The second (non-pandemic) wave

Legal departments are vital as a new wave of regulatory changes comes into effect, writes Tim Wilbur

Now that the pandemic has been in-house counsel’s main priority for more than six months, a new reality has set in. Economic turbulence, a dispersed workforce and the COVID-19 health risk factors are no longer new.

But a new wave is hitting in-house departments, sped up by the pandemic but pre-existing it. Regulatory and legal changes that may have been put on pause during the pandemic are now set to come back with a vengeance.

Lisa Skakun, general counsel and chief corporate development officer at Coast Capital Savings, predicts developments in the open banking framework, payments modernization and the implementation of the Financial Consumer Protection Framework. None of these developments was caused by the pandemic, but an open banking environment and consumer protection have become more urgent with a mass consumer shift to digital banking during the pandemic.

Airlines and school boards, which were both hit dramatically by the pandemic in employment law, are also pushing for structural changes to labour and employment law.

“I do hope [the pandemic] translates into some changes in the law or policy or best practices so that if we ever encounter such a situation again, the transition in and out of pandemic contingency planning will be a lot easier to handle,” says Leola Pon, general counsel, executive officer, legal at the Toronto District School Board. 

“I think there’s an opportunity to take this experience and perhaps further [the changes put in place] as we embrace new ways of working, new locations of working and a deeper understanding of . . . health and safety elements,” says Fred Headon, Air Canada’s assistant general counsel, labour and employment law.

For in-house departments, these changes are a double-edged sword. A whole new wave of regulatory and legal changes to keep track of will add to strained legal departments. But they also mean that legal departments are increasingly being called by senior leadership for insight. Whether it is financial services, education or airlines, the legal department will be a vital player as this new wave of regulatory changes comes into effect. 

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