As competition heats up for in-house positions the role of organizations like the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association becomes more critical, says the group’s in-coming chairwoman.
“I think it’s more competitive for a number of reasons,” says Heather Innes. “You’re seeing some in-house counsel staff grow and the role is expanding dramatically. Whereas historically we may have addressed very specific legal issues, now we have legal issues as well as compliance issues and the regulatory environment is much more complex and global in nature and that’s going to attract some very talented candidates.”
As the role of in-house becomes more complicated, Innes says companies will be attracting high-quality candidates but it is expected members will also look to the CCCA to help them with the ongoing demands of their jobs.
Based in Oshawa, Ont., Innes’s day job is global process leader, international trade law and chief privacy officer at General Motors Canada. She heads up a team that consists of 14 lawyers in 14 countries. They address trade law issues that impact operations GM conducts around the world.
Her office in Oshawa is located at the headquarters for GM in Canada and includes five other lawyers providing support for the Canadian operation.
Innes takes over the CCCA role from Grant Borbridge, vice president, legal and general counsel with MEG Energy Corp. in Calgary who had served in the position for the last 18 months. The CCCA executive group consists of 20 senior in-house counsel at the CCCA.
While the term of the CCCA president is typically one year, Innes will also be extending hers to 18 months.
“In some ways it’s nice to have the extra six months to grow into the role,” she says. “I’m very excited; it’s a great privilege for me to take on this role. Grant has done a tremendous job so while I will have some large shoes to fill but I’m excited to take up the challenge.”
Innes says one of her areas of focus is to stay “very focused and aligned” with the changing needs of CCCA members.
“Our members come from public and private institutions across this country as well as large, small, domestic, and multinational organizations, but the one thing that is similar is that the needs of the organization are changing because the external environment is changing,” she says.
Increasing globalization, complexity of regulatory oversight, and technology are all playing a huge role and demanding change from in-house counsel at the same time.
Innes says there are four ways the CCCA is going to try and help keep members in the coming year.
A survey of CCCA members last year revealed they were most interested in professional development, networking, and career development opportunities.
In response to those needs, Innes says there will be continued professional development programs with very “tailored” programming. That includes the national conference coming up in Calgary April 6-8.
As well, the CCCA’s Certified In-house Counsel — Canada professional development program, which rolls out for the first time this month in Toronto, will be followed by a second cohort next fall in Calgary. The third class will be back in Toronto next spring.
“We feel very strongly that the successful candidates coming out of this program are really going to have a competitive edge either in their current positions or in seeking new positions along the way,” says Innes.
“In order to truly perform in an optimal way as in-house counsel you have to have a very strong business knowledge foundation and that’s going to be the differentiator between those who rise up the ranks and those who don’t.”
The CCCA is also involved in the next In-House Counsel World Summit to be held in Singapore in June 2014.
As well, there are plans to revamp the CCCA mentoring program — “Counsel Guiding Counsel: The Path to Excellence” — which Innes is chairwoman of, by enhancing the tools, network, and skillsets that are brought to the relationship by the mentor.
“Many people are wonderful mentors without any training but others want to have a better sense of how they can maximize the experience for the mentee,” says Innes.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for young lawyers to tap into the knowledge many senior in-house have to offer them,” says Innes. “These relationships prove to be incredibly valuable to the mentees and also to the mentors.”