The role of in-house counsel has changed dramatically over the last decade. Although at first it was a cost-saving strategy to bring external legal counsel in-house at lower rates, today’s in-house counsel bring much more value than just cost savings — they play a critical strategic role within their organization. The strategic value of in-house counsel was put on display at the recent Innovatio Awards. These awards, hosted by Thomson Reuters and Canadian Lawyer magazine, recognize and reward the attributes that make in-house counsel a key strategic player: the ability to establish the processes, programs and policies that allow clients to do things better, faster and more efficiently, with less risk and liability.
Since its inception three years ago, I have had the pleasure of acting as a judge for the Innovatio Awards and I must say that the initiatives and accomplishments of the finalists and award winners — and the impact that these have on the bottom line of their companies — is impressive. For a full description of the award winners and their accomplishments, please see the September issue of Canadian Lawyer InHouse. From these examples, I have taken the following lessons:
•Think about where your company and the business/industry is going and offer proactive solutions to minimize risk and help the business meet its long-term objectives. For example, Aecon’s Excelsior program saw the legal department establish risk evaluation committees, implement training initiatives and develop a compliance function to offset a business environment that offered greater opportunities emerging for companies that were able and willing to deal with increasingly complex and risky projects. For this, Aecon won the Innovation of the Year Award; but more importantly, it solidified the role of the legal department as a key strategic partner within the business.
•Find opportunities to help others while also helping yourself and your organization. Chubb Insurance Canada created an articling-like experience for recent university graduates to handle specialized actions initiated against its insured clients, instead of external lawyers as it did in the past. By doing so, they have achieved cost reductions in external legal expenditure of 30 per cent, increased customer service and satisfaction, provided articling students with much-needed opportunities and increased the value of its brand image within the legal community.
•Empower employees and give them the chance to exceed and meet their full potential. Pfizer’s POWER network, which stands for Pfizer Owning Women’s Empowerment for Results, is open to men and women and seeks to advance diversity and inclusiveness within the company by providing employees with programs and learning events. Programs available to employees include: successful self-promotion strategies, how to read a P&L and luncheon discussion led by female leaders. I like this initiative because it supports the company’s broader diversity initiatives and it shows that you do not need to work in a large company to implement programs that have a positive impact in the lives of employees and which help groom the next generation of business leaders. Legal departments often do, and should, take the lead in developing and running corporate diversity and inclusiveness programs.
•Advertise your achievements and successes. When looking through the incredible achievements of the award winners and finalists, I am reminded of the importance of trumpeting and advertising your successes and achievements. You will elevate the status of your in-house legal department and your company’s corporate brand, and you are able to share best practices that can be adopted and implemented by other in-house counsel. By sharing and learning together, we ensure that legal is — and continues to be seen as — a strategic partner.
In conclusion, Sun Tzu in the book Art of War, notes that “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” The finalists and award winners prove this right and the strategies and tactics that they have adopted are worthy of our praise. From their experiences we can take away some of the important lessons above and implement these as best practices. Congratulations and see you again next year!