This month’s spotlight is on longtime CLEBC contributor Dayna Forsyth of Irwin, White & Jennings. Dayna practises primarily in the areas of securities and corporate finance, with a focus on institutional venture capital, lending, private equity, and mergers and acquisitions.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I first got involved with teaching for CLEBC in early 2003 when I was an associate. I had gone away on vacation and when I came back, one of the partners I worked for “voluntold” me that I’d be teaching a CLEBC course on the topic of shareholders’ agreements. I was mortified, as at that time I had a fear of public speaking (one of the reasons I became a solicitor). In the 15 years since then, I’ve gone on to volunteer to teach or chair 14 more CLEBC courses. The experience helped me get over my fear and became something I find truly rewarding.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
Since 2003, I have been teaching a segment on shareholders’ agreements. It started out as part of CLEBC’s Business Basics course, then morphed into a workshop, and then into a half day course of its own. It is geared towards lawyers new to working with shareholders’ agreements. I wrote the content for it back when I was still learning, which allows me to keep that focus even after all these years. I also recently created and co-chaired a new course called Financing the Tech Start-up. My co-chair Ally Bharmal of Fasken Martineau and I recruited some of Vancouver’s top lawyers in the area of venture finance and advising tech companies, and took participants through the financing life cycle of a tech start-up.
What inspired you to focus your practice on securities and corporate finance?
My career was initially more about following opportunities versus having a desire to practice in a certain area. Even during articling, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I was offered a job in the securities group of the firm that I articled at. I really liked the people and the work sounded cool, so I accepted the position. I’ve now been working in this area for over 20 years (yikes!) and have focused on different aspects of it at different times.
I started my career as a pure securities lawyer (i.e. working with public markets) in the post Bre-X scandal era (late 90’s). At that time, a number of tech companies were doing reverse takeovers of mining companies on the venture exchanges and riding the tech bubble. Private venture capital was not as prevalent as it is today. Young, Canadian-trained securities lawyers were in high demand around the world and it was an exciting time. I checked out San Francisco, London, and New York and decided that I really wanted to continue to build my career and live my life right here in Vancouver (I grew up in Toronto). I was getting calls from a number of local firms to see if I wanted to make a change, and the offer I received from Irwin, White & Jennings (“IWJ”) really intrigued me. I moved there as a three year call associate to work with their institutional venture capital fund clients on the investment side of things. Eighteen years later, I am still working with many of those same clients.
My practice has evolved into working more on the private company side with some companies, but mostly with investors. I love the math element of finance and I love working with smart, sophisticated clients. For me, a lot of my career has been about relationships and getting to work with great people – be it clients, my colleagues at IWJ, or lawyers on the other side of my files. The relationships are what I really have enjoyed most about the area.
What securities and corporate finance trends are you seeing when it comes to tech start-ups?
In the venture capital space, there was a real shift a few years ago when it came to tech companies. With the changes in technology, it became a lot less expensive to get a tech company launched and off the ground. I was used to working on financings with large dollar numbers, and I noticed a distinct shift to smaller-sized deals in the venture space at the early stages. There are also a lot more institutional funds in the ecosystem now than there used to be, and there are funds offering alternatives to the traditional debt and equity.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of your practice?
I have chosen, for the most part, to be a transactional lawyer. What that means is that I work on a bunch of deals (usually M&A or financing) that last for a finite amount of time and then they are done, and I move on to the next one. I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of my practice. I also enjoy working in a proactive type of practice, where we get to think about possible pitfalls and plan for them ahead of time. One challenge of a transactional practice is that it is difficult to control work flow, so you really have to learn to just “go with the flow”. As someone who was traditionally a more structured person, I really had to learn how to do that! We are often working on tight timelines and that can be stressful. Again, over the years I’ve learned how to deal with that too. As I mentioned above, a big reward of my practice is the people I get to work with. I have been really fortunate in that regard. Finally, I really enjoy giving back to the legal profession. For me, getting invited to participate in things like CLEBC is a huge privilege and extremely rewarding.
You are very active in the community including involvement as a past board member and treasurer of the Kiwanis Club (Vancouver) and as a veteran member of the BC Children’s Hospital Childrun committee. Do you find that your legal training helps you in your volunteer work? If so, how?
I grew up in a household where my parents volunteered for local community organizations in areas where they had strengths. While I’m not actively volunteering for anything right now, I do see it as an important aspect of having a well-rounded life. While legal training helps to shape our minds and analytical skills (which I am sure is an indirect benefit for any lawyer who volunteers), other than teaching and chairing courses, I don’t usually volunteer in roles that have anything to do with law. The reason is that I spend my work day doing that and when it comes to my free time, I’d rather focus on different things. I love to organize and to be creative, so usually the volunteer roles I take on will have something to do with those things.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
If I wasn’t a lawyer, I’d probably be an interior designer or work in real estate, as I am super passionate about both of those things. If the real estate market wasn’t so expensive here in Vancouver, my fiancé and I would probably have a side gig doing high-quality flips of houses or condos. I read a couple of design magazines cover to cover every month and am a huge fan of HGTV. We recently did a huge renovation on our home and I loved the design process. I love space planning and making spaces efficient and esthetically pleasing.
Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Practising law can be a grind at times and we are so lucky that we get to do it. Even though I kind of fell into my career at the start, I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the choices I’ve made along the way. The traditional law firm model works for lots of lawyers, and if it isn’t working for someone, I would really encourage them to look at other models rather than leaving the profession all together. Also, if you are feeling stagnant in your career, I really recommend volunteering. Doing something like teaching for CLEBC can get you back in touch with why you chose to do what you do, and contributing to others is a truly rewarding experience.