Aecon named best Canadian in-house department

The legal team at Aecon Group Inc. has been named best in-house department in Canada by an international group of its peers.

Aecon, a Canadian construction and infrastructure development company, received the award June 20 at the International Legal Alliance Summit & Awards in New York.

The awards recognize the best corporate and IP law firms in their domestic markets for their “excellent annual results and lasting performance in management and leadership.” The award winners were elected by specialist jury panels of more than 120 in-house lawyers.

Aecon’s vice president of legal and business affairs, Yonni Fushman, who has been with the company eight years, travelled to New York to accept the award on behalf of the legal department and Brian Swartz, chief legal officer and executive vice president, legal and commercial services, who has been with the organization 15 years.

“When I started there were three of us here and the company was about $1 billion in revenue,” says Fushman. “We’ve since tripled to about $3 billion in revenue and tripled our department size to nine lawyers and expanded the admin staff as well.

“We started off being much more public company focused doing securities work, and now we have two dedicated corporate lawyers and everyone else is very operational focused,” he says.

Lawyers in the Aecon department are aligned to business segments within the company and participate in all levels of management consultation.

“They’re very entrenched. Part of their objective is to spend 20 per cent of their time at project sites and offices to really embed them in the business. I think that’s why we felt comfortable accepting the award because we’re proud of embedding ourselves in the business and blurring the line between business adviser and lawyer,” Fushman says.

The recruitment process for the legal team at Aecon includes a special focus on finding lawyers who come with the knowledge they must be enablers of the business.

“We run really quickly away from your classic law firm person. We like breaking the mold,” he says. “We’ve done enough of a good job selecting people that we don’t get that shock on people’s faces when they realize ‘Wow, you’re not part of the problem.’ People just assume we’re going to help them find the ‘yes.’”

Aecon was nominated by a third party and the nomination was then evaluated by seven jury members including in-house counsel from other Canadian and international companies.

Bombardier and BlackBerry were co-winners in the category recognizing Best Canadian IP Department.

In the International Law Firm categories, Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh were named for Best Canadian IP Firm (with Bereskin & Parr receiving special distinction) and Best Canadian Law Firm was Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP.

Leaders League, the organizer of the event, is based in Paris

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