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Role changing for Canadian in-house lawyers?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 30/09/13

Canadian in-house lawyers are having to adapt to a new role as their position within organisations changes, with the responsibilities they face diversifying and expanding to reflect this, an expert on the market has claimed.

Fédérique Desruisseaux, manager of legal and corporate affairs with Sanofi Canada, argued that the days when the duties of general counsel were focused on "corporate and contractual matters and the management of contentious issues" are long gone.

Writing for the Canadian Lawyer magazine, she claimed the last decade has seen the role change immeasurably, with legal skills now only part of the tool-kit needed to succeed.

Obviously, the job hasn't become that different, despite the glut of thinkpieces on this very topic. If your boss asks you to entertain clients through the medium of interpretative dance or write up the meeting notes in the form of a Norse epic, it's not part of the new-fangled general counsel position.

Furthermore, an awareness of the legal situation your organisation is facing remains crucial, as does a broad knowledge of procedural issues within business law.

However, Ms Desruisseaux makes a good point when she highlights the new aspects that have been added to the general counsel position.

"Ethics and compliance are re-shaping the function of general counsel. It was almost an 'add-on' and has progressively become amplified and central to the role," she explained.

This is particularly true in Canada, where laws such as the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the upcoming anti-spam law have put firms under increasing regulatory pressure.

Of course, there have been moves across the globe to ensure businesses behave ethically, meaning this is something in-house lawyers need to take seriously when drawing up their risk management plans.

While the increase in workload may prove onerous for some people, Ms Desruisseaux indicated that this also offers an opportunity for ambitious general counsel to stamp their authority on the boardroom and take on top-tier leadership duties.