‘Hone your craft’: How the law can lead you to the unexpected
Keith Darvell and Anoop Desai first met at UCalgary Law in 1998 when they joined forces in their study group. Over a decade later, the two have reunited at Electronic Arts with fulfilling careers that put their experience in private practice to good use.
By Elysa Hogg
Law students are often told that the people they meet in law school will lead to life long friendships and connections. This couldn’t ring more true for Keith Darvell (LLB’01) and Anoop Desai (LLB’01). Years after graduating together at UCalgary Law, Darvell landed his dream job at the Vancouver office of Electronic Arts (EA), a developer, marketer, publisher and distributor of video games. When his long-time friend Anoop was looking to make a career transition, he managed to connect him with an unexpected position at EA. The two now work side by side at EA, Darvell as Senior Business Counsel and Desai as Senior Director of Business Development & Strategy. The path that these two friends and colleagues took is surprising to most.
Darvell applied to law school after working on staff at the Langara Fishing Lodge in Haida Gwaii, mostly as a fish cutter. He was attracted to UCalgary because their broad based admissions approach and focus on pragmatic legal education was well-suited to Darvell. “I feel lucky that I got into [UCalgary] and although I didn’t fully recognize it at the time, it gave me great connections and relationships that extended well past my time at law school. It prepared me for what was to come.” After graduating, Darvell began his articles at a big national firm in Vancouver. The work was interesting, but he wasn’t fulfilled. “I became attracted to in-house positions because I wanted long-term interaction with my clients.” Soon after, he moved into the legal group at EA. It was Darvell’s friendship with Desai that helped his friend land the job of his dreams.
A self-described “poster boy for alternative career paths,” Desai is a unique example of how lawyers with enough experience can create positions that encompass everything they’re looking for. After several years in corporate commercial practice, Desai wanted to take a break.
“Very early on in my practice I realized that I wanted to have a role that was more formative to the partnerships I was supporting as a solicitor. In private practice, the rationale behind a particular partnership needs to be understood in order to advise one’s client properly. However, more often than not, solicitors become involved in the stage of the process where the ‘why,’ ‘who’ and ‘what’ of a deal are already settled. To me, those were the most interesting parts.”
As Desai geared up for a year-long backpacking trip in 2006, Darvell started his position at EA. The trip allowed Desai to reflect on his career thus far and to contemplate what should come next. Darvell recalls Desai discussing his ideal position with him, and thinking, “there’s no way this exists.” Lo and behold, a similar position opened up at EA not long after their conversation and Darvell reached out to his friend.
Now, the dynamic duo work symbiotically at EA; Desai works with EA’s business units to define strategies and evaluate, negotiate and implement strategic partnerships and develop new business opportunities and specific strategic partnerships. Darvell papers the contract and refines the finer legal details of Desai’s agreements.
Looking back on their time in private practice, neither is regretful. Desai says, “the only reason I have the skill set to do an alternative role on the business side is because of the foundation I have from practicing for several years.” Darvell agrees, and urges students seeking out alternative legal careers to put in the work early on: “I think it’s really important that people don’t shy away from a big or medium sized firm grind, because it provides the fundamentals. That experience allows you to hone your craft.” Without this time, he wouldn’t have the fulfilling career he does now.
Initially aiming for careers in private practice, both alumni focused intensely on ‘black letter law’ courses while at UCalgary. Though they found the courses helpful, both emphasize the likelihood that much of the technical side of law can be taught on the job. Darvell, who is involved in hiring at EA’s legal department, looks beyond course selection. “You look to hire people with broader perspectives because it informs how [they] practice the law and interact with clients. In many cases we don’t want someone who is super specialized, we want candidates who are bright, ambitious, and willing to learn.” Similarly, he urges students to enjoy law school more: “have confidence that if you work hard, things will work out.”
Desai and Darvell both felt the atmosphere at UCalgary was one of the most valuable components of attending school. As Darvell says, “Then as now I find that the law is enriched where the people involved bring their real world experience and perspectives to it – that applies both in terms of learning/teaching about the law and applies also to the practice of law. Throughout my legal career I have sought out work environments that contained the same sort of diverse vibe that I found at UCalgary Law. “