How do you innovate in a function where precedent plays such an important role or where the existing path is tried and true and change can bring legal uncertainty?
At TD, we have a shared commitment to “innovate with purpose” and “simplify the way we work.” And in a rapidly changing world defined by technology and innovation, we are challenged every day to fulfil these commitments. I’m fortunate to work with a brilliant in-house legal practice team and partners across the bank to bring these shared commitments to life and explore innovations within the legal function.
A recent innovation we explored was how we could streamline our everyday processes to free up capacity to build capabilities for the future. We took a hard look at the time we spend on our daily routines and asked ourselves whether any of them were unnecessary or redundant. Rather than assume a process is fixed because it has precedent and “that’s the way it has always been done,” we asked ourselves if there were better ways we could be doing them to allow us to focus more of our time on delivering best-in-class advice. An additional benefit of innovating our processes, and a rather important one, was to enhance the work experience for our team members and remove for them some of the more operational work.
I am fortunate to lead a team of what we call “process nerds” that is always on the lookout for potential process improvements. In the past year, I’m proud to say we have improved a number of processes around our routine activities from responding to shareholder enquiries to completing due diligence in support of treasury issuances. And we have many other projects in our sights to tackle this year, including systemizing the way we confirm certain disclosures and streamlining the production of the bank’s proxy circular. These innovations present great opportunities for creative collaboration by our team and for us to build new capabilities. They also create capacity for us to focus our time on the work that adds the greatest value to the bank.
Another way we looked to innovate in our legal function was to identify issues and find ways to turn them into opportunities. An example of this type of innovation was around how we manage our team’s external legal billings. The issue we discovered was that we were having difficulty evaluating the invoices we received for external legal advice. We turned this issue into an opportunity and built a system that improved how matters were being billed so we could collect the data, report it in an intuitive way and position ourselves to better structure fee arrangements for external legal advice.
Examining our processes and issues to innovate our function has proven quite successful and has given our colleagues a sense of empowerment and skill development. Our team is always excited to find a problem that needs fixing; it’s our opportunity to roll up our sleeves, dig in and get creative! We like to put as many solutions on the table as possible and look at them from different perspectives by engaging TD partners outside our legal team to help us consider implications of our potential solutions. For example, we recently discovered that our external law firm partners were having difficulty accessing certain TD files to do their work. Our team brainstormed solutions and solved the issue by adapting technology a team member previously used in the M&A space to suit our team’s needs. Not only did this solution solve our issue, it presented us with increased efficiency and data security to boot.
Innovating in our own function is very important as the world changes, but it’s equally important to consider how your stakeholders may be impacted and what you can do to help bring them along on your journey. When we tackle our larger innovations, we also focus on change management; how can we help others impacted by the innovation embrace our new approach? This last point brings me back to TD’s shared commitments to “innovate with purpose” and “simplify the way we work.” TD’s culture is one that fosters innovation and encourages me, our legal team and teams across the bank to continuously improve how we do business. While we can’t say “There’s no ‘I’ in innovation,” we can certainly say it takes a team that is open to new ideas and eager to explore them to mobilize innovation.
Brooke Hales is associate vice president, corporate & treasury, legal with TD Bank in Toronto. She was the recipient of the Tomorrow’s Leader Innovatio award for large legal departments in 2017.