Navigating the Arctic: A Spotlight on John MacLean’s In-House Journey

Meet John MacLean, CIC.C, Senior Legal Counsel for the Nunavut Department of Justice
Navigating the Arctic: A Spotlight on John MacLean’s In-House Journey

John MacLean, CIC.C, receiving the Legal Team of the Year Award on behalf of the Legal and Constitutional Law Division of the Nunavut Department of Justice at the inaugural CCCA-Mondaq Canadian In-House Counsel Celebration in October 2023.

This article was provided by the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association.

John MacLean is charting a course as the first Senior Legal Counsel for the Nunavut Department of Justice. In this article, we delve into his journey and the transformative impact of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association’s (CCCA’s) Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel.

From Big Island to Iqaluit

Coming from the close-knit community of Big Island, NS, John’s transition to the capital city of Iqaluit, NU, was easier for him than perhaps for most people. “You get to know your neighbours here. When there’s a celebration, everyone in town comes. When there’s a crisis, everyone in town pitches in,” he shares. “In that respect, it’s a lot like rural Nova Scotia.”

Although John grew up in Big Island, he studied in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and articled in Ontario before taking a job in with the Nunavut Department of Justice. “When I moved to Nunavut, I said that I’d stay for 3 years, and that was 13 years ago!” he laughs.

Last March, he was named as the very first Senior Legal Counsel in the Nunavut Department of Justice. ““As Senior Legal Counsel, I report to the Director of the Legal and Constitutional Law Division,” he explains. “We provide legal services to 10 government departments and to Nunavut Arctic College.”

On daily basis, his team contends with extremes in both natural and social conditions as well as severe infrastructure constraints. They are called upon to provide not just legal support but also help with emergency situations. In addition, they participate in various volunteer initiatives within the broader community. For their dedication, they were awarded the CCCA’s Legal Team of the Year Award this year, which recognizes a boundary shifting legal team that has achieved extraordinary outcomes in its community.

Enrolling in the Business Leadership Program

As the overlap of the in-house counsel and business roles increases year after year, John emphasizes that being a better lawyer involves understanding clients beyond the legal realm. “Part of my role as Senior Legal Counsel is to provide strategic advice as well as legal. I’m a better lawyer to my clients when I understand what they care about and why they care about it. And I enjoy being a trusted advisor to the government.”

At a pivotal crossroads in his career, John found himself in charge of major legal matters and gaining experience in management. “I was also acting for my director a lot. I’d reached the point where I was ready for more school, but I wasn’t sure that an LLM or another masters-level degree was the right fit for me. The Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel, offered by the CCCA and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, looked like exactly what I needed,” he says.

The program surpassed his expectations, equipping him with both knowledge and practical skills, as well as the Certified In-House Counsel – Canada (CIC.C) designation. “I brought those skills back to Nunavut and used them to successfully make the case for purchasing matter management software, and the first substantial reorganization of our division since the creation of Nunavut. We’ve also changed the way we interview candidates for legal counsel positions,” he explains. “The session on risk management was probably the best I’ve ever attended, and it has made me think about risk differently.”

“I was the first of many legal counsels from our team to obtain their CIC.C designations. In fact, this designation is now required for my new role as Senior Legal Counsel. We had a great group in my cohort, with representation from all kinds of in-house roles. I looked forward to every session.”

Part of the In-House Community

John credits his CCCA membership as the catalyst for numerous professional opportunities. “My membership has probably opened more doors than anything else, which has made me a better lawyer. I joined the CBA as a student at the University of New Brunswick in 2005. I’ve been a member ever since and have served in different capacities in the organization. I’ve also met some amazing people from across Canada and I’ve had the opportunity to advocate for things that I care about.”

As he and his team continue shaping the legal landscape of Nunavut, John serves as an inspiration for in-house counsel across Canada, showcasing the transformative power of continuous learning and community.

Are you interested in advancing your career with the CCCA’s Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel, offered the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management? The next cohort begins in September 2024, and we are currently accepting applications. Find out more at