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Recognizing the challenges of public sector in-house

It’s not often we profile a legal department the way we have in this issue, taking a look at the lawyers who make up the extraordinary team at Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

When I met with Mark Johnson and his team in late August and heard them all speak passionately about the work they do for the organization and the people it serves, it seemed like a story that should be told.

It is a talented group of lawyers who have sought out a kind of work many wouldn’t venture into at an organization that has been plagued by controversy and bad press over the years. But as many of them told me, it’s work they wouldn’t get a chance to do anywhere else, and it gives them an opportunity to deal with issues that affect the lives of people who benefit from what they do in a way many others can’t see every day.

Johnson has an infectious positive attitude. While he has many challenges on his hands as the TCHC revitalization projects move forward, at the same time, the organization wrestles with other ongoing issues around handling complex issues to do with human rights and privacy issues related to tenants.

The lawyers at TCHC continue to bring more work in-house as they become more specialized in the work they do, creating solutions for their clients that are unique to the organization, all under the constraints most companies and sectors find themselves in these days.

That said, public sector organizations have an added challenge of doing what they do under the very critical eye of the taxpayer, politicians and often the press.

As we open up submissions for our fourth annual Innovatio Awards, we want to extend a special invitation to the public sector and non-profits to consider putting forward a nomination in one of the nine categories: Diversity, Risk Management, Litigation, Law Department Management, Tomorrow’s Leader, Law Department Leadership, In-house Deal Makers, Best Practices in Compliance and Working with External Counsel.

I’ve fielded questions over the years as to whether public sector departments can nominate themselves and the answer, of course, is absolutely, yes. In fact, we’ve had some great nominations over the years including the federal government as well as municipalities and non-profits from the health-care sector, etc.

Last year, two Innovatio winners came from government and non-profit — the City of Vaughan for the way it handled a complex litigation matter, and Grand Challenges Canada for its vice president operations and general counsel Jocelyn Mackie, who won in the category of Tomorrow’s Leader.

I encourage all public sector and non-profit legal departments to consider putting forward nominations this year — either on their own or together with external law firm partners. We will be considering public sector and non-profit nominations separately this year.

Tell us how you’re innovating in-house at The deadline for nominations this year is March 15.