BDO Canada’s new general counsel shares how she found her feet in-house amid pandemic crisis

Being adaptable is key, says former Dentons partner Christina Porretta

BDO Canada’s new general counsel shares how she found her feet in-house amid pandemic crisis
Christina Porretta

Christina Porretta was only in her second week in an in-house counsel role when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, forcing many businesses to switch to a remote working environment.

“To be honest, I don’t know what this job feels like without the overlay of COVID-19.  Most people are calling it ‘the new normal’ but to me, this is all I know,” says Porretta who made the leap from private practice to join BDO Canada LLP as general counsel after close to 10 years at Dentons - most recently as a partner.

Getting to know people while navigating the implications of the crisis for the global accounting and advisory firm was a major challenge for Porretta.

“I had done a really good job with my onboarding schedule in setting up lunches and coffee meetings with many of the different leaders and partners at the firm, but with everything closing a week after my start date, all those meetings fell away,” says Porretta. However, virtual tools enabled her to make connections and she even spoke during a partner webcast with the firm’s 500 partners during her second week.

The transition to working from home went very smoothly for BDO, and Porretta immediately started to engage in regular virtual meetings with the rest of the leadership team, in addition to weekly calls with the small legal team.

“I think the key to any organization thriving and surviving in challenging times is just to be adaptable and to maintain the same calibre of work,” says Porretta, who reports directly to the firm’s CEO and frequently communicates with him regarding legal implications and risk.

As general counsel, chief privacy officer and chief anti-money laundering officer, Porretta is involved in many aspects of the business, including litigation management, privacy, regulatory compliance, employment and reviewing complex contracts. Also a member of the national leadership team, Porretta provides strategic legal advice to senior leaders of the firm. She and her legal team have been very active in supporting leadership during the crisis, while also keeping on top of the day to day workload.

Although many of Porretta’s initial plans for updating the legal department were put on hold to prioritise pandemic crisis management when she first joined the team, she has been able to start implementing some new initiatives in recent weeks including updating privacy policies and implementing new privacy protocols. She is also looking to introduce a sophisticated document management system and other legal tools to enhance efficiencies for the team. Working with external counsel partners on contract automations is another goal.

Porretta also plans to expand her legal team which currently consists of three lawyers, together with a senior associate on secondment and a summer student. She is currently advertising for a corporate commercial lawyer with expertise in M&A work, in addition to at least one other lawyer and an executive assistant.

The legal team is responsible for researching and advising on privacy-related issues, including the collection of personal data, and for developing policies in co-operation with the HR team.

Porretta also sits on a task force that is responsible for advising on the safe reopening of the BDO offices. She monitors changes to guidance in the various provinces and reports back to the task force to help develop a safe plan for a gradual return to the office.

Although a return to office plan is in the works, no date has yet been set for moving BDO’s employees back to an office environment, and Porretta is in no hurry.

“It isn’t a high priority in the Toronto office right now, given that we are being very productive working from home, and I think everyone is comfortable doing that,” says Porretta.

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