Meet our in-house superstars

It’s been five years since I started in this job, writing about the challenges and successes of in-house counsel across Canada. While it seems to have flown by, I have noted the remarkable change that has happened in that short time in the way legal departments are becoming incubators for change in an effort to improve the lives of their clients and the organizations for which they work.

Knowing this tide of change was rising, three years ago we launched the Innovatio Awards — a program to recognize those legal departments working to change how work gets done. Yes, efficiency would be part of the formula, but ultimately it would be about looking to the future and anticipating the needs of the business — what was legal’s role in that?

The goal was to recognize best practices and provide a snapshot of what in-house leaders — both in small and large departments — are doing in Canada to innovate, often with limited staff and budget.

As one of our judges, Julia Shin Doi, general counsel of Ryerson University, told me, recognizing innovation benefits not only the organizations but the entire bar. “The awards inspire all of us to strive for more and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. As a judge, it is an honour to see the amazing innovative initiatives of in-house counsel, pushing beyond day-to-day expectations and excelling.”

The breadth and depth of nominations we receive continues to impress me and challenge our judges.
This year we had nominations from organizations in the transportation, banking, government (at the municipal, provincial and federal levels), health care, oil and gas, automotive, retail, construction, insurance, pharmaceutical industries and more.

The judges had spirited conversations about the nominations and did not make quick decisions. 

Once the winners were chosen, it was my pleasure to speak to each one for video interviews we produce each year for the awards gala (held Sept. 8 in Toronto) and for posting to our web site ( The energy these winners have for what they do is inspiring.
From our top Innovation of the Year winners — Yonni Fushman and Brian Swartz at Aecon Group Inc. — to Tony Linardi at Golder Associates, Richard Brait at Siemens, the teams at RBC, Chubb, Telus, OPTrust, Progressive Waste, Pfizer and BMO Financial Group who seem to live and breathe innovation every day — and Claudia Storto at the City of Vaughan who can’t say enough about her team and external counsel — these people love what they do and are changing the definition of in-house counsel.

A standout conversation for me was when I sat to talk with Jocelyn Mackie, the winner in the Tomorrow’s Leader small department category — she exudes passion for what she does at Grand Challenges Canada. Mackie led the negotiation of a $160-million funding agreement with the Government of Canada to support the organization’s work in maternal, newborn and child health innovation. Without it, Grand Challenges would have been winding down in early 2017.

She leads the development of Grand Challenge’s policy on global access, ensuring innovations will be made accessible, in terms of cost and availability, in the developing world. The associate general counsel at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has said Mackie has “led the development of global access to a new level.”

You can read more about Mackie and all the winners in our special section dedicated to the awards. I hope you enjoy this issue and the stories of these remarkable professionals.

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