An upcoming 10-day international soccer tournament in Turkey will not only give a team of Toronto lawyers a chance to flex their fancy footwork skills but also their legal networking skills.
In May, a team of 16 lawyers will be heading to the Mundiavocat, an international football world cup for lawyers, and head organizer of the Toronto team, Michael Weinczok, a partner at Ogilvy Renault LLP, is ecstatic about the opportunities the tournament will provide.
Weinczok, who practises international restructurings and M&A work, says the upcoming tournament provides a unique opportunity to play against and make contacts with 1,200 lawyers on the 50 teams from 32 countries spanning five continents.
"You need contacts with people around the world when you do this kind of work. This kind of event is perfect for that because you've got 1,200 lawyers from all around the world in a small resort for 10 days," he says. "Particularly for the younger lawyers, it's a wonderful opportunity to meet lawyers from Italy, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Russia, Poland, Japan, Australia, all of those places.
"Sometime next March my phone will ring and it'll be some guy from, say, New Zealand, who will say, 'I remember you from the tournament. I've got a deal that has a Canadian angle, can your firm act?' That's the enormous appeal from the network perspective."
That international legal networking is the reason the Toronto team was formed in the first place, Weinczok says.
"I'm a bit of a soccer nut and I do quite a bit of European work and people know that about me," he says. "I guess somehow word got through to the organizers who are based in Marseilles, France, and they contacted me to ask if I would be interested in scouting around to see if a Toronto team could enter."
Weinczok set about cold e-mailing everyone he knew to see if he could piece together a local team. Once the team of Bay Street lawyers, articling students, and in-house counsel was in place, they set up a training regimen, which includes a two-hour training session on Mondays and a league game on Thursday nights, as well as individual training two or three times a week.
"It took us a while to get started. We really didn't get going until October because, sadly, playing soccer at a high level and practising law don't really go together.
"And this is a very, very high level of soccer. It's much higher than I thought it would be when we started this, and quite frankly it's grown into something much larger than I thought it ever would."
So how does one manage an intense training schedule with a busy practice, family, and other outside obligations?
"I've got five kids so it's a juggle," he laughs. "Fortunately or unfortunately, anyone who does what we do are Type A adrenaline junkies, so it sort of fits in with the personality."
The weekly league games are at 11:30 p.m. and Weinczok says he doesn't get home until 2:30 a.m. But, he notes, what North Americans don't understand about soccer is that it's more than a sport ? it borders on a quasi-religion to avid fans and players.
"My alarm goes off at 6 a.m. so I'm getting three hours sleep on those nights. But you say, 'You know what? This is what I love to do.' So you do it," he says.
The team will be ramping up its training schedule as the tournament approaches and there are plans in the works to play against a team of Montreal lawyers who will also be attending the event.
Weinczok says the team is fortunate to have sponsors including Ogilvy Renault, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, and Price-WaterhouseCoopers, who he says see the professional networking opportunities and jumped on board with their support.
The Vancouver bar was the first to send a team to the tournament three years ago. Shortly afterward Montreal lawyers formed a team.
The event takes place May 19-29 at the Topkapi Palace hotel in Istanbul.