InHouse Legal Profile: Managing Risk at the Canadian Red Cross

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Nine years ago, Amy Avis began as a student and volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross legal department. Today, she is its general counsel. At 31 years old, she is bringing her millennial mindset to the job.

Amy Avis is in charge of a unique risk portfolio at the Canadian Red Cross. From disaster response during the Fort McMurray and British Columbia forest fires to international work abroad in jurisdictions where, as a young woman, she faces cultural challenges, the job requires she make critical decisions for the organization, often in extreme circumstances.

Last fall, Avis, who is 31, became general counsel and vice president of risk and compliance at the non-profit, but she has been working in the legal department since before she graduated from law school. She has travelled to the South Sudan and Maldives where the men she was dealing with wouldn’t shake her hand. She is often “shoulder to shoulder” with operations people helping to make decisions on the ground.

That includes making assessments as to how many people are evacuated and to where in disaster situations. Her role involves risk management, understanding the organization’s insurance portfolio, expediting contracts — often moving people, things, and money rapidly across Canada — and negotiating government contracts.

Avis “grew up” in her legal function at the Red Cross doing emergency response work and, even now, in the general counsel role, it is something she continues to do. “I think that it is so critical for operations to see us as on the same team as them,” she says.

When she was articling with the organization, she set the goal to become general counsel by age 35. “I thought I was totally crazy, but I thought it would be an interesting goal to try and achieve. I have had various people remind me I said that and they have said, ‘We thought you were joking.’ I don’t think there is any one path that brings you where you want to be, but for me I very early decided I wanted to be in charge of the in-house function and also our insurance and risk portfolio,” she says.

While she hasn’t always enjoyed being called a “millennial,” Avis says she’s come to embrace some of what that has come to mean.

“I spent a lot of time rebutting this idea of being a millennial, but what I’ve been reflecting on is that there are a lot of qualities in us as millennials that make us a force to be reckoned with. One of the reasons I’ve been successful is that I have the millennial spirit of fearlessness and entrepreneurship that is something we’re characterized with as a generation. And innovation — something that makes you really successful in-house is to creatively problem-solve and provide innovative solutions to problems that are not exclusively legal.

“I have always said ‘I’m not a millennial,’ but I do think it does define me in some ways and is something that makes us kind of awesome.”

You can read the full interview with Amy Avis in the latest issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine.