Group general counsel, London
I grew up in Montreal in a very diverse environment, benefiting from close relationships with people of different cultures, nationality and race. The legal profession seemed to offer an excellent path to achieving a career in an international setting.
I studied in Canada and in the US. My first legal qualification was in the State of California. I subsequently qualified in Washington DC and in England and Wales.
While working at Baker & McKenzie in 1999, I was offered the opportunity to move to Paris and work closely with the Vivendi leadership team. The aim was to diversify the business from utilities to media and entertainment, grow internationally and become a US-listed company – it was an offer that was difficult to refuse.
When I joined Aegis Group plc (the former name of Dentsu International) in 2003, it was a FTSE 250 company. I joined as GC for the global media division. I eventually became group GC. Over the years the nature of the role, the work overseen by the legal and compliance team, and my own scope of input to the wider leadership team have expanded dramatically. When I started there were only three lawyers, including myself. Today, I manage a global team of around 250 lawyers and compliance specialists.
With so much wider societal change and instability, the leadership, experience, knowledge and presence of general counsel are more important than ever. Not only do we provide stability in terms of our legal, compliance and risk expertise, but also a unique focus and leadership across so many more areas. These include matters of company culture, integrity, employee relations, commercial strategy, organisational design and government affairs. No wonder that we are seeing some organisations embracing general counsel as CEOs.
Disaster survivors not only benefit from access to free legal resources, but also from meaningful legal representation. Providing information to communities is important
I created the General Counsel Oath to promote a commitment to a set of personal and professional behaviours. The oath asks general counsel to make a commitment across the following categories: professional responsibility and ethics, leadership, diversity and inclusion, social impact and pro bono, working with internal clients, working with external parties, and personal behaviour. Having seen individual lawyers and organisations take different approaches across these areas, and believing that wider positive change could be generated from behaviour and action that was more unified, I wrote the oath and sought to raise as much awareness of it as possible. My hope is that those who put the oath into practice will experience more enriching personal and professional lives.
For several years, our global legal and compliance team has taken part in activities aimed at offering our legal and other skills to charities and non-profit organisations. What started as an annual objective for the team has become an inspirational effort, as we have witnessed the positive impact that contributing time, effort and professional skills has on wider communities. Our team is a formal signatory to the Law Society’s Pro Bono Charter and to the Pro Bono Institute’s Corporate Pro Bono Challenge.
Working with our partners and non-legal team members, we created what was essentially a media campaign to help disaster survivors. The idea was premised on the fact that thousands of volunteer lawyers and hundreds of legal aid organisations work tirelessly after a disaster to help those who do not have the means to afford an attorney. Disaster survivors not only benefit from access to free legal resources, but also from meaningful legal representation. Providing relevant and timely information to affected communities is important. Recruiting pro bono lawyers who can provide disaster legal aid and connecting them directly with disaster survivors becomes an urgent step towards long-term recovery.
Legal aid providers simply cannot serve the legal needs of every single person affected by a disaster. Fortunately, working with our internal agency partners and Pro Bono Net, our team came up with a plan to solve these challenges. Our project became a two-part media campaign to help connect volunteer attorneys with disaster legal aid resources, and amplify legal rights information to communities impacted by natural disasters.