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CMHC legal readies for its part in corporation’s transformation

Team of 40 sets its sights on a new way to work as the organization modernizes.
|Written By Mark Young
CMHC legal readies for its part in corporation’s transformation

This article is a bit like the opening act in a play. Its aim is to introduce the cast of characters — our legal team at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation — and the themes we’ll be exploring over the next five bi-monthly columns. 

In many ways, the legal team at CMHC, Canada’s national housing agency, is a perfect vehicle for an extended series of this sort. Embedded within a complex and rapidly modernizing Crown corporation, the 40 or so professionals (lawyers, paralegals, governance experts) comprising the law and governance group at CMHC are at the centre of many of the trends and opportunities transforming in-house legal departments. From new technologies and tools to physical space change to deeper shifts in workplace culture, we’re being challenged to think in new ways about how we interact, manage information and collaborate with our business partners. For this reason, and in the spirit of sharing the stage, Deborah Greenberg, our chief legal officer and corporate secretary, proposed a series of columns exploring in-house practice through different sets of eyes within the CMHC team. 

Within the broader law and governance group, I’m fortunate to head up a team that partners with internal support functions (including HR and IT) and manages litigation. This “team potpourri” (so nicknamed for the variety that comes its way) includes responsibility for knowledge management, a catch-all handle for how we capture, organize and share information. As you’ll see in a column to come, as lawyers, we’re reaping the benefits of a broader technological journey at CMHC that has brought new digital platforms, spaces and opportunities for sharing and pushing out knowledge. Those new tools — better document management systems, automated templates and processes — are also helping free up time and energy that can be directed toward higher-value work.  

We’ll also look at how broader organizational change has pushed us to ask what we can stop and what we can do better. As part of a new organizational structure that is breaking down silos, the law and governance sector recently came together with several key internal functions under our chief legal officer’s leadership. The combination, which brought legal under one roof with IT, data governance and analytics, among other functions, has helped reinforce our role as an integrated and valued business partner. In a similar vein, we’ll also look at how the legal team is supporting new thinking and approaches to external partnerships, particularly as it supports the delivery of a 10-year, $40-billion national housing strategy. 

The broader workplace culture at CMHC has changed as well, and we’ll share what that has meant for the diverse group of lawyers at the corporation. We’re far more geographically dispersed, mobile and connected than we were even two years ago. A focus on productivity over “place” has seen the physical office — once the default work location — become a tool for achieving results and not an end in itself. Work is now a thing to “do” as opposed to a place to go, and that’s having important implications for how we’re working and collaborating as a legal team and how we’re measuring success. 

Ultimately, in navigating these trends and themes, our best solutions and approaches have come out of the collective experience of the group, from our newest members to our most experienced. It’s fitting, therefore, that we’ll be using this space, in the coming columns, to explore these themes, as well as others, through the diverse voices and perspectives that make up our team.