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Lessons learned from in-house innovators

Last week, I had the honour of judging and then attending the Innovatio Awards ceremony in Toronto. This award ceremony celebrates in-house counsel and their legal departments for their innovative achievements in introducing programs or approaches for reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and, thereby, improving the overall image and increasing the value of in-house legal counsel.

I find that judging and then attending this award ceremony is always very valuable as you have the opportunity to meet many wonderful colleagues, celebrate the achievement of other colleagues, and, most importantly, steal and implement some of the best practices utilized by the award winners. The award winners come from in-house legal departments of all sizes and represent very diverse industries, so there is really no excuse to come out empty-handed with ideas.

For this month’s article, I will share with you some of the valuable take-aways from the awards and some of the ideas that, if I have not already implemented, I will be soon. What follows are some of these best practices/initiatives:


In several awards, the legal department took on regular training initiatives for their business groups. This type of training included areas such as privilege protection, legal risk management, etc. The key here is that such training reduces risk and enhances the relationship with the business team. Always remember, law firms would be glad to perform this training for free or at a minimum cost; just ask!


Several award winners were able to successfully marry their legal practice with the use of technology. Through the use of portals and web sites, legal departments share presentation, informational pieces, best practices, FAQs, and templates with the business team and ensure that they have a means of sharing information and staying up to date and informed.

Build the relationship

Do you have problems being seen as part of the business team? Similar to the training initiative above, Interac Association used open houses to allow for greater interaction with the business team. It also developed and presented concrete commitments to the business group. These included acknowledging assistance requests within one day, establishing and communicating time-lines within which projects were to be completed, and establishing a process for efficiently allocating work internally.

Get help

Two award winners were able to recognize early on that, regardless of the effort expended, sometimes you just can’t do everything yourself. The key for them was identifying and appointing a contract lawyer, through an external contract legal service provider, to assist in managing a complex, labour-intensive litigation and a massive freedom of information request for medical documents. It’s something to consider for those surges in demand for internal legal participation.


It is, at least in my experience, common for the business group to seek advice or assistance, often with minimal notice, without providing legal with the necessary information to provide a valid legal opinion. One of the award winners implemented a form or questionnaire that must be filled out, in full, by the business team before any contracts are awarded or legal advice is provided. This not only allows for easier tracking and accountability, it also ensures all information is gathered and provided to legal early on, so it can make effective recommendations.


Talk is cheap! Two of the award winners went beyond words in demonstrating their value for diversity within their companies.

RBC, beyond being heavily involved in community events, also updated its aboriginal articling student program to allow for greater rotations and participation of articling students within the firm and business clients.

Another award winner, Aecon Construction, implemented board diversity polices, with the goal of ensuring that women will make up at least 25 per cent of its board by 2017. Aecon’s legal department also helped the business build remote training facilities, to allow First Nations people to get access to trades training.

Diversity is a strength. These companies are changing how they do business to ensure their future success.     

Congratulations to all the winners! If you missed the event this year and you want to get more information about the award winners or their initiatives, please pick up a copy of this month’s Canadian Lawyer InHouse. Congratulations to the winners, to editor Jennifer Brown, and the team at Thomson Reuters for putting on a great show! See you next year!