In the Know

Negotiating insurance and finance law with Wayne Schatz, VP and general counsel for The Co-operators Group

“At the end of the day, the business is the beginning and the end. The legal aspects of being in business, while necessary and important, are secondary.” —Wayne Schatz, VP & General Counsel
“At the end of the day, the business is the beginning and the end. The legal aspects of being in business, while necessary and important, are secondary.” —Wayne Schatz, VP & General Counsel

A leading Canadian-owned, multiproduct insurance and financial-services organization, The Co-operators Group Limited is a co-operative owned and controlled by 44 organizations, including credit union centrals and other co-operatives representing a variety of industry sectors and regions across Canada. It’s a lot of hands, and charged with watching over them all on the legal front is Wayne Schatz, The Co-operators’ vice president and general counsel (corporate and regulatory). Here, he shares his insights on switching to in-house legal work and learning the ins and outs of the industry he works in.

Advantage: What attracted you to working in the legal field?
Wayne Schatz: I’d like to say I wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was a kid. The truth is, when I was completing my undergraduate studies, I realized that a liberal arts degree with a major in philosophy was not the most practical degree to secure future employment. So, following in the footsteps of my older brother, who was finishing his legal studies, I applied to and was accepted at the University of Saskatchewan’s law school.

You started out in private practice. What attracted you to moving in-house with The Co-operators?
I was in private legal practice in Hamilton, Ontario, for about five years, doing a mix of corporate commercial work and civil, criminal, and family litigation. However, becoming in-house counsel was appealing for its focus on a single client and the potential for a better work-life balance.

In 1996, I joined The CUMIS Group Limited, which was acquired in 2009 by The Co-operators and Central One Credit Union on a temporary six-month legal placement. Over the years since then, I’ve been fortunate to hold a variety of interesting and challenging legal and business roles with CUMIS and now The Co-operators. While practicing as a lawyer has always been the common thread, I also gained significant exposure to the business side of the company when I helped lead some strategic operations initiatives.

Career Milestones

1988
Graduates from law school at the University of Saskatchewan

1989–1991
Completes legal articling and is called to the Bars of Saskatchewan and Ontario

1991
Joins DeRubeis Chetcuti LLP in Hamilton, ON, as an associate

1996
Joins CUMIS and MemberCARE Financial Services as associate general counsel

1998
Becomes MemberCARE’s director of business and regulatory affairs

2003
Acts as CUMIS’s business lead for the transition of MemberCARE’s insurance operations from Ontario to a joint venture partner and affiliate in British Columbia

2004
Returns to CUMIS’s legal department as associate general counsel

2007
Climbs to the position of vice president and deputy general counsel at CUMIS

2010
Joins The Co-operators’ legal department (upon its acquisition of CUMIS) as VP and general counsel (corporate and regulatory)

Did the exposure to the business side make you rethink being a lawyer?
Working on business projects, I learned and experienced things I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do in private practice. Specifically, as in-house counsel working closely with my business colleagues, the takeaway for me was appreciating the different perspective of business managers compared to legal counsel. At the end of the day, the business is the beginning and the end. The legal aspects of being in business, while necessary and important, are secondary to actually running and growing the business, and the role of legal counsel is one of advising, guiding, and supporting the business to achieve its business goals.

What does a regular day look like for you?
My primary responsibility is the day-to-day corporate and regulatory legal support required by Co-operators Life Insurance Company as well as its subsidiary, CUMIS, the latter of which provides insurance and financial products and services to Canadian credit unions and their members. While I am regularly involved in significant strategic and enterprise-wide projects for The Co-operators, providing day-to-day legal support to individual business units is also a key part of my work. To use a car analogy, the business needs regular servicing, maintenance, and attention from the legal department to run effectively. Generally, I find that managing and balancing legal work flow and priorities is a dynamic process and perhaps more of an art than a science.

What are your top business philosophies?
As an in-house corporate lawyer, I think it’s important to be open to continually learning and building your legal expertise and knowledge of your company’s industry. In addition to participating in legal educational programs, I recommend in-house counsel seek out educational opportunities that are not solely for lawyers. For example, while working on the insurance-distribution and wealth-management side of our business, I obtained my certified financial planner, chartered life underwriter, certified health insurance specialist, and financial management advisor designations—all nonlegal financial-services industry designations that relate directly to the business of The Co-operators and continue to assist me in understanding our business and providing legal advice.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming lawyers?
I’d tell up-and-coming lawyers much the same thing I try to tell my three children—and also remind myself: always strive to do your best, every day, in everything you do, big or small. Also, when tackling a challenging issue, trust your instincts to point you to possible solutions and problems, then use your intellect to validate or refute what your gut is telling you. Or, put another way, don’t ignore the little voice inside your head.