“Even as a lawyer, you’re doing a lot more than just practicing law.”

Beyond negotiation and mediation with Karima Kanani, partner at Miller Thomson

Karima Kanani doesn’t just talk the talk—she walks the walk. Powered by a joint JD/MSW from the University of Toronto, she is a partner at the veteran cross-provincial law firm Miller Thomson LLP, where she steers one of the leaders of the corporate/commercial practice in the Health Industry Group. Recipient of the 2011 Precedent Setter Award from Precedent magazine and listed as a 2012 Leading Canadian Corporate Lawyer to Watch by Lexpert magazine, Kanani is a young lawyer with big ideas. Advantage recently sat down with Kanani to talk to her about walking the walk.

Advantage: It’s not common to see a dual JD/MSW. What inspired you to go that route?
Karima Kanani: I earned my JD and my MSW from the University of Toronto, and the blending of these degrees was partly because of the wonderful opportunities the school offers for combined programs in multidisciplinary areas. The combined JD/MSW is one of these combined programs, and my academic background was in the social sciences, so my continued education was built on that area of interest.

How has this dual degree been mutually beneficial?
I always had an intention to go to law school, but when I saw the opportunity to do this combined degree, I saw that it would be an excellent way to enhance my law-school education. Law schools are obviously very focused on the legal aspects of education, whereas a social-work degree is essentially a degree in people—collaboration, mediation, negotiation, engagement with teams, and so forth. That hands-on type of training in human interaction is very effective for everyone, regardless of the profession they pursue.

So this multifaceted approach obviously benefits what you do now at Miller Thomson.
I currently practice law exclusively in the health-care industry, working with health-care organizations of all sizes across Ontario. That came about in part from a past interest I had in the industry when I was working in the social-work program. I was working for a period as a mediator at a hospital in Ontario, in its intensive care unit. I am a corporate commercial lawyer, but the opportunity presented itself at Miller Thomson for me to specialize my practice to the health-care industry. I had that inside exposure, so it was a good fit. I’ve been with Miller Thomson for several years now, and I think that my combined education has given me a leg up, not only in terms of industry knowledge, but also in terms of the soft skills that enable me to more effectively engage with my clients and advance their interests.

It seems that your background also extends outside of your practice at Miller Thomson.
The nature of an industry practice—especially a health-industry practice—is that even as a lawyer, you’re doing a lot more than just practicing law. When you’re working in an ever-changing industry, you’re recognized for the expertise and strategic advisory services that you bring to the table. You’re often working with clients together as a trusted advisor, providing strategic advice on their operations, and providing thought leadership in terms of initiatives that are coming forth in the industry or ways that they can grow or advance their organization. My job is a lot more than just law.

What are some other things you do outside of law?
I do a lot of community service, and often it’s related to the work that I’m doing. For example, I recently sat on an international committee, a subcommittee of the National Health Board of the Aga Khan Council for Canada. Its mandate was forging strategic relations with hospitals in Afghanistan to send teams of individuals with the requisite expertise to provide review and support to the hospitals in Afghanistan. I’m also an active author. I’ve published a book on law for social workers—Essential Law for Social Work Practice in Canada—with a partner and coauthor [Cheryl Regehr, former dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto]. We undertook that initiative because we saw a gap in the education of social workers that operate in the shadow of the law, but don’t have access to the tools or information through their education to effectively engage the legal system. That book is now in its second edition and used across Canada.

Looking forward, what are some things you want to accomplish, especially because you are still part of a new generation of lawyers?
I recently had a baby, and I think my biggest challenge going forward is the challenge everyone faces: achieving work-life balance—but doing so in a way that enables me to continue to excel at my profession while, at the same time, being able to give myself fully to my daughter and family. The health-care industry is ever changing, and I want to be able to continue to act as a trusted advisor to my clients, and be able to positively contribute to the health-care system in a proactive way.