The Connector: Alexa Abiscott LL.B. '03

July 21, 2023

Alexa Abiscott

By Pat Morden

"It is a whole different world, one that I was not exposed to when I was a student.” That’s Alexa Abiscott, talking about her role as General Counsel and Secretary with ApplyBoard Inc., a rapidly growing company.

The Toronto native studied anthropology at McGill University. While completing a graduate diploma in international business, she also worked for a professor who was cross-appointed in law and psychiatry. He encouraged her to go to law school, so she applied.

Not sure what she wanted to do with her training, she found herself on what she calls a ‘conveyor belt.’ “Big Law was seen as the prime opportunity,” she says. “I was motivated to seek what I saw as the premier position.” She achieved that goal and then spent seven years practicing commercial litigation with a large Bay Street firm. “I was lucky to be involved in a broad commercial and civil practice with excellent mentors and extremely interesting files – it was great training.”

Still, she began to wonder if it was the right choice for her. “Being a litigator was not totally congruent with my innate nature. I enjoy building relationships with clients and continuing to serve them repeatedly with different matters as part of business strategy supporting a mission I believe in, I like striving toward harmony, and I like problem solving.” In 2012, an acquaintance who was working with Sheridan College pointed her toward a new in-house role there, and Abiscott jumped at it. “I enjoyed being the first in the role, creating a team, and creating order where there was ambiguity,” she says. “It checked all the boxes for me.”

Soon after she started the new role, Abiscott began connecting with women in similar roles in universities and in-house roles in Ontario. Casual lunches led to organized events, and the group grew. Eventually it formalized and became a chapter of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario. The national organization, Women General Counsel of Canada (WGCC), followed in 2017.

In 2020, Abiscott joined ApplyBoard as General Counsel and Secretary of the Board, responsible for the legal, trust, privacy, and data governance teams. ApplyBoard is the world’s largest online platform for international student recruitment. Founded in 2015, the company works with thousands of post-secondary schools, and more than 10,000 recruitment partners globally, assisting international students on their journeys to campuses across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.

When Abiscott was appointed, the company already had 400 employees; today it has more than 1600. “It’s been a tremendous period of growth and scaling globally,” she says. “It is exciting to plot the strategic direction of the company as we continue to expand.” She appreciates the fact that the company mission is “unassailable,” and says the teams are passionate about helping students. “It fills my bucket to know I’m making a meaningful contribution to Canadian society and to our other destination countries, and ultimately to changing students’ lives.”

Meanwhile, WGCC has also been growing. “Many of our members are still the only woman on an executive team or even in a board room,” she explains. “That isolation can create a thirst and need to connect with other women in similar positions.” A source of camaraderie and shared experiences, WGCC can also be an excellent business networking opportunity for members.

In the past two years, the organization introduced GCU, a training program for General Counsels. The intensive curriculum was based on the top twelve competencies of soughtafter General Counsels as identified through research commissioned by WGCC from consulting firm Korn Ferry. GCU launched in August 2021 and has garnered rave reviews from participants. WGCC also offers scholarships to women law students and Indigenous law students, and members provide mentoring and articling opportunities. Abiscott would like to see more General Counsels recruiting students directly through law school career services.

Abiscott is encouraged that students are no longer on the same conveyor belt she once traveled. “It did not really occur to me that there were attractive alternate careers in law outside of law firms,” she says. “I’m so pleased our profession and our law schools are evolving so that students today are aware much earlier of myriad rewarding career paths.”

This story first appeared in the 2022 issue of the Western Law Alumni Magazine.