When you’re new to a position as the only legal officer in a company that is a high-growth organization, trying to find the best way forward in managing the work can be an overwhelming and distracting challenge from the day-to-day demands of providing sound legal advice to a company in a competitive space.
Points International Ltd., based in Toronto, provides loyalty e-commerce solutions to the loyalty industry. The company is growing in size and scale — about 20 per cent a year — as well as increasing its product suite.
The company operates out of offices in Toronto, San Francisco and London. It operates three business segments: Loyalty Currency Retailing, Platform Partners and Points Travel.
The in-house legal department consists of Charles Whitburn, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, who arrived at the company at the end of 2015 right at the point when Points was ramping up two new business segments.
Points’ e-commerce solutions are directly integrated into approximately 60 of the world’s largest loyalty brands — from frequent flyer miles and hotel points to retailer and credit card rewards, with access to nearly one billion loyalty program members.
“Points was at an interesting inflection point where we still needed a fairly high degree of personal touch and subtle legal nuance in our outbound commercial contracts with our customers,” he says. “Right away I knew we were going to have a tripling of our legal department output just based on business segment changes alone, and I knew that we needed to gain some elastic scale so we looked at some different solutions.”
About six months after Whitburn landed at Points, it quickly became clear to him that he was going to need more help. He looked at both traditional law firm providers and more technology-enabled platforms.
For legal support, Whitburn required counsel with experience in multiple practice areas — not just general commercial and technology law experience but substantive experience with complex cross-jurisdictional issues, in light of the firm’s international corporate partners, suppliers and customers.
“Ultimately, where we landed was working with a flex law firm on a burstable basis as opposed to hiring in-house or expanding the legal department through our traditional legal services providers,” says Whitburn. “It gave us a cost-effective and, most importantly, the subject matter expertise that was stronger for the type of work we needed help with.”
Whitburn retained Conduit Law in September 2016. Working with Rajiv Arya, senior counsel at Conduit Law, they found a path that worked for the demands of the Points’ business.
Whitburn set out to re-imagine the legal department by implementing a “distributed” approach, relying on in-house resources for core operational matters, traditional law firms for expertise on discrete projects and using alternative law firms, such as Conduit Law, for the firm’s high-value, and large-volume, commercial legal work that requires experienced senior counsel able to work at a high volume on an on-demand basis.
The work done with Points and Conduit Law has allowed Points to more than double the throughput capacity of the legal function.
“The nice thing about it and interesting thing about the great value of working with Peter and Rajiv is we managed to do this mostly through a re-positioning of budget so I didn’t have to do a ton of new spend,” says Whitburn.