October 25, 2023
Even after more than four decades in practice, there is no danger of Bill Watson getting stuck in his ways at work.
The longstanding partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP recently marked his 42nd year at the Ontario bar by completing the Osgoode Certificate in Human Resources Law for HR Professionals, adding to a collection of micro-credentials that already included Osgoode Certificates in Pension Law and Labour Law.
“If you’re going to practice law in 2023 and beyond, then you can’t act like it’s still 1981,” Watson says. “I want to make sure that my clients are still getting value, and seeing how others are applying the law in new and creative ways is beneficial not only for them, but for myself and my colleagues as well.”
“I am proof that you can teach senior counsel valuable new techniques,” he adds.
Still, Watson’s passion for lifelong learning can sometimes play havoc with traditional teacher-student dynamics, such as the occasion when a faculty member teaching a pension law session turned out of be a former mentee of Watson’s who he had guided through the early years of her career.
“She began her presentation by saying that she was a little intimidated by my presence in the audience, which everyone found quite comical,” Watson says.
Anyone who has taken a look at Watson’s lengthy resume will have some sympathy for his instructor.
Despite his current prominence as counsel to management, Watson actually got his start on the opposite side of the employment and labour law bar, following his working-class roots to work at the Canadian Labour Congress on assignment from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, where he also participated in the formulation of regulations that remain central to the province’s occupational health and safety regime.
In the following years, Watson rounded out his employment law experience as a partner in Baker McKenzie’s Compensation, Employment, Labour, Employment Benefits, and Immigration Law Practice Group, advocating for employers in a variety of complex negotiations and large litigation matters revolving around government relations, collective bargaining, privacy, human rights law, and other related legal issues – including the first compensation package for victims of HIV tainted blood and class action pension settlements.
During his time at Baker McKenzie, Watson has served in a number of management committee roles, including as the managing partner of its Canadian operations, and the firm’s global reach also allowed him to add an international dimension to his practice – notably as a Canadian employer delegate to the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
“No one side has all the answers, and I have ended up with quite a balanced approach, which I have really enjoyed,” Watson says.
As a 1979 graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Watson’s connections to the institution go deep. More recently, he has become something of an evangelist for OsgoodePD certificates, recommending courses to a number of his colleagues at Baker McKenzie.
“If you’re going to invest five or six full days of your professional practice to a program it had better be pretty darn good, and I am certainly convinced of the merits of the Osgoode Professional Development Programs,” he says.
But it’s not just lawyers who stand to benefit from the Osgoode Certificate in Human Resources Law, he adds, noting that the content is extremely relevant for business owners, executives, consultants and other HR professionals.
“The faculty are first rate, the materials are excellent and there are plenty of opportunities to participate by asking questions and learning from the experience of other participants,” Watson says. “If you’re just starting out, it’s going to give you a good leg up in your practice. And for those of us who are a little longer in the tooth, it’s good to get a sense of the new techniques, fresh interpretations and caselaw developments that are happening.”
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