Former Dentons lawyer takes on Uber battleground in Canada

CALGARY — Nine months ago, Jeremy Millard was a Bay Street commercial and civil litigator at Dentons Canada but today he is the legal director for Uber Canada just as the disruptive ride booking company is encountering its biggest challenges in this country.

As he took to the stage for a Q&A at the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association’s national meeting here yesterday, Millard no longer looks the part of the Bay Street lawyer — in checked shirt, jeans, and sneakers he has embraced the image of tech startup in-house counsel.

“I went from being an Ontario litigator to cross-country everything,” says Millard.

He is the lone wolf in the Canadian Uber legal department but part of the 200 lawyers working in-house for Uber worldwide. “We have a nucleus of lawyers in San Francisco who are specialists in privacy and regulatory law.”

Speaking in the very city Uber has said it won’t operate in based on a bylaw passed in February, Millard spoke about how became a fan of the car service after getting an Uber ride with a friend following a baseball game.

When he heard about the job at Uber it sparked an interest at a time when he was looking for a significant job change. He had represented some vehicle manufacturers and worked in the United States for several years so felt comfortable taking on the job with California-based Uber.

Millard says Uber Canada is dealing with regulatory and other issues that the U.S. parent has been managing for 18 months now.

“I had reached that stage in my career at the firm where you find yourself thinking, it’s great to get a client to the end of a matter but you feel you’re on the pier waving goodbye to the ship. I wanted to be part of the creative force,” he says.

Despite having logged big firm hours for many years, Millard admitted he is working more hours now but at “a job I really love.”

Before joining Dentons seven years ago, Millard worked for two years at Goodwin Proctor LLP in Boston and clerked for justices of the Ontario Superior Court. The University of Toronto law grad also has political science degrees from Yale and master’s from Oxford.

He says regulatory matters dominate his day-to-day work. He calls his workload a situation of “controlled chaos” but says it’s all part of the evolution of the car service in Canada.

He pointed out that the company has had success getting structures in place with some Canadian cities, although the service is on hold in Edmonton until the province can provide the necessary insurance to drivers, likely by the summer. He said that while regulations arrived at in Edmonton are “favourable” the situation is “less so in Calgary.”

The Edmonton Vehicle for Hire Bylaw 17400 makes Edmonton the first Canadian city to legalize ride share services. It requires Uber to pay the city $50,000 a year plus six cents per trip, whereas Calgary charges drivers $220 a year for an operating licence.

The bylaw in Calgary would require Uber drivers to undergo police background checks, be properly insured, hold Class 4 licences and have their cars undergo safety checks. Uber has said the additional cost is prohibitive to drivers who only drive about 10 hours a week.

“Most are driving less than 10 hours a week so having a high entry point for drivers is not useful. What works is a model that involves licensing us and putting the duty on us to make sure the drivers are properly screened,” he said.

In Toronto it is expected a new regulatory framework will be developed for taxis and Uber will be worked on this month.

He said Uber doesn’t see the taxi industry as its main competition, but rather private car owners.

“I’m aware that a number of taxi companies are developing app-based services and we welcome that,” he said.

When asked how he balances being proactive with reactive in such a fast-moving environment,  Millard says the challenges Uber has had in other cities help him see what might be coming next.

“We can always start to think about what the next issue might be,” he says. “But I think we’re at a turning point in terms of dealing with regulations in Canada and we will face the legal challenges as they come.”

Uber also manages a large amount of personal data from its client base and Millard says it is a challenge “jockeying a number of privacy regimes at once.”

“We have the largest data set on transportation in history. In New York and Boston we have a data-sharing agreement to help the cities deal with congestion,” he notes.

When it comes to the future of Uber, Millard says down the road autonomous or self-driving cars are the next frontier. The company has partnered with a think tank in Pittsburgh and has already begun road tests.

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