When Lynn Korbak was a university student, she took a summer job securing bolts on a car assembly line. Now in a new role as Toyota Canada’s general counsel, Korbak’s objective is to spot and tighten gaps in legal risk at a time of big changes for the auto industry.
After 12 years as general counsel at human resources giant Morneau Shepell, Korbak joined Toyota as part of the executive committee and senior management team in July. She says she’s come into the auto industry at an exciting time.
“This opportunity presented itself at a time when the auto industry is really at a turning point,” she says.
“There’s a lot of disruptive technologies and ideas, and the opportunity for innovation is pretty spectacular.”
Korbak, who says she’s always thrived in innovative and entrepreneurial environments, says she’s fascinated by the future of the auto industry at a time when self-driving cars, ride sharing and green initiatives are shaking up its core.
“There’s just so many different ways that we can answer the next question that our community and our society has in the way we get around,” Korbak says. “Toyota has really positioned itself as a mobility company and not just a car company, so there’s a lot of work being done in the areas of robotics, technology and connecting vehicles with data exchange.”
With these new car technologies come uncharted regulatory paths. In a July report titled Autonomous Vehicles: Revolutionizing Our World, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP partners Kevin LaRoche and Robert Love said virtually every CEO of a traditional auto manufacturer has publicly committed to developing and selling autonomous vehicles.
“There is a reasonable-to-high likelihood that many of the readers of this report will find themselves in what is a substantially autonomous vehicle within the next four to five years, and a fully autonomous one within the next eight to ten years,” the duo wrote.
“The extent to which manufacturers overcome technological challenges and address market and regulatory/legal issues will significantly impact how consumers respond to and accept their use and how these vehicles will reshape society,” LaRoche and Love added.
While lawyers across the board are trying to understand what autonomous vehicles will mean for their practice areas — including insurance, criminal, personal injury and cybersecurity — it’s a more pressing question for people in Korbak’s position.
In a way, Korbak says her legal team at Toyota, which includes two other lawyers and two law clerks, must be prescient. It’s about “being able to anticipate where the future of technology is going and how that might impact the regulatory world or other legal risk areas,” she says.
“If we anticipate those things, then we can plan for them and we can provide potential solutions; we can work with others to develop potential solutions to those new challenges that haven’t had to be answered in the regulatory world or the infrastructure world,” Korbak adds.
She says new trends such as car sharing will also reshape the auto industry. Car sharing “changes the idea of one vehicle in the driveway at all times,” Korbak says, which not only raises questions around whom future buyers will be but also the role of automakers in car sharing. In Ireland, Korbak says, Toyota has launched a vehicle-sharing club called YUKO, which is named after the Japanese word for “let’s go.”
In announcing YUKO’s launch, Toyota Ireland’s CEO Steve Tormey touted the program’s promise to address mobility issues and address environmental issues. “YUKO’s hybrid vehicles are the best way to help reduce congestion and improve air quality, while providing a stress free and fuel efficient driving experience without the burden of range anxiety,” he said in a press release.
As the automaker responds to environmental concerns and new trends in driving, Korbak says she spends a lot of time learning about the evolving business and what it means for legal risk.
“As I’m learning more about the business, I’m doing my legal risk inventory or risk analysis to see where those potential risks or legal challenges are that we need to be in front of,” she says.
While keeping an eye on the larger picture the Toyota Canada legal team also keeps busy with day-to-day litigation. “As you can imagine, the incidence of class actions in Canada is not going to decrease as time goes on,” says Korbak, whose work also involves franchise law, product liability and general corporate commercial law.
Although her team doesn’t provide legal advice to dealers, it does help support the dealer relationship and their interaction with the distributor and manufacturer, Korbak says.
Korbak says that although her reporting lines are confined to Canada, her outreach is certainly not. Her office has a strong relationship with colleagues in Japan and the U.S., she says.
“For me, the opportunity is creating some deeper relationships not only with our U.S. counterparts but with my global peers as well,” she says. “A lot of that is about sharing best practices, leveraging thought leadership throughout the global GCs and working with a broader team. A group of people can come up with some fabulous ideas.”
The cross-border connections also help from a resource perspective, too, she says. “If you have some great depth in a particular area in one region, you can lend support in another region.”
At the time of her interview with Canadian Lawyer InHouse, Korbak was getting ready for a November trip to Japan to visit a manufacturing plant. There, she planned to learn about design and engineering but also about what her colleagues in Asia could offer in the way of legal department tips.
The transition from Morneau to Toyota was a big change for Korbak, but, “like so many lawyers, I thrive on constant change and challenges,” she says, adding she likes the “intellectual stimulation” her new position offers.
A month into her tenure at Toyota, she was buoyant about the culture she found at the company’s Scarborough, Ont. office.
“The one thing that it really shares with my past organization is the collaborative, positive, solutions-oriented culture,” she says. “That’s one thing I really loved about Morneau, and as I got to meet people around the company, that’s one of the hallmarks of Toyota as well.”
Korbak was Morneau’s first in-house counsel. In the time she was there, the company grew fivefold and went from private to public company. But she says it was time for new adventures. “I would always encourage other people to step outside of their comfort zone and shake off the cobwebs. It’s been a lot of fun for me so far,” she adds. “You’d be surprised at how your foundational knowledge can be brought to bear on any issue.”