José Léger proved her comfort with the idea of change when, after more than two decades working as a lawyer in the construction and manufacturing fields, she made the switch over to IT by joining Hartco Inc., one of Canada’s leading solution providers in the industry. She’s part of a small team that works with more than 1,000 people, and here she explains the reasoning behind her transition, offering some advice for those looking to save time and find a good work-life balance at a large company.
Advantage: When did you first become interested in studying law?
José Léger: I wanted to be a lawyer at a very young age. Growing up, it was mandatory to watch TV in English in order to become fluent, and I watched a lot of American shows about lawyers. It really stimulated me. Other little girls were playing house, but I was playing lawyer and imitating what I saw on TV. I loved to say, “This is not right!”
What were your first few years as a lawyer like?
After I received my license in notarial law, I started working for the City of Montréal. I was really interested in public works and soon went on to practice construction law. I then worked for a small and very active engineering firm. I was leading many different departments—construction, insurance and risk management, private partnership, financing, restructuring, and mergers and acquisitions. The vice president of the firm allowed me to try a lot of new things. The only thing I never did was wash my own windows; they were too high!
What attracted you to Hartco?
After 25 years in construction law, I wanted to see and try new things. Learning about the IT industry was totally different and interesting. In the sector of IT solutions providers, there’s a lot more assistance required from the sales and operations divisions, and I’m therefore very involved in the day-to-day business. It’s very exciting.
What are some of the different tasks and projects that you currently manage?
Right now, I’m reviewing and updating our corporate policies, procedures, and contract standards and making sure that we meet all of the legal requirements for a public company. I am implementing legal risk-management procedures to support the company and ensuring that every risk is financed, insured, reasonably apportioned between all involved parties, and, finally, mitigated and managed. To achieve such goals, I try to give all of my collaborators in the operations and sales teams a toolbox, and with training, I help them become as autonomous as possible.
Receives an LLL in law from the University of Ottawa
Receives a DDN in civil notarial law from Sherbrooke University in Québec
Serves as a legal researcher for the City of Montréal
Earns a Mini MBA for corporate counsel from Boston University
Is named as the director of legal services at Hartco
How big is your legal team?
It’s just me and one paralegal working with about 1,000 people within the company. That forces us to seek alternative ways of providing legal services and giving assistance. You have to do more with less. I also reach out to other in-house counsels and the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel of America, which provide lots of resources and support. And with online access to libraries and legal information, we can all help each other tremendously.
What do you find to be most challenging about managing the legal function at Hartco?
There are so many issues happening at the same time. I’m working with everybody, and very often, I’m at the end of the chain of communication. Understanding peoples’ needs and making sure I can address them within a reasonable time frame while keeping deadlines and the bottom line in mind can be a lot of pressure. The biggest challenge is communicating the proper solutions in a timely manner.
With so much to do at Hartco, how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
I have a really great family, and I enjoy sports and outdoor activities. I’m also studying jewellery making at the École de Joaillerie de Montréal. You have to take complete breaks from work. It’s important to sometimes push back on a job and know how and when to say no. At Hartco, I will negotiate terms and conditions of a contract, but I’ll never negotiate my legal opinions.
What are your future plans for Hartco?
Every day, I wake up and look at what’s on the agenda and review medium- and long-term projects within the company. I hope to implement systematic processes and measures of risk control to allow Hartco to meet its objectives while maintaining an appropriate balance between risks and profitability.