWGM practices in all areas of IP law, although much of the firm’s business relates to patents (which are one of many forms of IP protection – I won’t get into that today). The firm’s patent practice covers all forms of technology; I have, in one day, leapt from a makeup application tool to a new kind of MRI to a computer-implemented investing technique. The work is good and varied, and our clients (and the partners!) demand the highest level of quality.
The lawyers at OWGM are not regular lawyers. They are all former scientists and engineers who, for one reason or another, sent themselves off to law school. They retain the scientist’s spirit, though. I remember being called into a senior partner’s office during my first month on the job to gawk at a pair of hovercraft gliding across the harbour. When I walk into a colleague’s office, odds are good that they’ll start gushing about the neat new technology that just came across their desk – probably something I’ve never seen before.
OWGM is my kind of place, too.
How This Got Started
Up until two months ago, if you’d asked me where I expected to be in five, ten, twenty, or thirty years, I’d have said OWGM. I was quite happy practicing there and wasn’t on the look-out for a career change.
But then D-Wave came a-knocking. Well, they didn’t really knock – a recruiter sent me a message via LinkedIn. They were looking for a patent lawyer to work for them, in-house, as their intellectual property counsel. In particular, they wanted a Canadian lawyer with three-to-five years of experience, a patent agent’s certificate, and experience with computer science, math, and physics. That’s a tall order – I’m the only person I can think of who ticks all those boxes, and apparently D-Wave had come to the same conclusion.
Normally I don’t respond to recruiter calls, but I’d recently changed that practice for one reason: parental leave. I’d be the first male associate at my firm to take parental leave, and the firm didn’t have a policy. Which meant I needed to submit a proposal for what my leave would look like, which meant I needed to find out what was conventional in the industry. So: I was taking calls, and my first question on each call was “what is your parental leave policy?”
In the case of D-Wave, this conversation did not end there. D-Wave’s not just any company, and I was curious about more than parental leave. I figured that I owed it to myself to learn more about this opportunity. I spent more than a month vetting D-Wave, talking to a dozen different lawyers who’d encountered similar decisions, and carefully considering my values. I have a whole separate entry that lays out the soul-searching that went on; suffice it to say that it was exhausting.
As you may be able to tell, I’m fairly risk-averse. Making the jump was not an easy decision. Eventually, though, I felt like I had enough information to make a decision.
How the Deal Went Down
This process almost certainly took quite a bit longer than D-Wave would have liked.
After that initial LinkedIn exchange, we exchanged phone numbers and chatted about preliminaries – what’s your parental leave policy, what does the role entail, what are the benefits, and so on. I didn’t see any reason to run for the hills, so I moved forward in the process, scheduling a call with D-Wave’s general counsel and (later) their US external counsel. We talked candidly about the trade-offs between in-house work and private practice work. We really seemed to hit it off, and I realized (with a sense of creeping horror) that I was not merely idly interested in D-Wave.
My more-than-idle interest wasn’t enough to get me to rush into anything, though. Early on in the discussions they asked for a resumé, but I demurred; I advised that I only make a habit of sending in resumés for jobs that I know I want. They accepted this graciously. They also commented that there wasn’t any rush and that they’d be happy to wait until sometime in the next week. I told them that I had an annual performance review happening at OWGM sometime in the next month, and would like to go through that process first. They were less keen on that timeline, but swallowed audibly and said “we’d like to move faster, but for you, we can wait.”
It’s nice to feel wanted.
I did not spend that month idly. I arranged a tour of D-Wave’s facilities, met some of their researchers and other staff, spoke to a dozen private practice and in-house lawyers (including a number who have no connection at all to do with D-Wave), and just generally accumulated all the data that I could. Eventually, I came around to a tentative decision. I realized that I was leaning towards D-Wave based on factors that weren’t really relevant to the annual review, so I decided that it would be better to conduct our negotiations and finalize the will-I-or-won’t-I question before the annual review. This seemed like good manners; in addition to helping out D-Wave (which wanted to move quickly), I also avoided the awkward scenario of accepting a raise for OWGM and laying out a plan for the year ahead mere days before announcing my departure. Fortunately, my annual review got delayed by a couple of weeks, so there was time.
I sent in my resumé, after which things moved quickly. I came in for five back-to-back interviews over the course of three hours. They went quite well, though I think I chatted off the ears of the HR folks (sorry, Victoria and Megan!). They had the bad luck of being scheduled towards the end of the process. The interviews were on a Thursday. On Friday, D-Wave went through their internal processes (which I’m told involves a town hall meeting, followed by a recommendation to the executive) and send me a job offer in the form of an employment agreement.
That weekend, I made arrangements to talk to an employment lawyer (Jonas McKay of Hamilton Howell Bain & Gould). I spoke with D-Wave early on Monday, followed by a call with Jonas, followed by more back-and-forth with D-Wave to hash out the details of the agreement. We went back and forth on a number of provisions, including the usual (salary, start date, that sort of thing), as well as some terms that were of particular significance to me. We dealt with most of these issues pretty quickly and, once we’d come to some agreement on them, we moved on to the more challenging fare.
The term that got the most vigorous negotiation was the start date. D-Wave was eager to have me start as soon as possible, since it had already been some time since the process started and a variety of things were happening internally that they’d like me on-hand for. I, on the other hand, wanted to give OWGM as much notice as possible. I searched high and low for customary notice periods (and also ran it by Jonas), but couldn’t get much guidance.
OWGM had previously given an associate three months’ notice, which was a complete non-starter for D-Wave. I wanted six weeks, which would be more than enough time to handle my current files and continue handling cases for a little while. It wouldn’t be enough time for the firm to find a replacement (which could take months, or a year, or more), but it seemed like a reasonable period of time. D-Wave wanted two weeks. We got that bumped up to three weeks, and then stretched it all the way out to four. Please, D-Wave urged, no more than four. Five or six wouldn’t work (the general counsel would be away), and seven was simply too long.
I can live with four, I told them. And with that, the deal was done.
I started my negotiations with D-Wave at 8:30am and received the final, fully-negotiated draft at 5:23pm. I signed the agreement and returned it at 5:37pm, and gave my notice at 5:40pm. It was a heck of a day.
How the Firm Reacted
The first thing other lawyers ask me is “how did they take it?” – “they”, in this case, being that partners at OWGM. The answer is “pretty well”.
Gavin Manning was the 5:40pm recipient of my notice. I could have told someone else first, and it would have been easier to do so, but I strongly felt that telling Gavin first was the right thing to do. Gavin is a senior partner at OWGM, and (along with Todd Rattray, a junior partner) one of my mentors. He was, ultimately, the one who made the call to hire me on as an associate. For years he had reviewed my work, provided extensive comments, and kept his door open for questions. He is widely recognized as one of the best patent lawyers in Vancouver, and Canada at large. I have tremendous respect for Gavin as a lawyer and as a person, and owe him a great deal.
So, basically, sitting down and telling Gavin took some mental and emotional fortitude.
He took it well. He expressed disappointment – not in me, as such, but rather as a business owner who is seeing a substantial investment wither on the vine. He was excited for me; he’s familiar with D-Wave (he has a D-Wave mousepad!), and he could see the appeal. We’re all faced with a decision like this at some point, he told me, and in his view it was best to part on good terms. He would have preferred more notice (“curses”, I thought to myself), but he seemed satisfied that I’d fought for as much notice as was practical in the circumstances. Two weeks would have been unprofessional, and he, too, could live with four (“whew”, I thought to myself).
We had a perfectly lovely half-hour chat about my reasons for going, Gavin’s impression of in-house practice (he’d rather be a partner, which, y’know, fair enough), and so on. He asked if the deal was done, or if this was his chance to convince me to stay; I told him that the ship had sailed.
After telling Gavin, the rest was easy. I told Todd the next morning (he, and the other partners, had already heard), told the associates over lunch that week, and let the firm’s administrator make the announcement to the staff the following week. I would have liked to have told a few staff members myself, but events conspired against me – I was delayed coming in to work the next Monday (prenatal appointments have a way of going late) and arrived after the cat had been loosed from the bag. Ah, well.
The response was quite positive. People came by my office to offer congratulations, folks took me out to lunch to chat about the move and say goodbye, and I continued to work closely with the partners on the files they’d given me. Though it was expressed in different ways, the sentiment was the same all ‘round – it’s sad to see you go, but we wish you the best. Gavin even agreed to act as a reference (I’d coordinated with D-Wave to provide references after signing the agreement, since I didn’t want them talking to the partners before the deal was finalized).
You occasionally hear horror stories about associates leaving firms – getting locked out once you give your notice, partners providing negative references to sink your chances of leaving, that sort of thing. This was not my experience. A big part of the congeniality of the move is the fact that I’m not leaving for a competitor – going in-house is seen as a personally-motivated move to a different life, rather than a repudiation of the firm (which is an accurate description of my circumstances). There might be less congratulatory back-slapping if I were leaving for a competitor, though I’d still expect the firm to take it with some dignity.
When I Start
My first day at D-Wave is 13 October 2015, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. My last day at OWGM is 9 October 2015, the preceding Friday; I’m not taking any time off in-between.
The timing is a challenge, since The Missus is due to give birth any day now; her delivery window is 13 October – 10 November, though she could give birth earlier or later (she’s already gone into false labour once!). I would like to start work before the birth so that I can show up fully conscious, but at the end of the day it’ll happen when it happens. I’m just hoping that The Missus doesn’t go into labour mid-day on the 13th, since I’d rather not have to dash out the door halfway through my first day of work.
The timing of the birth has also led to some coordination of benefits. We’re fortunate to live in Canada, where essentially all of the expenses of childbirth are paid for by the government. Still, The Missus will be spending a few days in the hospital, and (if at all possible) I’d like to have my health insurance available to cover private rooms and other creature comforts during her stay. Since I’ll be unemployed for the long weekend before I start up at D-Wave, I’ve sorted out an extension of medical coverage with OWGM; they have been very accommodating.
Separately from the baby, the timing also presents some challenges in terms of using my vacation time. I’d been saving my vacation time so that it could be portioned out next year during my parental leave, so I have quite a bit left. However, since I’m a lawyer (and thus not subject to the Employment Standards Act), my unused vacation time doesn’t get paid out when I leave – it just vanishes. I’ve booked a few extra days off in my last week or so, but that’s it.
Between providing my notice before my annual review (and thus foregoing a retroactive pay increase) and losing a few weeks of vacation time to the aether, I figure that my timing has cost me something like $5000 in benefits. That’s not a pill that I’m super-keen on swallowing, but in the end I’m of the view that it’s better to do right by your friends and colleagues in the long term rather than try to maximize short-term gain at their expense.
How I’m Feeling
I’m excited. I didn’t start out that way – mostly, the process involved me cycling between cautious optimism, giddy uncertainty, and a deep sense of foreboding. But I’m happy with my choice, and I choose to believe that it will work out for the best.
This is a topic that I’ve found a lot of people seem intensely curious about. I’ve received numerous inquiries from other lawyers who’ve considered the jump, as well as from those who haven’t considered it but are nonetheless interested in the mechanics. I also get questions from non-lawyer professionals who are curious about the whole negotiation thing or how, in the most basic sense, something like this actually happens. This entry is intended to answer the most common questions.
You might have your own questions which aren’t answered above. If so, give me a call, send me an email, message me on Facebook, or whatever! I’m happy to talk about the move, and to hear your own thoughts about career moves – numerous people have opened up to me about their own career moves (real or imagined) after my announcement, and those conversations have been fascinating. Seriously, we can grab coffee and I will listen with rapt attention.
That has been a considerably more substantial entry than I’d planned. Thankfully, the time for analysis, vetting, and second-guessing is over. All I’ve got left to do is wrap up the old thing and start the new one. I may not know what I’ll be doing in five years, but I know what I’ll be doing next week, and right now that’s enough.
Wish me luck!