Certified in-house counsel

During its 25th anniversary and annual spring conference, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association announced it had teamed up with the Rotman School of Management to launch a certification program for Canadian in-house counsel that in many ways mirrors an executive MBA — but at a fraction of the cost.

The Certified In-House Counsel Canada program has been referred to as a “business leadership program for in-house counsel.” It’s a feather in the cap of the CCCA for creating the program at a time when in-house are asking for more business education as no other in-house association is currently offering such a program. While some universities in the U.S. have post-law school programs such as the Association of Corporate Counsel’s mini MBA it offers in conjunction with Boston University Business School, this appears to be the only certification of its kind. The CCCA worked with Rotman for the last year to develop the program geared towards new to mid-level in-house lawyers who ultimately want to become general counsel or a member of the executive team of a company. It is also being positioned as a program for those who are the only legal officers in their companies and want to grow their management/leadership skills.

While in-house lawyers will be given first consideration, lawyers employed in law firms can also apply to the program, but all graduates must have three years of in-house experience to qualify for the designation.

Grant Borbridge, chairman of the CCCA, said that when the association first started looking at this two years ago it was because they realized that while law school and continuing education programs do a fantastic job of teaching lawyers substantive law, what it doesn’t do is prepare them to be an in-house counsel.

“This is intended to fill that gap in learning,” Borbridge told me.

The CIC.C program is modeled after Rotman’s Institute of Corporate Director program. Borbridge said senior general counsel who are members of the CCCA’s Leader’s Forum reviewed the outline of the program and compared it to taking an executive MBA.

It is expected to take between 12 months and two years to complete the CIC.C designation.

The first module will take place in Toronto at the University of Toronto Feb. 28, 2014, and the cost is $9,100. It is expected the program will partner with additional Canadian universities across the country.

A pilot project will roll out this fall with senior-level general counsel who will take the program at a discounted rate to review it with the idea they will then recommend it to their staff.

Borbridge hopes one day the certification becomes so recognized in the in-house bar that it becomes the “gold standard” for hiring. He knows getting senior general counsel on board with the program will be critical to its success. As with so many professional certifications, they are only as good as the awareness of their value and that may take some promotion.

Unless those who do the hiring of in-house counsel understand what the designation brings to the job, they may not grasp its worth to an organization. But as competition increases for in-house positions it may become a differentiator many could benefit from.

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