Creating a climate for innovation

Two years ago, I started talking to lawyers in the in-house community about what they thought of an awards program that would recognize departments that approach how legal works differently — innovating for the future, for the businesses they support, and just because it made sense to do so.

The idea behind the Innovatio Awards program was that in-house lawyers would nominate themselves and their legal partners for projects they had undertaken in the last year. A panel of in-house lawyers would then judge those nominations. Thus, it became “for in-house, by in-house.” Some people told us it was an already crowded market with other programs recognizing in-house leadership, but we believed this was different. We wanted to hear the stories and challenges on specific issues, with details about how practitioners did it, and whom they chose to work with to achieve change. Ultimately, we wanted to showcase best practices from across the country.

I’m glad we held fast to the idea and, with your support, made it happen. Last year’s event at the Four Seasons in Toronto was a huge success. We had a room full of smart and passionate people who had gathered to celebrate their collective successes and we are doing it again this year. What I especially like about the InHouse Innovatio program is that it looks at the achievements of small and large departments and teases out solutions to problems both may be grappling with at the same time.

In case anyone was wondering, let me say how tough the judges are in this process. Often, going into a discussion over candidates in a particular category, I found myself marvelling at the degree to which they analyzed each submission for the project’s perceived difficulty of execution, just how “innovative” it actually was, and how unique it was to attempt in that particular sector.

For some projects, the judges made note of the influence of the top leadership to allow the change to happen on the ground. This was particularly noted with our Innovation of the Year winner, BMO Financial Group, in the category of litigation management.

“The GC established the mindset of being open to change, including critical assessment of how things were being done,” said judge Dean Scaletta, director of information and litigation at Manitoba Public Insurance, referencing the bank’s general counsel Simon Fish. “The GC maintained the focus on continuous improvement and rewarded and recognized those who took up the challenge.”

In the case of BMO and others, leadership at the top was a key factor in the efforts of the department to lead innovation in the department. The team at Aecon Construction, for example, also noted its importance in terms of fostering the right environment to push forward with several important diversity initiatives.

In many cases, the people we spoke to for the stories you will see in our Innovatio section were not the general counsel — they may be senior legal counsel or the vice president legal.
They are all tomorrow’s leaders, and because the people at the top gave them the space to do so, they are pushing forward to make business happen, not acting as roadblocks to getting work done.

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