Canadian In-House Spotlight: Litigation Transforming In-House Legal Departments

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Canada, Corporate Legal, Litigation, Practice Engineering, Thomson Reuters


Insurance companies and other corporate legal departments in Canada are beefing up their in-house litigation teams with an eye to gaining greater control in defending matters and pursuing issues proactively on behalf of their organizations, according to Canadian Lawyer In-House magazine, a Thomson Reuters publication.

And that often means the addition of more litigators to the mix, and more companies looking to hire lawyers who not only have strong file experience but who are also keen to robe up and go to court, the magazine said.

Canadian insurance companies in particular, such as Aviva Canada, are also building stronger teams in large numbers. In the last two years, Aviva has rebranded and grown its internal litigation team to more than 80 lawyers. Further, companies such as Telus, BMO and some public sector organizations have been focused for some time on strengthening how their internal litigation teams manage files with external counsel.

“The nature of litigation matters we are facing has changed if we compare to 10 years ago,” says Delbie Desharnais, associate general counsel, litigation at Telus. “We’re now facing much more class actions, IP claims, and significant litigation matters, so we have got a pretty diverse portfolio — all the general civil and commercial litigation including the claims litigation and employment litigation is spread across the country for Telus.”

“To me, what’s extraordinary isn’t in terms of a shift or change in number of litigators but more in how we have evolved and innovated and pushed our external partners to do the same.”

— Charlene Yaneza, BMO Financial Group

While Telus still uses significant external counsel to manage its litigation portfolio, it has been working with its outside partners to develop a more streamlined approach, Desharnais explains. “I think we all share the same goal of successfully and cost-efficiently defending and prosecuting the litigation files we have,” she says. “We insource all the pre-litigation work, the employment litigation matters up to trial and, in some cases, we also in-source the initial steps of general commercial matters — making sure we use that knowledge of internal clients and corporate priorities.”

Desharnais’ team will conduct the discoveries and bring the file ready for trial and outsource the trial because it has a lean litigation team. “We have reduced our external spend by trying to get added value services from external counsel through the way we split the work,” she says.

At BMO Financial Group, there are more than 20 members in the litigation practice group including litigators and e-discovery specialists. There are three-to-five litigators per team.

“To me, what’s extraordinary isn’t in terms of a shift or change in number of litigators but more in how we have evolved and innovated and pushed our external partners to do the same,” says Charlene Yaneza, associate general counsel, Global Litigations, Capital Markets Legal at BMO Financial Group, who is based in Chicago but handles a global portfolio. “We don’t sit still,” she adds. “Innovation is a priority to do things better and more efficiently.”

For example, her litigation team has developed a pretty sophisticated infrastructure in terms of case management tools and reporting capabilities and brought expertise in-house for activities that would have been held by external counsel, she says, adding that the e-discovery group has been able to bring in activities related to document collection, managing litigation holds, and document retention processes. “Where we do use external counsel, we have been able to cut costs by doing legwork upfront,” Yaneza says. “For me, that’s really the evolution of the group — building infrastructure and reporting capabilities.”

You can read the full article in the latest issue of Canadian Lawyer In-House.