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Young Leader in Pharmacy Aly Háji: "I want to leave some sort of positive mark on the profession of pharmacy as a whole."

My ultimate ambition has always been to be a litigator, and to spend some of my time defending pharmacists and the profession.
a man wearing glasses posing for the camera


BSc.Phm (with Honours), University of Toronto, 2013

J.D.-B.C.L, McGill University, 2018

MBA, McGill University, 2018

LL.M, University of Cambridge, 2020


Lawyer at Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LL

How has your career evolved since your graduation?

I started law school only a few months after my graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. Though I was initially worried about the transition from pharmacy to law, I ended up doing quite well in my first year. So well, in fact, that I was accepted into the joint, triple degree, Law-MBA program (which consists of a Canadian Common Law degree, a Quebec Civil Law degree, and an MBA). After a challenging 4 years, I finished the program in late 2017 and graduated in 2018. 

After I graduated, I worked with a federal government think tank developing dynamic frameworks for the integration of artificial intelligence with regulatory policies and objectives. My pharmacy background came into play when I investigated the application of these frameworks to the regulation of pharmacy practice and the more efficient application of regulatory standards to pharmacists and pharmacies.

I also had the opportunity to serve as a judicial law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. This position involves performing complex legal research and analysis to assist with the judicial process at the Court. I was able to significantly improve and hone my legal skills through this position and, subsequently, while earning a Master of Laws at the University of Cambridge.

At Cambridge, I was able to further my interests in professional regulation and healthcare. I wrote my thesis on professional liability and responsibility in interdisciplinary healthcare settings. This exercise offered an opportunity to focus my legal and analytical skills specifically on professional regulation and liability, with an emphasis on pharmacy, nursing, and medicine.

After graduating from Cambridge, I was able to operationalize the learnings from the sum of my experiences and education. I accepted an offer to work at a leading boutique health law firm. My practice focused primarily on prosecution for the College of Pharmacists, the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee, and the Discipline Committee. I began practising at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made my work both interesting and very complex due to the emergence of many novel legal issues. More recently, I have decided to shift the focus of my practice in this area to the defence.

My ultimate ambition has always been to be a litigator, and to spend some of my time defending pharmacists and the profession. I view each experience and each of my degrees – of which I admittedly have too many – as an iterative process to refining and shaping my perspectives and skills in order to better achieve this goal.

How would you describe a great day at work?

There is no typical “work day” as a lawyer, especially given the high calibre of the firm at which I currently practise. I think that when you really love and enjoy what you do, every day is a “great day,” even though there are invariably ups and downs. I especially enjoy days when I am able to work on cases involving healthcare professionals, and especially pharmacists. Interacting with these clients, and working to resolve their legal issues, is always very rewarding because I’m able to assist with problems that are impacting their lives in very real ways.

I also really enjoy any day when I’m able to actively litigate a matter. Specifically, I really enjoy advocating for clients during hearings and pre-hearing conferences in regulatory proceedings and negotiating with opposing counsel on behalf of clients. Lawyers are always working to advance their clients’ positions, but it’s during these moments that I’ve really felt that the impact of that work is crystallized and yields meaningful results. Some of the most memorable and interesting moments of my career have been during proceedings before regulatory bodies like the Ontario College of Pharmacists. And of course, I can also agree with most pharmacists in saying that any day I have time to have a nice lunch is a great day, although those days are far too rare.

How important is mentoring in your career? 

Mentoring has been crucial throughout my career. Given my circuitous career pathway, the advice and guidance of mentors has been invaluable in shaping my career and ensuring that I stay on course and don’t “lose the forest for the trees.” In this sense, mentoring has been a sort of navigation system throughout the various landscapes and fields in which I’ve worked and studied.

The mentors I’ve had have helped me to effectively operationalize my education and skills in a strategic and practical way. Without the support of mentors to inform the career choices I’ve made, I don’t think I would have become a lawyer, much less a litigator at one of the best law firms in Canada.

I have been fortunate to have many mentors, all of whom have been invaluable to my career development. It was one of my former pharmacy professors who pushed me to pursue law school in the first place. He was, and continues to be, instrumental in teaching me to appreciate the synergies between my experiences in pharmacy, law, business, and policy. The Justice for whom I clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada nurtured my passion and enthusiasm for regulatory and administrative law and guided my decision to pursue my LL.M to further hone my legal skills. The lawyer under whom I worked when I first entered legal practice guided me through the prosecutorial intricacies of the College of Pharmacists’ and other regulators’ procedures and processes and helped me to develop the skills to become an effective advocate in those settings. While the nature and context of the relationship might vary, the mentorship provided by these and other individuals has been pivotal in guiding, and enabling me to achieve, my ambitions.

If you can accomplish just one thing in your career, what would it be?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. Achieving a positive result for a client has tremendous tangible effects on their life. For example, pharmacists facing disciplinary proceedings often have their entire careers on the line; a negative result could destroy their livelihoods, their families, their lives. Being able to achieve a beneficial result for any client is, therefore, in my eyes, a major accomplishment; it has a huge impact. In that context, it’s really difficult to identify “one thing” I want to accomplish, unless that thing is “always winning”.

If I was pushed though, I think I would say that I want to leave some sort of positive mark on the profession of pharmacy as a whole. I owe a lot of what I’ve accomplished to the profession. My parents were immigrants who weren’t very well off when I was young. Pharmacy allowed them to achieve a great deal of upward mobility and, in that way, provided me with a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Contributing to the profession in some sort of lasting way, so that others are able to get the same or better opportunities, would be my way of giving back, and is “one thing” I really want to accomplish.

As a dynamic leader in the profession, what continues to drive you?

I just want to be clear that I have never described myself as either “dynamic” or a “leader” of anything, though I am flattered by the question. It’s incredibly rewarding to have a positive and lasting impact on someone’s life. When people come to lawyers, they are facing problems that affect their lives in real ways. The stakes are very high for them. They are stressed. They are often scared, or at least anxious. Being able to be a source of comfort and support for them at that time, and using your knowledge and skills to work toward a positive solution, is immensely rewarding and motivating for me.

How are young leaders paving the way for changes in the pharmacy profession?

I graduated from pharmacy school in 2013, and the focus then was very much on graduating and working in community pharmacy. I think that, like community pharmacy itself, that pathway has evolved and fostered a great deal of innovation in pharmacy practice. A combination of factors, including technological changes, sociocultural shifts in the aspirations and goals of young pharmacists, and economic pressures have resulted in a need for a new generation of pharmacy leaders to catalyze and foster those innovations. The individuals you’ve profiled as part of this great initiative are really poignant illustrations of this.

At some point, I think that the innovations and ideas those leaders bring forward will create a tipping point for the profession where pharmacy practice itself undergoes a paradigm shift. This has happened before, for example, the shift from focusing purely on compounding to focusing on drug distribution and patient care, and then the more recent shift to clinical services. It’s impossible to know what this will look like but suffice it to say that, by innovating, young leaders shift the profession in new directions and ensure its survival and continuing viability. 

There is a need to foster and develop these leadership skills among younger pharmacists so as to build greater capacity for innovation and change in the profession. The new PharmD-MBA program at the University of Toronto is a great example of this type of initiative, but others are definitely needed.

What advice would you give to new pharmacy graduates?

I think there are three pieces of advice I followed in navigating my career thus far, and that I would pass on to new graduates.

First, I would advise them to think outside the box when it comes to how to use their pharmacy degree. It’s very easy, coming out of pharmacy school, to allow the dichotomy of community pharmacy or hospital pharmacy to guide your career. While both are admirable career paths, the skills gained through a pharmacy education extend much further. At least considering how to use those skills outside the box, and in unconventional ways, might result in discovering an area a new graduate really loves or through which they can make a profound impact on the profession.

Related to this, and second, is fighting for your passion. If your passion is unique or unconventional, it’s very easy to give in to pressure to give up and do something “stable” or “normal.” It’s likewise difficult to follow that path, especially if it’s not well-trodden. But following the less trodden path can be extremely rewarding. More importantly, at the end of the day, being miserable and stable is worse than having failed trying to achieve your passion. If you’re truly passionate about something and think it’s worth doing, the very least you can do is fight for it.

Finally, don’t be afraid of failure. I’ve always viewed failure as a learning opportunity and a chance to improve. Of course, no one enjoys failing and it’s best to avoid it if possible. But failure of some kind is inevitable. Having the grit and determination to turn it into something positive allows you to move forward and above what went wrong. Experiencing failure also enables you to refine and evolve your skills and knowledge to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again.



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