Globetrotting lawyer

Jean-Christophe Martel stands in front of an office window overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.

“The University of Ottawa instilled in me the rigour of legal analysis and laid the foundation of my legal training. In particular, its bijural program of civil and common law enabled me to think of the law with a critical and comparative outlook.”

— Jean-Christophe Martel

By Nadine Saint-Amour

I was in search of young alumni with stellar careers when, from his offices at Sullivan & Cromwell law firm in Manhattan, Jean-Christophe Martel promptly returned my call. It was late-January and a huge snowstorm had just clobbered the eastern seaboard, but Martel, accustomed to Canada’s winters, had trekked into the office like any other day.

Jean-Christophe Martel, who was born and raised in Hull, Quebec, says his international outlook began while he was studying at the Lycée Claudel in Ottawa, a school which applies France’s education system with a particular focus on culture and languages. As a child, he wanted to become a diplomat, but at the Lycée he was bitten by the debating bug, a talent he continued to develop while completing high school at UWC Atlantic College, a magnificent, Hogwarts-esque medieval castle overlooking the cold waters of the Bristol Channel, in Wales, where the International Baccalaureate program was born. When he returned to Canada from the United Kingdom, Martel enrolled in Law at the University of Ottawa.

“The University of Ottawa instilled in me the rigour of legal analysis and laid the foundation of my legal training. In particular, its bijural program of civil and common law enabled me to think of the law with a critical and comparative outlook. Today, this gives me a unique professional advantage in our increasingly globalized world,” said Martel.

At the University of Ottawa, Martel further developed his debating skills. He won first place at the national Laskin Moot Court competition in constitutional law. He also won second place at the Willem C. Vis Moot in international commercial arbitration, one of the world’s most prestigious moot court tournaments held every year in Vienna.

After earning his JD at uOttawa in 2010, and winning the Brian Dickson Prize for achieving the highest standing in his cohort, Jean-Christophe Martel was awarded a prestigious Rhodes scholarship – the latest uOttawa graduate to receive this honour. He returned to the United Kingdom to pursue a Magister Juris, a graduate degree in law, at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he experienced centuries-old traditions and protocols. There were prayers in Latin before meals and the mandatory requirement black robe and bow-tie for exams but, most importantly, Oxford was a unique chance to focus on the in-depth study of business law and the philosophy of law with some of the world’s most accomplished scholars.

When Martel returned to Ottawa, he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, an internship at the peak of the Canadian justice system where he took part in the country’s most fascinating legal debates, renewed his reflections on the justice system every day, and worked on cases that directly affect Canadians.

Following this work, he was awarded a Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship to undertake further graduate study at Harvard, where he won the Addison Brown Prize for his research on international commercial law. His essay at the crossroads of law and economics for the first time weighed up the impact of the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods on global trade, challenging many preconceived ideas.

Martel’s knowledge of commercial law is a valuable asset at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Wall Street’s oldest big law firm, where Martel is an associate specialising in arbitration and civil litigation. Although he sometimes needs to travel the world, his cases revolve around the legal needs of Wall Street, where he and his wife have made their home in Manhattan’s Financial District.

Although Martel’s workload is heavy, he finds time to enjoy the cultural gems of the city that never sleeps, including concerts and the ballet. As a boy, he was trained in dance and he credits this demanding art form with instilling in him both discipline and a love of music. To relax and unwind, he enjoys playing the Suite Gothique by Boëllmann or fugues by J.S. Bach on the majestic organs of Manhattan’s churches when he isn’t taking an early-morning jog through his deserted neighbourhood, before the business frenzy takes Wall Street by storm.

Visit Defy the Conventional to read more stories about the uOttawa community.

Main photo:
Jean-Christophe Martel can see the Brooklyn Bridge from his Wall Street office.

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