In-house counsel are often pointing out the delicate balance they must strike between being solution oriented and being a legal advisor, says Tim Wilbur
In-house counsel are often pointing out the delicate balance they must strike between being solution oriented and being a legal advisor. Their legal training, and usually the first few years of their career, often involves pointing out why a certain course of action is riddled with risk. That can stand in stark contrast to the goals of their organization, whether it is growth, building technology or serving its members.
For our 2019 Innovatio winners, though, those two goals are not in opposition but are complimentary. Whereas many innovators find themselves in trouble after ignoring risk — think Facebook’s recent string of bad headlines on privacy protection — the solutions developed by these in-house departments are often risk aware from the outset.
BMO Financial Group, for example, developed an innovative initiative to protect vulnerable customers against financial abuse. Amendments in the law meant that the bank had more flexibility in how it could deal with cases of potential fraud, so the legal department was well positioned to identify a new opportunity for better customer service.
Uber, which has had trouble with regulators in the past, worked collaboratively with Quebec tax authorities to execute tax compliance agreements for its drivers. McCarthy Tétrault, which helped Uber develop the solution, told us that, although companies may be uncomfortable reaching out to regulators, approaching them and keeping the lines of communication open is the best approach and one that finds a receptive audience. This need to engage with the regulator meant the legal department, and its external law firm, were uniquely positioned to lead on this project.
Finally, for our Innovation of the Year award, the City of Toronto’s legal department realized that when the city was given the ability to manage enforcement, modernizing the way tickets were handled made sense. The solution saved the city millions and required an understanding of administrative law and good governance at the outset.
What all these projects have in common, along with all the Innovatio winners, is that the legal department led within their organization. Lawyers identified risk, but also opportunity, and used their knowledge of the law and legal system to move their organization forward. A delicate, but ultimately successful, balancing act.