The Real McCoy

Looking at the big picture with Amira Abouali, general counsel and corporate secretary for Jaguar Mining

It has been a fast climb for Amira Abouali. Just six years after earning her first law degree, she now serves as the general counsel for Jaguar Mining Inc., a Toronto-based gold producer whose primary operations are in Brazil. Advantage recently spoke with Abouali about her passion for both science and law, how the former applies to the latter, and the challenges and rewards she encounters working for an international company.

Advantage: When did you first become interested in studying law?
Amira Abouali: In the 1980s, I was a superfan of Matlock and was fascinated by TV courtroom dramas. I realize the show wasn’t a realistic portrayal of the legal world, but it’s what first hooked my interest. In my youth, I was involved in public speaking and was an avid reader and writer, which I thought would help me be a strong leader one day. I was also interested in studying science, which led me to initially study biology.

When did you make the switch from science to law?
I started studying law after completing my bachelor of science. Compared to a narrowly focused career in science, law seemed so much more engaging and dynamic. Studying law and working as a legal professional opens so many doors to engage with interesting and diverse businesses and people and has led me to a fruitful career and lifestyle.

Amira Aboutali’s
Career Milestones

2004
Receives a bachelor of science from Western University

2007
Receives a bachelor of laws from the University of Ottawa

2008
Gets called to the Bar in Ontario; becomes a lawyer at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP

2009, 2010, 2012
Is named on Lexpert magazine’s Big Deals list

2013
Receives a master of laws from York University; joins Jaguar Mining Inc. as its general counsel

Are you able to put your knowledge of science to use in your current role?
Studying science taught me the scientific method. Today, I utilize that same logic, due diligence, objectivity, and scientific reasoning as a lawyer. That sometimes makes me a bit of a contrarian in the business world. I believe, however, that the scientific method’s inherent skepticism, openness to communication, desire for transparency, and process of continual discovery and advancement serve me well in my role at Jaguar. I strive to see the whole picture accurately at all times, manage risks, and provide meaningful input. At the boardroom table and as a good lawyer, I’m willing to respectfully call a spade a spade, question the status quo, and work slavishly in pursuit of better outcomes for Jaguar.

What does the whole picture look like at Jaguar?
Jaguar owns three producing gold mines and has a land base of approximately 210,000 hectares in a very prolific geological region in Brazil. While we only have five employees in Canada, we employ a fantastic mining team of over 1,200 people in Brazil.  Jaguar’s current focus is to increase shareholder value through aggressive cost reduction and productivity improvements while maintaining a commitment to safety and environmental considerations.

What prepared you for your leadership role at Jaguar?
I spent my formative years as a lawyer at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, a leading international-business law firm that has been named the global “Mining Law Firm of the Year” six times. I worked in the securities group and mining group and often addressed the international dimensions of many investment, merger-and-acquisition, and mining transactions for a diverse group of clients, including mining companies, financial institutions, investors, governments, and regulators. After having six experience-packed years at Fasken, while also completing an executive master of laws degree specializing in business law, I felt really prepared to hit the ground running at Jaguar.

What’s most challenging about managing the legal function at Jaguar?
We’re a publicly listed, multijurisdictional company with operations and reporting obligations in Canada, the US, and Brazil, which does present some unique challenges. The physical distance can be difficult, and there are also cultural differences. Our contracts in Brazil are often written in Portuguese, and there are different holidays and employment laws. Every day is a new challenge.

What’s next for you and Jaguar?
I’m excited to travel to Brazil next year and meet face to face with the people I work with on a daily basis. I plan to visit our mines and our exploration property, which will help me to better understand how our operations work. Like all gold companies, we’re hurting from the current cyclically low price of gold and the volatile capital markets. We’re trying to stay optimistic while building confidence in our operations. We have room for improvement, and I’d really like to be a part of that success story as we move forward.