Driven to Learn

How corporate counsel David Badurina’s background in biochemistry has improved his analytical skills and made him a key part of Hyundai Auto Canada

In legal circles, the in-house lawyer is often referred to as a jack-of-all-trades. Hyundai Auto Canada’s corporate counsel David Badurina is learning why. He advises on contracts, intellectual property issues, dealer matters, litigation, marketing and advertising campaigns, sales strategies, and any other matter that comes across his desk. Each day, he has to be ready to analyze whatever comes his way and then advise his client accordingly. Here, Badurina—who, surprisingly, holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in biochemistry—explains his work and how his nontraditional background has become an asset.

As corporate counsel at Hyundai, I have the opportunity to be immersed in the inner workings of a business and participate in its day-to-day objectives. It’s a different approach; I’m not just parachuted in to provide an opinion on one isolated aspect of a project. That’s what first drew me to in-house work. From my background in science and my previous experience in private practice, I gained the ability to examine complex issues, make observations, and come to a practical conclusion. Now I apply those skills for Hyundai.

I started my career in the niche area of patent law, but my current position has allowed me to advise on all of Hyundai’s essential business areas and achieve my goal of broadening my legal experience. Hyundai is a dynamic and innovative company, and it’s fulfilling to contribute to its overall vision. But before I could do that, I had to adapt to working for an automotive company. Above all, I had to understand Hyundai’s core business of selling and servicing vehicles within a franchise structure. Our legal team must understand all aspects of the business—as well as its strategies—before we can provide accurate and practical legal advice.

WHY LAW?

“I really liked the science I was studying at university, but I didn’t see myself as a research scientist. Although I was able to directly apply my scientific background when I started out in patent law, the legal profession has allowed me to expand into other areas of interest outside of science. I am still able to apply the analytical and investigative skills that I developed in science in these new spheres.”

It’s important that in-house counsel get up to speed quickly on new issues, and my experience in science and in private practice has helped. I always try to look at complex issues by breaking down and distilling them into smaller parts. This helps not only in my analysis but also in explaining the often-intricate legal considerations to the business.

Dealing with diverse and complex matters is often challenging, but that’s also what I find the most rewarding. In assisting the business, I have to be able to work at the speed of Hyundai’s fast-paced environment and provide creative solutions and timely advice. We are all striving toward the same goal. In my capacity, I try to ensure that our legal department is not thought of as a barrier to the business achieving its goals, but rather as a partner of the business, engaged to ensure that the company’s objectives are attained within the law. We’re growing in Canada. Last year, we sold almost 140,000 vehicles, and our team, working together with the business, helped make that happen.

I report to the senior corporate counsel at Hyundai, and we have two assistants. With a lean legal team in a large company, we have to be efficient, we have to prioritize, and we have to communicate. It’s not enough for us to understand what our business partners are asking; we also have to know the context and what forces external to Hyundai are at play. Issue-spotting is also essential. The business may not be aware of all of the relevant legal concerns in a given project. It is our team’s job to ensure that every concern is identified and properly addressed. That approach is what yields smart, practical advice.

OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
While in graduate school, Badurina picked up oil painting out of necessity—he needed to decorate his bare walls. These days, he still paints as time allows and also enjoys spending time with family and friends. Like many lawyers, he likes to golf, but he admits that his game could use a little work.

Another big part of the job is keeping up with industry-specific changes and any new or amended laws. For example, lawmakers in Canada have recently passed what is colloquially referred to as the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation—or CASL. CASL came into force this summer and will have a major impact on businesses going forward. All companies that rely on e-mail or other electronic messages to communicate with current and potential customers will be grappling with the interpretation and implementation of this law. Consent is key, and understanding how your client obtains and records consents is vital. We’re working hard to ensure that Hyundai is in full compliance. I’ve created a task-force team to determine what we’re currently doing in this regard, how CASL impacts those practices, and what steps we will need to take.

Anyone thinking about going in-house has to be prepared for what they’ll find. You’ll be expected to understand how your client does business and possibly delve into new areas of law. You’ll have to use the resources available to absorb knowledge and provide concise and accurate advice. But you’ll also need to have the confidence to advise when you need a little extra time to research or consider a complex issue. Importantly, you should take the opportunity to use whatever background you have and turn that into a strength. As you do, you’ll discover something I’ve learned: this work is both challenging and rewarding.