The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Jonathan Cullen


The unexpected in-house career advantage

By Jonathan Cullen August 19, 2016 19 August 2016

Counterintuitively, working in-house often offers more opportunities for lawyers to make a difference beyond their sole client. I only realized this when the organization I work for saved my son’s life.

For a profession whose members are ethically obligated to zealously defend our clients’ interests, we often fail to translate that zeal into passion for our careers. However, I believe the spark we need is right under our feet, in our own organizations. Although going in-house to a single client may appear to narrow a lawyer’s sphere of influence, the opposite is closer to the truth. Our privileged position allows us to make a difference well beyond our organization. It sometimes just takes a turning point to see this opportunity.

Four years ago, I found out my son was going to be born with Down syndrome. Tristan spent his first four months clinging to life at the Montreal Children's Hospital, undergoing heart surgeries and battling a transient form of leukemia. My career inflection point was on his seventh day of life, the day a nurse administered a chemotherapy medication to my son. It saved his life.

The medicine was invented and developed by my employer, and only client, Pfizer.

Over the following months, I reflected on how I could use my experiences and skills as a lawyer for something grander. I knew I would be a different person when I went back to work. I just wasn't sure how.

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Jonathan Cullen is Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel for Pfizer Canada Inc. He received the CCCA's 2016 Up and Comer Award and was a named a 2015 Lexpert Rising Stars Leading Lawyer Under 40.

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