Enbridge Inc. - 2019 Innovatio Award winner

The Legal Services Transformation Initiative aims to improve the department’s ability to address Enbridge’s most pressing needs

Enbridge Inc. - 2019 Innovatio Award winner

(Left to right) Karen Uehara, VP & corporate secretary, Tom Schwartz, SVP & general counsel, Bob Rooney, EVP & CLO, Julie Fisk, associate general counsel, legal services operations, David Taniguchi, associate general counsel, corporate secretary.

Following a $37-billion merger with Spectra Energy and an initiative to update the way the newly combined 250-employee legal department delivered services that didn’t go exactly to plan, senior legal executives at Enbridge Inc. decided they needed a new approach to updating and modernizing their department, so they adopted an approach favoured by software developers: agile.

Agile is a development method that’s commonly deployed in IT departments and technology startups. It involves breaking large projects down into small, manageable segments or tasks that are tackled during sprints — short and tightly defined periods of time where team members are required to produce a working product or result. Teams are supposed to collaborate and find ways of accomplishing their goals and not be micromanaged by those in charge of the project. It is billed as an iterative, results-driven methodology and, as it turns out, results are exactly what it delivered at Enbridge: results that amounted to a savings of $18 million in annual operating costs, including a $6-million reduction in outside counsel costs, $9 million saved through improving demand management and capacity creation and $3 million saved by improving service and advice consistency, increasing business policy compliance and cross-team collaboration.

The overall project, which was known as the legal services transformation initiative, was initially conceived as a traditionally configured development program, and it was created with three goals (or change levers in Enbridge’s parlance) in mind: cutting external counsel spending, creating a new contracts policy and accompanying self-help tools and templates for the business users, as well as developing new matter management and contract management systems. As deadlines started to approach, however, it became apparent to the company that it wasn’t going to meet its targets, due to the complexity and difficulty of the work.

Rethinking the management framework and adopting an agile-styled methodology made perfect sense, explains associate senior vice president and general counsel, Tom Schwartz.

“The legal department doesn’t normally do a lot of projects per se. We provide advice and we support deals . . . but [projects] aren’t really what we do,” he says.

“When the sprint methodology came along, it was more tangible and more recognizable for our people in terms of ‘OK, I know what we're doing here in this specific discreet item, and I know what I have to do and how I can help get it done.’ It was much, much more akin to what we do as lawyers in terms of dealing with matters as they come up.”

While working on specific matters might be familiar, one of the key tenets to agile and sprint methodologies is just getting the work done, and that, says associate general counsel Julie Fisk, was a challenge for Enbridge’s lawyers to embrace.

“We broke out big pieces of work into bite-size smaller sub-projects. We kept telling people ‘Imagine we're building a pyramid, and the sprint is one block in the pyramid. And together, when we put all the blocks together, it will build the structure in total.’ So, you don’t need to boil the ocean, you just need to commit enough time and effort to do this finite, small, bite-sized bit of work,” she says.

“It was very hard for them to let go of coming up with the ultimate perfect solution to the big problem, so breaking it out into smaller bite-sized pieces allowed people with those skillsets to feel comfortable and to give their best on that finite outcome and deliverables that we were looking for in that smaller piece of the equation and to participate more fully and to accelerate how quickly we were able to connect all the dots to deliver the ultimate outcome.”

A group inside the department known as the program leadership team was in charge of setting the project priorities, managing the sprints and assigning people to work on tasks. It also helped the lawyers prioritize their sprints over their ongoing files — a task that was only partially successful, says Schwartz, noting that lawyers can be determined and dedicated to their ongoing files.

Helping members of the legal team shift perspectives was a key part of the entire transformation initiative, explains executive vice-president and chief legal officer, Bob Rooney, and it wasn’t just a necessity during the project development phase. It was an equally important duty once all of the new tools were in place and the legal team had to start using them.

“I’d like to say that everybody was happy. But that wouldn’t be true. It took a lot of care and feeding actually, and it was necessary to make sure that people understood how it was all going to work. It did take changes on the part of both members of the legal department and members of different functions or business units within Enbridge. When behaviours are ingrained, it takes time, and you have to be prepared to enter into lots of training programs to say ‘This is how it's going to work,’ and then you have to manage the time period it takes for people to get comfortable. It means lawyers have to let go of work they have traditionally done and they have to get comfortable doing that.”

Citing the example of the move to self-service contracts and the use of contract templates for the business units, Rooney says that, eventually, in-house counsel came to realize they were being freed from repetitive work, giving them the opportunity to take on “more interesting higher-value work, which actually then comes out of outside law firms. We were able to retain more of the better work internally when we had those types of efficiencies inside the business.”

(In addition to bringing work back in-house, Enbridge also reduced and consolidated the number of outside firms it uses and negotiated alternative fee arrangements, included blended hourly rates and discounts after certain volumes of work.)

According to Rooney, it was absolutely vital to reach out to members of the legal team in person, to hold face-to-face meetings and conduct some team-building events while implementing the transformation initiative changes.

“It’s human nature to be resistant to change for the most part. It just takes a little bit of time and effort to get people to accept and adopt and embrace change. Some are more willing to do it right out of the gate, and with others, it just takes time to get them there. It can be a lot of ‘I hear you, but show me. Show me how this is going to make things better,’ and that takes time. But we are actually showing results, and so now there is quite a bit of buy-in. I think, for the most part, the legal group has said, ‘OK, I see it, I get it. And let's get on with it.’”

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