Every year, the Career Planning Service (CAPS) at McGill partners with the Faculty of Arts to host the annual “Work your B.A.” week, where students get to attend workshops, network and learn from Arts alumni mentors. A standout event this year was the “Speed Networking Event”, where ten accomplished Arts alumni, now working in different sectors, offered insight to current Arts students. The event took place at the Norman House, and each mentor had 7 minutes to chat with students. The panel discussions were followed by a half hour networking session where students could speak to a mentor again. Among the ten sought-after mentors, I particularly enjoyed my conversation with Claudette van Zyl, currently an associate at the prestigious Norton Rose Fulbright law firm.
As a native of the Netherlands, Claudette first studied Political Science and Economics at McGill, where she graduated with a BA (Honours) in 2011. She was a Greville Smith Scholar, a prestigious scholarship “awarded to outstanding students who have shown promise of future success and responsible citizenship. While academic standing is of primary importance, account will also be taken of qualities of leadership and participation in community affairs, student government or athletics”. As such, Claudette has made full use of her prize, as she was heavily involved over the course of her studies, as a varsity athlete and a student leader. In fact, she sought to put into practice her knowledge learned in Political Science, as Vice-President of Academics of the Arts Undergraduate Society (2008-2010) and as a Senator of the Faculty of Arts to SSMU. On top of these political functions, she competed on the McGill Varsity Sailing Team from 2007 to 2009.
Although she enjoyed learning about the current state of affairs in the world, she did not know exactly what she wanted to pursue after graduation. For this reason, van Zyl strongly advises students to take the time to discover their interests, passions and most importantly; themselves. “It is so important to reflect on what we want in life and it is totally okay to follow your own dreams and not be influenced by other people’s decisions.”, she suggests. In fact, upon receiving her BA (Honours) eight years ago, Claudette embarked on a life-changing adventure that broadened her horizons and gave her a new perspective on the kind of impact she would like to have on others. She traveled to Singapore where she interned with Aidha, an NGO whose mission is to empower low-income Singaporean women and foreign domestic workers through financial education, wealth creation and entrepreneurship. Claudette primarily worked in departments of research and operations there and discovered a true passion for the legal field. In fact, through her research, she acknowledged how a strong legal system is at the root of a prosperous society and how citizens should understand their rights.
She realized that pursuing a law degree would allow her to continue helping people deal with their legal concerns, while empowering them to live a better life. She believed that a lawyer could have a lasting impact on people’s lives. She had a strong interest in International Arbitration and Intellectual Property. She was fascinated by the McGill Law program not only for its world-class reputation, but especially for its transsystemic legal education approach. In fact, it was very important for her to be educated in both the Civil and Common Law. Learning these two legal systems concurrently offers a more robust perspective for any law student, Claudette believes. As well, the bilingual nature of the program picked her interest. Although she did not consider herself fluent in French back then, Claudette was determined to work really work and improve her French drastically. She absolutely loved Montreal while undertaking her undergraduate studies at McGill and wanted to learn French to better adapt to the city. She also knew that it would be imperative for her to know French, should she choose to practice law in Quebec.
Once admitted, Claudette did not waste a single instant to leave her mark at the Faculty of Law of McGill University. She founded and was editor-in-chief of the McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution. As well, she worked at the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy at the Faculty of Law throughout her four-year legal education. More precisely, she dealt with issues surrounding pharmaceutical patents and her work for some pharmaceutical cases has appeared both on the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Canada. On top of these achievements, Claudette spent two summers honing her analytical and legal skills as an intern at a major international arbitrator in Montreal and at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Today, van Zyl’s passion for international arbitration has not changed as she still practices in this field, as well as in all areas of civil and commercial litigation. Additionally, as a lecturer in international commercial arbitration, she enjoys sharing her expertise and forming the next generation of legal experts at the Université de Montréal.