Ryan Plener at the Castle
MIR/JD Student Ryan Plener Follows Passion For Human Resources to the Crossroads of Law and Industry
By Sharday Mosurinjohn
Ryan Plener is on track to earn both a Masters of Industrial Relations and a Juris Doctor in only the time it typically takes to earn the latter—and to do so, he spent a summer semester working all day every day on a suite of international business law courses at Queen’s Herstmonceux castle (UK).
There are a number of opportunities to get involved in experiential learning and clinical work with resources such Queen’s Legal Aid, the unique Correctional Law Project, Queen’s Law Journal, and most recently the new Queen’s Law newspaper Juris where Plener will be writing a column on Labour and Employment Law.
Over this past reading week, Plener shadowed a Queen’s alumnus at his legal practice. “Queen’s law does a great shadow program. In this case, we went to a company who was trying to figure out how to fire someone. It was so interesting because you’re dealing with real people, and you simultaneously have to establish a certain objective distance, but also empathize with them and realize someone’s going to be out of a job.”
It is precisely these qualities that drew Plener to his focus in labour and employment law. “In labour, you’re working with people more so than in any other area. And from what I understand, the labour bar [“bar” refers to the group of lawyers practicing in a specific area], is close and collegial. There are only a dozen firms and their cases aren’t usually one-offs. That means you come up against each other in court all the time, so you need to remain collegial, professional and ethical. Rather than alienation, there’s lots of negotiation and working together.”
Plener says this spirit is true of his program, too. One of the tropes about law that has some basis in reality is that lawyers have a professional culture. But far from being cutthroat and avaricious, Queen’s law is known as a small program—recently expanded from 165 to 200 first-year students—marked by a tremendous sense of collegiality. If your frame of reference for law and lawyers is the entertainment media, he quips, you notice some pretty big differences: “everyone helps each other—it’s so weird!”
And paying it forward pays off. “For individuals looking to break into the human resources or industrial relations industry, the MIR is an invaluable asset not only for a knowledge base, but also for networking and connecting with well respected professionals in the industry,” he says.
The MIR program is regarded highly in the human resource professional realm. In Plener’s experience, it has a reputation for “attracting high quality students, who have strong interests in engaging in the industrial relations industry. The program provides a solid base for specialized areas such as collective agreements, human resource management and organizational behaviour—and employers find these skills invaluable.”
Its students certainly do seem exceptionally motivated. Plener shares that a subset of the students are now pursuing their CHRP<> (Canadian human resource professional) designation, which “allows them greater access to the human resource profession and further signals their commitment to the industry.” Plener, however, is currently the only student at Queen's pursuing the MIR/JD opportunity.
Looking to the future—after summering next year and articling for 10 months at a firm the summer after that—Plener says his ideal job would be at a firm “probably litigating, doing forms of arbitration on the management [as opposed to the union] side. I’d like to be making oral arguments, not just drafting letters at my desk,” says the energetic student.
Plener’s clear professional vision comes from honing his focus through an undergraduate degree at Western in Management and Organizational Studies. “I was going to major in economics, but I took a first year course and said ‘no way!’” he remembers. He went on to work at Sears headquarters in Toronto for a year, doing training program creation (“new employee orientation”), working with individual merchant groups (“ask me anything about womenswear,” he laughs), and finding out how much fear the letters “HR” strike into the hearts of employees (with mock hurt: “not till I made friends with them would my colleagues in the merchant groups even pick up the phone when they saw HR on the call display”).
Heading into the second year of his three-year joint program, Plener will soon be applying to firms for the coming round of On-Campus Interviews. While fewer than 50% of applicants find positions at the firms offering these 17-minute grill sessions, Plener, with his humanizing vision of the labour side of business law, would undoubtedly be an asset to the skill set as well as the workplace culture of any one of them.