It’s been quite a year for Maxine Ethier.
In January, she was made partner in our Major Projects and Energy, Mining & Infrastructure Groups. Eight months later, she’s been named the Firm’s Global Head of Infrastructure, fronting a team that now has an established presence across multiple regions.
When Maxine joined Baker McKenzie’s Toronto office as an associate in early 2014, our infrastructure practice was almost non-existent. But with her entrepreneurial mindset and dedication to developing client relationships, you could say that she’s built the infrastructure for us to practice infrastructure.
“The projects really drive me. If we are working on an acquisition or sale, I enjoy learning everything about the project assets and identifying what needs to be addressed to ensure a successful outcome,” Maxine said. “When projects are in the development stage, the fun is figuring out how to get from a to z as efficiently as possible. That’s definitely my strong suit: putting together the puzzle, managing it and then pushing it through to completion.”
Maxine attended law school at the University of Ottawa, her hometown. She grew up in a family full of teachers and government workers but knew early on that she wouldn’t be following in those footsteps.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer. I think it was a decision I made as a child,” she said. “I thought about what type of law I wanted to practice but I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a lawyer.”
While working with another leading firm in Canada, Maxine gained experience across a range of corporate financings. Then, about eight years ago, she got the chance to work on a series of transactions involving renewable energy projects which sparked her interest in infrastructure work. Her move to Baker McKenzie provided an opportunity to not only develop her niche, but also to build a practice from the ground up.
In an effort to grow her profile across multiple markets, Maxine worked on two municipal water projects with colleagues in the US soon after joining the Firm. She quickly developed a passion for the intricacies of the projects and an understanding of their impact on society.
“It’s a critical issue; most cities across North America are trying to figure out the best way to invest in and improve aging infrastructure. And not just in relation to water but also waste management and energy. The pieces are all linked, either physically among the assets themselves or in personnel, as partnerships become cross-sectoral and increasingly important to ensure successful project outcomes,” Maxine said.
“Add to that the allocation of risk between governmental authorities and the private sector and the increasing impact of technology across all sectors. Technology is a key differentiator from more traditional infrastructure projects and as a result the new wave of projects can be more challenging.”
In Canada, Maxine says there’s a transition happening from social and healthcare infrastructure work towards transport, water, waste management and energy projects. And combining a main base in Toronto with Baker McKenzie’s global reach provides a unique advantage in securing new mandates.
“Given Canada’s leadership in Public Private Partnerships and investment in infrastructure, clients put value in the experience we’ve gained in the Canadian market and are happy that we can apply this experience to international projects,” Maxine said. “It is one of those rare occasions where I can be in New York and legitimately say that I know more about this than our competitors because I’m from Canada and we do these deals on a regular basis whereas our competitors do them sporadically.”
Conversely, when working on Canadian projects, we bring our experience from the infrastructure projects that we have worked on as a firm around the world.
Maxine is an example for young lawyers — don’t sit and wait for a senior partner to hand you a book of business. Challenge yourself to go out and build one of your own.
“I found it extremely challenging at first. I felt significantly pushed outside my comfort zone but it slowly got easier and it led to working on incredibly interesting projects and being more independent,” she said. “Take more on and push yourself. Every experience represents an opportunity to learn or develop your skill set. In the end, it’s about leveraging your experience toward a path that works for you.”