By: Daniela Olariu, (RSJ ’17)
Nadia Chiesa, RSJ ’06, Co-chair, Caribbean Practice Group and Senior Litigation Associate, WeirFoulds LLP
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school and how did that vision change as the years went by?
When I started at journalism school, I knew that I wanted to tell stories and I knew that there would be some international aspect to my work. Having grown up in a house where CBC radio was always playing in the background, I originally thought that my focus would be radio. During my first few years at Ryerson, the broad exposure that I got to print, radio and television helped me to discover what I really enjoyed (all things print – especially editing) and, just as importantly, what I did not want to pursue further (television). I ended up selecting the magazine stream, and spent two years learning the craft with some dedicated, enthusiastic professors – Ivor Shapiro and Stephen Trumper were standouts – and through working on the Ryerson Review of Journalism. I also had the opportunity to pursue my interest in international issues during an exchange at the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus, Denmark.
Thinking back to your first year self, how do you think they would react to where you are now?
While law school had not even crossed my mind when I was in my first year at Ryerson, I do not think that my first year self would be too surprised to see where I am now. Although I am not working in journalism, in my work as a litigator and advocate, my work is all about telling stories and I get to use the skills that I developed at Ryerson daily.
What do you think the RSJ experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else?
The RSJ experience was summed up pretty well on the first day of my introduction to newspaper reporting class, when we were immediately given an assignment, a deadline and sent out to conduct “streeters”. If I recall correctly, this was actually the first class of my undergrad!
The focus on “learning by doing” at the RSJ is unparalleled and it is what sets the experience apart. As a first year student, you learn two lessons very quickly: (1) that you have to tackle the assignment, no matter how intimidating it may seem, because (2) you cannot miss a deadline. Once you learn those lessons, you get to spend four years learning the craft by working as a journalist. Your classmates are your colleagues and your professors are your editors and publishers. The assignments are tough, collaborating with classmates can be as enriching as it can be frustrating, and professors expect you to meet industry standards, so the goal is always to prepare work that is ready to be published. Whether you decide to pursue journalism after graduation, or your career takes you in a different direction, the program’s focus on practical, experiential learning means that you will be ready.
What have you done since graduating/how did you arrive at your current position?
After graduating from Ryerson, I took a very different path to many of my classmates. I went on to Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, obtained my JD, and am now working as a litigator with an international law practice which is focused on the Caribbean. I frequently appear in court in Ontario and across the Caribbean.
I am currently the co-chair of the Caribbean Practice Group and a senior litigation associate at WeirFoulds LLP, one of Canada’s oldest law firms. I am part of a team that handles a wide variety of matters, with a particular emphasis on multi-jurisdictional litigation involving complex corporate and commercial disputes in various jurisdictions including the Eastern Caribbean, Central America and the US.
I help clients from all parts of the globe resolve their most complex legal issues throughout the International Financial Centres (otherwise known as Offshore Financial Centres) in the Caribbean. I advise clients in a wide variety of matters, including multi-jurisdictional corporate disputes involving shareholder rights and director’s duties, the registration and enforcement of foreign judgments, commercial disputes, and offshore trusts and estates matters. I am also a member of WeirFoulds’ Anti-Corruption, Anti-Money Laundering and Regulatory Compliance group, and advise clients in these areas, including on extra-territorial freeze orders pursuant to anti-money laundering legislation, MLAT enforcement, treaty rights and obligations in these areas, and general due diligence relating to offshore banking and trusts requirements.
I spent several months studying and working in Trinidad, where I obtained a Legal Education Certificate from Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad so that I could be called to the bar in the Caribbean.
How has your journalism degree and what you learned in school prepared you for your current career?
My journalism degree was the ideal preparation for my career as a litigator and advocate. At its core, what I do as a lawyer is the same thing that I learned to do as a journalism student: I have to research and uncover the facts behind a story, and then I have to figure out how to tell that story in a compelling, persuasive way. When I am faced with the opposing party’s case, I have to find the holes in their story and figure how I can to pull it apart, so that I can convince the audience (a judge) that their story is not based on sound research and logic. From interviewing witnesses to writing legal arguments to preparing to present my case in court, I use the research, writing, editing and storytelling skills as I learned in journalism daily in my work as a lawyer.
Any memorable RSJ professors during your time at Ryerson?
Ivor Shapiro, Stephen Trumper and the late Cynthia Brouse are some of the professors whose advice I still recall and rely on regularly. Ivor taught me how to tell a story that captures the reader and pulls them into the writing. As an editor and critic, he was one of the toughest but I also left our feedback sessions with concrete advice that I would use to make the next draft better. Stephen taught me how to package and present a story that makes a reader stop as they are flipping through the pages, and I regularly put his lessons on how to catch a reader’s attention to use in my written advocacy. I was also fortunate to learn the art of copy editing from Cynthia, and to discover how much I enjoyed it (I was the Chief Copy Editor on the RRJ).
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
When I look at my classmates from j-school, we have ended up with a broad range of careers and the journalism degree offers a strong foundation to build on. Learn as much as you can and try as much as you can while you are still at Ryerson. Take advantages of the resources that are available to you. And do not underestimate what you can do with your journalism degree.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.