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Why ‘in-house’ wasn’t just another beat

In the summer of 2011, I joined the Canadian Lawyer and Law Times team at Thomson Reuters and in the space of about seven days attended the American Bar Association conference (it was held in Toronto that year) and the Canadian Bar Association conference in Halifax. It was a baptism by fire.

One of my first stories from that ABA conference was based on a panel discussion that included Terrie-Lynne Devonish, then chief counsel for AON, who was talking about the state of diversity in law firms. “I think most firms are just starting to recognize the importance of diversity,” she said.

Some seven years later, many would question if there has been sufficient progress in that area, but I think, thanks to the many in-house leaders who have pushed and the law firms that have rallied, the dial has moved somewhat. Sadly, our annual survey typically shows that at least 70 per cent of in-house say it’s still not a priority for them. Diversity and inclusion is just one of the big stories we followed here at InHouse in the time I was editor of the publication. As I write this, my last editorial for InHouse, it’s interesting to reflect on all the stories we covered and incredible people I have met in this job. From the growth of in-house departments and legal operations to the evolution of legal fee arrangements, there have been so many angles we have looked at over the years.

As a journalist, you approach source development for a beat about the same way no matter what the subject, but in business-to-business publishing, I think you become a little more “embedded” by virtue of the events you go to and relationships you build. I quickly grew fond of the in-house crowd who were also always generous with their time in sharing with me what being an in-house lawyer was all about. Thanks in particular to those from the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association and the ACC who welcomed me in the early days — Julia Shin Doi of Ryerson University, Cheryl Foy of UOIT, Fernando Garcia of Cargojet, Dorothy Quann of Xerox, Simon Fish of BMO, David Allgood of RBC, Daniel Desjardins of Bombardier, Fred Headon of Air Canada. More recently, David Felicissimo of Valsoft Corporation, Bindu Cudjoe of Canadian Western Bank, Peter Nguyen of Resolver Inc., Lorne O’Reilly of Dow and so many more have also become my key sources of information and have answered my calls and emails with enthusiasm over the years.

Being accepted as an observer in this profession was a privilege. I owe a large debt to those who helped me meet so many people in the in-house bar. Julia Shin Doi is one of those people — she is that person who will see you at an event and scoop you up and introduce you to at least three to five people. Her introductions are strategic. You leave feeling more included and enriched than when you arrived. Julia defines what it means to experience inclusion. She’s more than a networker — she builds community. I am in debt to people like Julia, Fernando and Dorothy, who made me feel included and who advocated on my behalf.

Thank you to everyone who embraced Innovatio, our program recognizing innovation in-house. It was a thrill to see the nominations come in and an even bigger thrill to see the big gala come to fruition every year.

One day last April at the CCCA national conference, Julia reminded me that she and I had both started in our current jobs at roughly the same time. She asked me what was next for me. It’s an example of why I love this community so much — always challenging the status quo and pushing people to think bigger. While it was a tough decision, some months later, I decided it was perhaps time I explore something new. So, I am moving on to take on a new sector. I will miss the legal community and the richness of its members. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped this “non-lawyer” find her way in the legal sector.

  • Thanks!

    Bindu Cudjoe
    Thanks Jen for everything you have done to be a voice for Canadian in-house lawyers. You helped us tell our stories, and be relevant - and all within a deadline and word count (no small feats!). We will miss you and know you will be a terrific and fresh voice in your new role - wishing you best and forever grateful for your leadership and commitment to the Canadian in-house bar!
  • Thank you

    Fernando Garcia
    As much as she says otherwise, it was Jennifer Brown that advocated for us, as individuals and as members of the in-house bar. She gave us a soap box, a voice and was always there to cover our steps forward and our accomplishments! Thank you so much for your friendship and professionalism! We will miss you and I wish you nothing but the very best in your new role! You were and will always be one of us!