Serving The Needs Of Corporate Counsel In Canada And Beyond

Friday, October 1, 2004 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Francine Swanson, Q.C., Senior Legal Counsel, BP Canada Energy Company, and President, Canadian Corporate Counsel Association.

Editor: How does the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (CCCA) enrich the practice of in-house counsel?

Swanson: We offer the best networking and legal resource base for in-house counsel practicing in Canada. The many benefits of CCCA membership - including information about our conferences and events, chapter resources, virtual library and links with bar associations, special legal-interest organizations and more - are accessible at our website at www.cancorpcounsel.org.

The goals of our Business Plan include enhancing our membership, developing additional website content, expanding our CLE offerings and increasing the programs offered by our 11 local chapters across Canada.

Editor: What contributes to your success?

Swanson: Candidly, it's not about me - it's all about teamwork. When people connect to achieve a common goal, amazing things happen.

With 8,000 members representing companies, associations, crown corporations and private law firms throughout Canada, the CCCA is a huge organization in the Canadian legal community. Our success in meeting the needs of Canada's in-house counsel has grown from the enthusiastic and energetic support contributed by our volunteers.

Our volunteers include an excellent board of 23 members and dedicated committee leaders. Our generous sponsors and outstanding in-house legal community contribute to our successful programs. In August we held our annual meeting as part of the Canadian Legal Conference of the Canadian Bar Association. Held in Winnipeg, it was spectacular.

Editor: What attracts corporate counsel to your programs?

Swanson: Our large cadre of volunteers from across Canada and our staff work together to provide excellent content in our programs at a very low cost. Much credit for our outstanding Winnipeg meeting goes to our local committee, co-chaired by Richard Leipsic, Vice President and General Counsel, Global Communications Corp., and Sandra Swystun, Corporate Counsel, Agricore Limited. They worked tirelessly, tapping into not only national topics and speakers, but also local in-house and law firm talent. The many ways they featured Winnipeg included social gatherings at a variety of locations around the city, highlighted by an evening for Board members at the world-class Winnipeg Ballet.

With around 350 registrants, our conferences are the perfect size - large enough for participants to feel they're at an important conference of their peers and other legal experts while intimate enough to give everyone a chance to talk with each other.

Our wonderful sponsors, including Gowlings, Eversheds, Fasken Martineau, Meritas and Lex Mundi also contributed to the Winnipeg meeting's success.

Editor: How does networking at CCCA events benefit the in-house counsel's employers?

Swanson: One immediate benefit is access to in-house counsel from all over Canada who deal with different provincial laws. For example, you may be based in Ontario but have a matter in Alberta where the law differs in some significant areas. One difference is our Limitations Act. Alberta provides for a two-year limitation period while most provinces are still at six years. That is a big difference.

Depending on the issue you're addressing, the contact you made at CCCA events may be able to give you a quick answer or direct you to the local resources you need. Your contact may also be able to give you advice about the local business climate, such as whether it tends to be business friendly or litigious about particular issues.

The members of CCCA are generally very willing to cooperate with each other in sharing best practices and identifying low-cost resources, which is very valuable to in-house counsel's employers who closely watch the corporate bottom line.

Editor: As more and more in-house counsel perform legal services that go beyond provincial boundaries, how have the Canadian rules for multijurisdictional practice evolved?

Swanson: A few years ago, it was my privilege to serve on the Committee that made submissions to the Law Society of Alberta on Multijurisdictional Practice for the in-house lawyers that resulted in the acceptance by the Law Society of Alberta of in-house counsel from other provinces for full membership without the requirement to write transfer exams. I'm happy to report that the principles and objectives of lawyer mobility in Canada have been recognized by the Federation of Law Societies. We now have multijurisdictional practice in Canada across all but one of our provinces. In-house counsel providing legal advice to their corporations from province to province no longer have to take the dreaded transfer exams.

The exception is Quebec. Based on civil law, the Quebec legal system differs from those in other provinces. While addressing the differences, progress is being made in incorporating them into the protocol that the Federation of Law Societies has adopted for multijurisdictional practice.

Because in-house counsel are increasingly providing legal services across Canada's southern border, we are looking at multijurisdictional practice in the U.S. The number of states that have licensing authority adds complexity for Canadian in-house counsel going to the U.S. When U.S. in-house counsel come to Canada, many find they can choose whether to write exams to become members of the local law society or limit their practice. This is because certain Law Society Acts that govern the profession in each province have exemptions that permit in-house counsel to practice in a limited fashion.

We would like to see multijurisdictional practice formalized across the border. The Canadian Bar Association is collaborating with the American Bar Association in their efforts to harmonize the relevant licensing rules.

Editor: How has CCCA developed its affiliations with associations in other countries?

Swanson: We continue to build and grow our international ties with our counterparts in other countries. We signed a collaboration agreement with the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), as well as with the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) and the Corporate Lawyers Association of New Zealand (CLANZ) to strengthen networking and learning opportunities for each group. During our annual meeting in Winnipeg, we signed a collaboration agreement with ANADE (National Association of Corporate Counsel of Mexico) to formalize our commitment to share resources.

Our collaboration agreements entitle representatives of each association to attend the other association's meetings as VIPs. Volunteers from ACC-America attend our meetings on a regular basis. I will attend ACC's upcoming annual meeting in Chicago. ANADE will hold their annual meeting in September, and we will have a delegation present.

I'm excited about continuing to develop our ties with these and other associations during my term. The benefits of our thriving relationships will extend long into the future.

Editor: What suggestions do you have for other leaders to encourage volunteers to contribute their time, skills and talents to a professional association?

Swanson: Volunteers who contribute a lot of work, resources and results need to feel recognized. One way of expressing appreciation is adding a personal touch in communications. This involves much more than just sending schmoozie e-mails. You have to pick up the phone, see them, send handwritten notes and do other things that establish the personal contact that makes them feel involved and appreciated.

We try to be sensitive to the value of our volunteers' time. As well as making sure we're well organized, we try not to give unreasonable deadlines. We give them the freedom to be creative. We explain upfront our vision of what needs to get done so that our volunteers know what to expect. Above all, we listen to them about their ideas and issues.

The feeling of sharing and contributing to the greater good while being appreciated for their efforts helps to bring out the best in volunteers.