Halfway through 2014, I decided it was time to leave my position as a private practice lawyer and pursue a role that would intertwine my two passions, law and business.
Prior to law school, I had spent four years majoring in marketing at the Schulich School of Business. There, I was quickly exposed to many facets of marketing life — business plans, strategy and planning and, of course, collaborating (sometimes until the early hours of the morning) with a team of business school peers. In law school, my focus turned to the more nitty-gritty aspects of law — I learned about misleading advertisement prohibitions in the Competition Act, the importance of Canadian privacy laws in protecting consumers, and cases upon cases of companies misrepresenting their products or services to their customers.
In October 2014, I began the next step in my career as counsel at Telus, working on a team of five extremely talented and experienced consumer protection lawyers. The consumer legal team at Telus has quite an extensive mandate: among many things, we review all marketing and advertising collateral that is consumer facing (both in English and in French), we help our internal clients negotiate agreements with suppliers that directly impact the end customer’s experience in-store, online, and at events, and we keep up to date with the ever-changing Canadian consumer protection laws in order to ensure that Telus offers the best service to its customers.
So what is it really like to be a marketing and advertising in-house lawyer in the rapidly changing telecommunications industry? For starters, one must be very quick on their feet in responding to a constant flow of e-mails and calls from clients across the country. Some of my clients work on projects in our British Columbia and Alberta offices, and I usually start hearing from them at about noon Toronto time when they are getting into the office, up until 8 p.m. Others, like my clients in Quebec, are early birds and never hesitate to pick up the phone, see how I’m doing and then quickly discuss a Quebec-only campaign that they’re very excited about launching.
Every day is a new experience — the very epitome of the marketing world is that everything needs to be refreshed as soon as consumer behaviours and preferences begin to change. The challenge then becomes how to take a novel idea (much like in business school when a eureka moment leads to a whole new strategic plan) and think of any and all potential legal repercussions that may occur. But the thinking doesn’t stop at looking at the letter of the law; an in-house marketing lawyer must also put on their business hat and think about the company’s goals and values when providing legal advice. At Telus, we consistently pride ourselves on our customer-friendly attitude. This doesn’t just mean that our frontline sales reps walk around in our stores with big smiles. It means that even at a very high level, just when a campaign is starting to bloom, all the people behind the scenes (the legal, finance, web, product, marketing communications, and pricing teams that form our community) start to think of how we can make a new campaign display all our beliefs and stay consistent with our customer service excellence.
Speaking of behind the scenes — there is also a lot of fun to be had. Just recently, one of my clients showed me a video from a commercial shoot where our famous tree frog critter was being filmed (did you know that directors still yell “and action!” even for animals?). While it is certainly always nice to work on print ads and TV spots featuring happy little critters every day, the most fulfilling aspect of being counsel boils down to the following: being a part of some very interesting and forward-thinking business conversations about our company, how we market ourselves in the short-term, and how we plan to differentiate ourselves in the telecommunications industry in the years to come.
Neda Navabi is counsel with Telus legal services in Toronto.