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Coca-Cola Ltd., Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada and Minute Maid Canada

Promoting diversity of team and adoption of technology at Coca Cola
Coca-Cola Ltd., Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada and Minute Maid Canada

By Jennifer Brown

Category: Law Department Leadership
Department size: Small
Company: Coca-Cola Ltd., Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada and Minute Maid Canada

In the midst of intense change at the business he serves, Scott Kirkpatrick has embraced the need for legal to adopt that which can make his team more efficient and valuable to the business clients he serves.

From developing talent and keeping an eye on the need for greater diversity of thought in the department to tapping tools such as artificial intelligence and going paperless, Kirkpatrick is working every angle to make sure his lean legal team is going in the right direction to stay competitive.

In late 2010, the Coca-Cola Company acquired numerous North American bottlers including a dozen bottler organizations in Canada. When Kirkpatrick joined Coca-Cola legal in 2011, he was instrumental in leading Coca-Cola Canada on to an integrated business path, ultimately resulting in the divestiture of a single unified bottling entity (Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada).

Along the way, Kirkpatrick has been challenged to bring together the lawyers in the department and find efficiencies using technology as well as a more streamlined use of external counsel. There are three lawyers, two paralegals and one administrator on the Canadian legal team.

“We had three separate legal departments at one time and we really sought to bring the different personalities, talents and strengths together in a unified fashion where we were able to service the clients in a way that was both efficient while at the same time still providing sound legal advice to our clients,” says Kirkpatrick, who is general counsel, executive vice president and corporate secretary for Coca Cola in Canada.

In light of the pending 2018 divestiture, Kirkpatrick led the restructuring of three internal legal departments into one unified department. During this time, Kirkpatrick’s legal team has increased efficiency and productivity in the Canadian business while simultaneously becoming more diverse (84 per cent of the legal department reflects underrepresented groups within the legal profession).

Kirkpatrick led Coca-Cola in the use of electronic file management tools to the realized goal of becoming one of Coca-Cola’s entirely paperless legal departments around the globe.

“At that time, we were also able to save both on external counsel spend and internally to really find the strengths and interests of our team members working together in a fashion that’s allowed them to be challenged but rely on their own strengths,” he says.

The legal team is also working on an artificial intelligence chatbot to provide procedural advice to business clients. The automated contract generator will guide associates through a series of questions.

“We are currently populating policies and providing inputs into the chatbot in order to augment its capabilities. At first, it will provide an answer to internal policy queries, and direct clients to templates or a brief answer based on the wording of their question, but eventually the project will become more intelligent and capable for a range of issues. The project started in Atlanta and Canada is the first international market to work on the project and provide inputs,” says Kirkpatrick.

In managing his team, Kirkpatrick is known to put “people first” as every member of his legal team has distinct and individual working arrangements to accommodate their weekly personal and family needs, resulting in an ability to attract, support and retain a diverse and talented legal department.

Even within a small internal legal team, he has mentored and developed two junior lawyers into general counsel roles.

“Scott exemplifies integrity within the profession and has additionally been appointed as the lead ethics officer for all associates across Canada,” says Lori Hall, partner at Gowling WLG, who nominated Kirkpatrick for the Innovatio award.

With a lean and efficient in-house legal department, he has managed an extensive web of external law firms across every province and territory in Canada in every area of law imaginable.

Kirkpatrick manages a multi-million-dollar annual external legal spend for Coca-Cola Canada while realizing incremental savings in each year of his current role.

He has played instrumental roles for Coca-Cola Canada, including the lead on strategic pricing platforms, expansion into new consumer goods categories and reforms to employee pension plan and compensation programs.

While being recognized in 2015 as one of the Leading Lawyers Under 40 across Canada by Lexpert, Kirkpatrick has since been actively engaged in the mentoring of other young professionals through legal industry associations, the University of Toronto law school and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (he is one of only three male mentors in a class of 150).