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Submitted by Kimberly Gee
A snip-it from an article in Canadian Lawyer magazine entitled, “To be a modern in-house counsel” by Marc Le Blanc
I invite the class to ask as individuals, how T-shaped you are?
“Many of these skills are best described as those of the T-shaped lawyer. The deep stem of the T is formed from hard legal skills. The more shallow but broader cross of the T represents risk management, budgeting, data analysis, managing a team, project/process management, design thinking, change management and other skills. These new skills of the T-shaped lawyer are applicable for all lawyers but critical for the in-house lawyer. Without them, you will not be able to contribute to solving the problems of your organization.”
“Mark Le Blanc is General Counsel at TVO, where he is responsible for overseeing legal matters and balancing corporate risk. He is a key player on the strategic team as TVO shifts from a legacy broadcaster to a digital product organization. He has a BA in Economics from Queen’s and a JD from University of Victoria. His background is in IP and media law. He is a business first lawyer and is relied upon for his judgement. His focus has always been to leverage his legal skills and experience to advance the business of the organization. He is most interested in the evolution of the business of law, and in particular the evolving business/legal role of in-house counsel.”
Submitted by Kimberly Gee
I found an amusing article “Legal Operations 101” in the Canadian Lawyer magazine written by Gary Goodwin about the advantages and challenges of in-house: “The best part of being in-house involves being part of an organization. The most difficult part of being in-house appears to be being part of an organization.”
Question for the class: Do you consider it scope creep or chipping in when you would be asked as in-house to participate in areas that might be considered outside your area: ex. business planning?
I like articles with a bit of humour!
A bit of information about the author:
“Gary Goodwin takes a whimsical look at the serious, not so serious, and sometimes completely random issues facing the law profession today. He is in-house counsel for a conservation organization, and since he would like to keep it that way, all expressed opinions are strictly his own. He appears to collect degrees as a hobby and has a BSc from Victoria majoring in Marine Biology. In addition to his law degree and MBA, he recently completed his LLM from London England emphasizing natural resources and international economic regulation. Really. He can be followed on Twitter at @GaryWGoodwin”
Submitted by Kimberly Gee
(1) What made you choose to be in-house counsel?
I wanted to work in an environment where I had a closer relationship with a client, where I could work on complicated issues without the key consideration being the economics of legal practice (i.e. billable hours). In the First Nations context, I firmly believe that success (through the delivery of legal “tasks”) comes as the result of building a solid relationship with a community’s leadership and also its membership. And there is such complexity to the legal challenges facing First Nations that it’s critical to have a regular presence (and not just the periodic advice of a professional sitting in an office hundreds of miles away).
(2) Are there any resources specific to the in-house counsel role that you recommend?
Honestly, there aren’t any specific to in-house counsel in the First Nations context that I recommend. Lexis Nexis has some resources, but these aren’t really tailored to the work that I do. My key resources are contacts with others who work on comparable issues (whether they be in-house counsel, legal practitioners or others). For example:
- Key people in my organization
- Legal practitioners who I respect and who significant knowledge
- Organizations like the Lands Advisory Board
- Individuals in organization like Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) who may have insight on issues I’m working on.
(3) What are the best practices you would suggest for someone beginning a new role as in-house counsel?
My perspective on this issue comes from working in a First Nations context. Some considerations include:
- Ensuring you thoroughly understand the structure/dynamics of the environment you’re working in. This includes:
o Cultural environment
o Organizational structure and reporting arrangements
o Political climate
o Key community issues
o Legal structure (in the First Nations context, one has to have a full understanding of working an Indian Act context, vs FNLM or other sectoral self-government communities vs, self governing vs treatied communities).
- Ensuring that you have an understanding of the resources available to you, including:
o Key advisors within the organization
o Support personnel
o Financial resources
- Ensuring that your leadership and administration understand what you do and do not do in house. (When your leadership and/or administration assumes you can do everything in house, that is a recipe for disaster).
4) Any lessons learned respecting an approach you took but would do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
As discussed above, it’s critical to not try to do things which can’t reasonably be done in house. Similarly, one has to be conscious of workload. When you’re a regular presence, people will throw things of almost every variety at you, and you have to be forthright about what you can and can’t do. Sometimes you can’t do things because:
- The shop isn’t set up to do it (like complicated litigation)
- The workload is too great
- It’s beyond your field of expertise. In-house counsel can’t be “everything to everyone”. I’ve definitely struggled with that.
(5) What is the biggest difference you have found between working in a private law firm and working as an in-house lawyer?
They’re entirely different experiences. The key differences are that as in-house counsel:
- You have a single client and are able to build a very close relationship with that client.
- You get a much more thorough understanding of the issues and why those are critical to your client.
- You get to work with others (in an organization) who can give you a different perspective on how to approach things.
- You’re don’t have to consider billable hours (although efficiency is still a factor)
- You have more control over the organization and prioritization of your work.
(6) When working as in-house counsel for an Indigenous organization, were there any particular skills, aptitudes, challenges or opportunities that you identified as part of taking on this type of role?
Working in a First Nation community requires skills not required of those working in conventional practice or even other in-house roles. In order to truly succeed, you need to:
- Believe in the work you’re doing and the leadership you’re working for
- Understand the history of First Nation people (social, cultural, legal) and how that history informs the approach to the issues you’re working on.
- Be able to develop meaningful relationships with community members and obtain their trust so that they will share information (and ideally support the things you’re working on).
- Understand the complicated dynamic of working in an organization that includes both First Nation and non First Nation people, and the complexity (and sometimes conflict) that engenders.
- Be prepared to engage in frank and sometimes contentious dialogue so that your client (and the people they represent) consider perspectives that they might not be otherwise prepared to consider.
Submitted by Kimberly Gee:
I don’t think we have yet discussed this in class but I thought it was an opportunity that might be of interest to some students in the future so I thought I would share the link.
Through the CCCA you can become a Certified In-House Counsel for $9,100 + taxes (in case you haven’t yet spent all your money on law school tuition).
Quote from the website:
Who should apply?
“This program is designed for in-house counsel who need management and leadership skills to advance their careers and contribute in meaningful ways to their organization’s executive team. Whether you are new to in-house counsel, in a mid-level position, serving as Senior Counsel, or acting as an Only Legal Officer, the program will offer you the knowledge and insights you need to make a lasting impact on your organization.”
Of Note: As referenced above – a term I hadn’t yet come across – the role of “Only Legal Officer” in the organization.
I think training such as this would be very beneficial for would-be in-house counsels who have little or no management experience.
An interesting article talking about the lack of corporate counsel being represented as benchers in Ontario. Also great to see an increase in racialized diversity amongst the candidates.
The Province of Nova Scotia passed the Boat Harbour Act in 2015. The Act gave BC based Paper Excellence 5 years to stop releasing untreated wastewater from their pulp mill into Boat Harbour. The January 2020 deadline to stop using Boat Harbour is fast approaching and the company hasn’t even started construction of a new wastewater treatment plant. The company still needs to complete an environmental assessment for the new wastewater treatment plant, built it, test it, and commission it. The company has already admitted that they will need more time to build the plant and is currently lobbying the provincial government for an extension.
This pulp mill produces the same product as the pulp mill here in Kamloops. Anyone who’s flown over or driven by the mill on Mission Flats Road will notice the large settling ponds and wastewater treatment facilities. This type of mill uses a massive amount of water and cannot operate without the ability to release wastewater. Without a new plant or the ability to continue using Boat Harbour, Paper Excellence will need to shut down their mill. Closing the mill will have a ripple effect across the entire Nova Scotia forest industry and cost the company dearly.
What I want to know: where were the lawyers back in 2015? Did they advise this company of the risk of not acting to build a new wastewater treatment plant? Why did they wait so long to start the process to build a wastewater treatment plant?