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Toronto District School Board

Bringing applications in-house to save on external costs
Toronto District School Board

By Alexia Kapralos

Category: Tomorrow's Leader
Department: Small, Public Sector
Organization: Toronto District School Board

Outsourcing work to external law firms outside of an in-house legal department may yield high-quality work — but often at a high price. For the Toronto District School Board’s legal department, this was certainly the experience, until legal counsel Elmira Chimirova was hired and came up with a solution to address the many real estate costs the organization had.

Since she joined, Chimirova has saved the TDSB’s legal department an estimated $9,000 by implementing access to the department’s own Teraview account to deal with the school board’s real estate portfolio.

“It was easy money to save for external fees,” she says. “I undertook that initiative during my first week of being with TDSB. I was surprised that they didn’t have that software.”

Teraview is an online electronic real estate database that gives users access to the Province of Ontario Land Registration Information System as well as Ontario’s writs system. It’s a registration system that saves its users the time of visiting the land registry office in person when acquiring property and it assists lawyers, relators, appraisers, utilities and municipalities in the province with accessing real estate documents.

Law firms that practise real estate law usually have their own Teraview accounts, but it isn’t common for in-house departments to have their own accounts.

“This is basically a real estate software that allows you to obtain all the necessary documents related, for example, to your ownership of real estate property or to transfer real estate property from one individual to another, from one company to another,” Chimirova says.

Modernizing and innovating the TDSB’s real estate practice, creating efficiencies and saving money makes her a future leader in the legal profession. Leola Pon, general counsel at TDSB and nominator for her Innovatio award, said that Chimirova has a “keen eye” for process improvements at the school board. She said she achieved this while entering the organization early in the year during a transition for its real estate management approach while exhibiting adaptability and creativity in her ideas.

“Legal services is taking a more proactive and strategic approach to everything we do, and the improvements she has introduced [are] consistent with these objectives,” Pon said in her nomination.

Before joining the TSDB legal department, Chimirova worked in private practice, where she had the opportunity to cut her teeth practising at small real estate firms, working on complex real estate transactions. Here, she gained experience and sharpened her knowledge skills that are crucial to deal with these types of matters.

With this experience and perspective, she became familiar with Teraview, which sparked her initial idea to obtain an account for the TDSB legal department’s use.

“I wanted to bring an innovative approach to the way TDSB practises real estate and Teraview was basically the necessity that TDSB should have had a long time ago in order to manage its own real estate assets effectively,” she says.

Chimirova articled (and was eventually hired on) as legal counsel for a few years with the legal services branch at the Ontario Ministry of Education where she practised education law and corporate/commercial law, but not real estate law. This was prior to her work in private practice.

She says that being in an educational environment once again — where she’s surrounded by colleagues who genuinely care for children’s education — is what drew her into working at the school board’s legal department, where she subsequently brought her charisma and innovative thinking.

Chimirova says she sees herself staying with the legal services department at the TDSB in the long term. She holds JD and LLM degrees from the University of Toronto.

She was called to the Ontario bar in 2011.