Bachelor of Arts (Hons.), History and Economics, 2004
You grow where you’re planted.
Ben Kates is never shy about accepting advice, nor about giving it.
“Don’t wait for that perfect job to be served to you on a platter. You just need to leap into your career, and things will happen,” he says. Then he goes on: “Someone once said to me: ‘You grow where you’re planted.’”
Ben believes in that adage: “It means focusing on yourself as an agent of growth, instead of looking for someone else to take care of it for you.” He’s a senior associate at Stockwoods, a boutique litigation firm in Toronto.
“I’m at a great firm that is willing to nurture my skills. I am putting my head down and trying to become the best lawyer I can be. Eventually, I will be able to use those skills and the platform that I have been given to shape my practice into something that truly reflects who I am. But right now my focus is skill building and growth.”
Skill building, acquiring knowledge, discovering his passions – Ben has been in pursuit of that trinity for years. He has three degrees: a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) from King’s, his Masters from the London School of Economics, and his Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto. And he has a wealth of unique experiences that have helped to shape him.
In his third year at King’s, Ben went to New Zealand on an exchange. He took a little time after to travel and found himself in Myanmar (Burma). The country was under military rule; Ben had never witnessed such a repressive regime.
“It was one of the most formative experiences of my life,” Ben says. A few years later, while studying law at U of T, he got funding through the school’s International Human Rights Program that took him back to Burma. He worked for the Burma Lawyers Council doing, among other tasks, legal analysis of events in that country.
Immediately after graduating from King’s, Ben was accepted into a new Canada World Youth program.
“Canada World Youth was trying out a more professional program directed at people with university degrees. The theme was Journalism and Human Rights, and the program was co-sponsored by the NGO of the same name.” Although he’s far from Catholic, Ben found himself working for an NGO affiliated with the Catholic Church. In four and a half months spent in Rimouski, Quebec, he embarked on such adventure as “sitting in a convent having tea with nuns,” he says with a smile, and telling the church congregations of Bas-St-Laurent about the negative impacts of privatizing water. Then he went to Senegal to write for a Dakar newspaper about human rights.
Eventually, Ben planted himself at Stockwoods.
“It has a terrific scope of practice. There are other firms that have that scope, but the practice areas are cut off from one another. We are small enough that lawyers are encouraged to try out their hand at the various different practice areas.”
Ben has practised civil, administrative, corporate, and criminal law since arriving. He says, “What’s fascinating is that it’s kind of like FYP (Foundation Year Programme) in that you become a subject-matter expert for a period of time. You can dig really deeply into it…The thing about the law is that you are forever learning.”
While the hours can be grueling and the work sometimes stressful, Ben has found that “every once in a while you get a file where you really feel like you are making a difference.”
It makes the process of growing where you are planted very satisfying.