• Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
My name is Fernando Garcia and I am a lawyer, called to the Bar in Ontario, Canada. I was born in Argentina and grew up in Uruguay, immigrating to Canada at the age of 9. I grew up in a high-priority neighborhood in Toronto and initially struggled quite a bit in school. This resulted in multiple school changes, some time away from school and poor grades. After taking a year out of school, I decided to return to high school to finish off my education. This time I returned focused and ready to do well. With hard work, I was able to scrape into the B.A. Labour Studies program at McMaster University and never looked back. Since then, I completed a Masters of Labour Relations from the University of Toronto, a Civil and Common Law degree from McGIll University, and, most recently, an MBA in Strategic Management from the Wilfrid Laurier University. As you can see, I love learning, I value diversity and inclusiveness and I am very proud and honoured to be a lawyer today!
• What do you do for a living right now?
I am currently the General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Nissan and Infiniti in Canada. My function also includes responsibilities for Government Affairs and Corporate Compliance. I have held this role for over four and a half years, and, prior to this, I held the role of General Counsel and Director of Human Resources at Navistar Canada. I had a rather unique path to the GC role, taking on this responsibility after only two years of graduating from law school. However, I have been able to leverage my education in human resources, business and law to bring value to my employers/clients. I am also very passionate about diversity and inclusiveness within the legal profession and within society, as well as the important role that the intersect between technology and law is having and will continue to increasingly have in our legal practice.
• What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
I believe that my greatest success and triumph has been being able to adapt and succeed within companies undergoing substantial corporate change. At Navistar, I was in charge of the legal and HR ramifications of going through organizational change that saw the company move from having product manufacturing and sales operations toward just sales and marketing operations. This resulted in the need to close manufacturing facilities, negotiate a wind down with labor unions, renegotiate loan agreements with multiple levels of government, downsize the workforce and, at the same time, keep the morale high for those employees who continued with the company. Conversely, at Nissan the challenge has been one of ensuring unprecedented and continued growth. Being able to adapt and change to meet the changing needs of your client/customer and to achieve success in organizations facing the extremes of downsizing versus unprecedented growth has been my greatest triumph and success.
• Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
I think that there are two important trends that are beginning to have a positive impact on the legal profession in Canada. First, there is a growing recognition and acceptance as to the importance of advancing diversity and inclusiveness within the profession and across our country. This is important, as if Canada is to effectively utilize and leverage the incredible skills, experiences and capabilities of all citizens, excluding any members of the workforce as a result of age, ethnicity, color, etc. means that we are not and will not ever reach our optimal potential. This is especially true in the case of the legal profession, where we are facing challenges with regard to access to justice, while at the same time, qualified and talented legal professionals are unable to secure articling and practicing roles. Enhancing diversity and inclusiveness will be an important and positive outcome for our lawyers, our profession, our communities and our country. The second change is with regard to the marriage between legal practice and technology. Technology has fundamentally altered how work is performed in many, if not most professions. It seems like the legal profession has resisted, but it cannot continue to do so. As we see exciting and practical new technologies come on board which allow us, as lawyers, to provide better and more efficient services, it is our responsibility to become aware and implement this technology. Hence, legal technology is fundamentally changing who does the work and how it gets done.
• Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
As an immigrant to this country, I am inspired by individuals and families who leave their friends, family and country behind to come to a new land, so that their children may have opportunities that they may not otherwise have had. This is the ultimate sacrifice and I am inspired by these people. Whether they come to study and learn a new language, work in temporary or blue collar jobs, or do what they can to make ends meet, they are my heroes and they have always inspired me and they will always inspire me. In my end, my family made such a sacrifice when we came to Canada at the age of 9 and I can sincerely say that all I have accomplished and have tried to accomplished, has been guided and inspired by this sacrifice. Hence, failure has never been an option.
• What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
You are living through an amazing time. We are looking at, within a very short time frame, a radical change in our lives. Cars will be connected and autonomous, work teams can work seamlessly from their workstations across the world, routine and labour intensive (sometimes mind numbing) research and due-diligence reviews of documents are no longer a part of learning the trade. We will have an unlimited amount of data and information within your fingertips, to provide you with the tools needed to represent your client and provide thorough and efficient legal advice. Technology tools are changing how we do our work and we must be willing to embrace this change. Staying abreast of the changes and embracing technology will be the keys of your success in the future. Don’t fight it, embrace it!
• How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
I think like any other innovation, there are those early legal technology adopters who are ready and willing to accept and embrace the change, while others take a backseat and adopt a wait and see approach. That being said, legal technology is changing at a pace that sitting in the sidelines will not be an option for long. Similarly, as in-house clients come to understand and express the need for diversity and inclusiveness, and as law firms begin to see the need to hire and attract the best candidates to effectively compete in a highly competitive legal market, change will happen. We are at a crossroads, the time for change is now. The legal profession will have to change voluntarily (though evolution) or it will be forced to chance (through revolution)!
• Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
Enlightened leadership at this time may see the iceberg coming and navigate around it effectively, while others will run right into it and the ship will have to be evacuated. Law firms and lawyers must immediately embrace change. This requires a leader that will not only listen to their needs and concerns, but also one that can sell a vision of how this change will help meet the objectives of the client, the lawyer, the law firm and society.
• How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
Technology will fundamentally change and influence the practice of law. How we give advice, what advice we give and how in-house counsel and clients use that advice is changing. One just needs to look back at the fundamental change that computers made in the workplace. Productivity increased substantially, the workforce composition had to change to reflect that and it became necessary to invest in infrastructure and training to ensure that the new tools were being used to effectively. In my opinion, the upcoming change will be unprecedented, but the result is the same, we must change, we must adapt and we must embrace this change to service.
• In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
It is very hard to say. Who is around and what technology is being used will vary greatly as to how easily the profession, law firms and law departments can adopt and implement these changes. Over the last decade, we have seen the proliferation of boutique law forms, the birth of alternative service providers, the offshoring or automation of routine, low value added work. No one has a crystal ball, but the next ten years will very likely prove to be fundamental. Some speak of Artificial Intelligence as the 4th industrial revolution, I don’t disagree, and how this revolution will affect our profession is something we will have to wait and see.
• What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
We as lawyers generate and are surrounded by data. Unfortunately, we do a very bad job of utilizing this data to provide us with information and predictive analysis to assist us in making decisions. Law firms as well have access to copious amounts of data, but they too fail to take advantage of this data. One of the arguments against moving away from hourly billing toward fixed term agreements, is that there is too much unpredictability with regard to assessing the time a file will take and, thus, making setting a fixed fee difficult. However, with a large enough sample size of data, it would be possible and easy to determine the appropriate costs and time that we can expect cases to take in moving through the system, but we are not yet utilizing the data in this manner and we are losing a lot of valuable uses for this data,. Finally, the lowest hanging fruit for most inhouse departments is the data that is available to us from our contracts and litigation management. A contract management and litigation management systems are critical ways that data can and should be used to increase efficiencies, lower costs and enhance accountability. Sadly, most departments, especially small and medium ones, use little to no data management software. A big loss of opportunity!
• What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
See answer for question 4.
• Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
What we are seeing is not the demise of the “profession” and the birth of the “business of law”, the practice of law has always been a business. Many people not only made a living practicing law, but they made a very handsome living in the past. It has always been a business. But what we are seeing is the need for a different type of lawyer. We are moving from the “I” lawyer, with a deep narrow knowledge of the law, to what is called the T-shaped lawyer, or as I prefer to refer to it as the “+ value –added lawyer”. The T-shaped lawyer has the deep narrow knowledge of the law, but s/he also has an understanding of a broader set of practices of skill sets such as business, accounting, finance, political sciences, government affairs, marketing, sales , etc! This will not eliminate the professional nature of a lawyer, but it will rather expand the role and the function of the lawyer as and for their clients.
• What do you consider is the greatest challenge/opportunity facing the industry?
There are several important challenges facing our industry, some of which have been described above. However, these challenges also pose unique and great opportunities for those lawyers, law firms and legal departments that meet the challenges face on. In short I see these as the greatest challenges/opportunities:
a) Diversity and inclusiveness
b) The adoption of legal technology and AI
c) Access to justice and Articling (opportunities for young lawyers)
• What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
See 16 above
• Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
Yes, yes, yes! I see it happening today. For example, in Canada, we have seen the birth of groups like Legal Leaders for Diversity. This group of over 100 General Counsels not only commits to advancing diversity and inclusiveness within their legal departments, their companies, and their community, but they also are willing to put their money where their mouth is and use the law firms commitment and achievements in diversity and inclusiveness initiatives as a factor in determining who gets work. If having your clients tell you something is important to them and that their purchasing decisions will be impacted by the D&I initiatives of the firm does not change behavior, nothing will. However, this is now an easy sell to law practitioners who may be resisting change, since no one wants to see their clients walk away and give their work to the competition. Groups like LLD are moving the needle and, while it would be great if change could happen faster, at least we are moving in the right direction.
• Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?
At this time, I would say that the framework is neutral. Challenging times are ahead and we must ensure that regulations assist in making necessary changes in the profession, rather than holding it back. Those who do not evolve become extinct, we must ensure that we can evolve the profession in a manner that protects lawyers, their clients, society and stakeholders generally.
• Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
I think at a high level, there are multiple influencers that are shaping and changing the profession slowly but fundamentally. First, alternative service providers, with the assistance of technology, have taken away many of the mundane tasks that were once associated with the work of junior lawyers (such as research and e-discovery). These service providers are also providing staffing services, contract management services and other AI and services that are fundamentally challenging the monopoly of lawyers in providing legal services to clients. At the same time, Associations like Legal Leaders for Diversity are forcing law firms and service providers to take the adoption of diversity and inclusiveness seriously. When your client tells you something is important to them, you listen. We are seeing improvements happen, slowly at times, but we are moving in the right direction. Finally, through the advent of programs like Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program and their recent application for a new type of law school, law schools are also increasingly forced to look at what the changing needs of lawyers are and how they can best support the development of “T-shaped” lawyers. These three elements: alternative service providers, technology, Associations supporting Diversity initiatives and the law schools are amongst the greatest influencers today.
• If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
Personally, I would not change a thing! We are living through a critical and fundamental time in our profession. Change is no longer a choice, but it is a necessity to survive. Technology is changing how the work is done, the information available at our fingertips and the speed at which we can provide services to our clients. Finally, we are quickly approaching a time where a person’s diverse background and experiences will be a source of value and strength and not a reason why someone’s opportunities are limited. I would not change a thing, these are exciting times to be in this profession.
• If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
Depends on the law firm. If it is a forward looking law firm that: can read the tea leaves; that understands the changing needs of its clients; that looks at hiring new lawyers based on the value they can bring to the firm rather because of their gender, the colour of their skin or their diverse background; if it is a firm that incorporates and experiments with technology and alternative service providers to provide effective and efficient services, then sure, I would invest! Without these elements, the firm may be ready for a shakeup and it may not survive in the long run, making it a bad investment.
• If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I can see myself running a company. I love the practice of business, law, human resources, technology, politics and entrepreneurship. Having a role that incorporates all of these elements would make me very happy!
• What would you like to be known for?
As someone who made a difference. I want to be there and make a difference for my family, so that they never need anything. I want to be there for my community in helping advance important initiatives such as advancing diversity and inclusiveness within the legal profession and within my communities. I want to be a key player in shaping how technology shapes our legal profession moving forward. I want to make a difference in all I do and this, the ability to make a difference, is what I would like to be known for. However, to achieve this, there is still much to do!
• What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
I was an absolutely terrible student in high school. I attended four different high schools, achieving an average of 60% and even taking a year out of school before completing high school. However, when I returned, I returned on a mission. Since then, I completed high school and went on to complete a Bachelors degree in Labor Studies, a Masters of Labour Relations, civil and common law degrees and most recently, on a part time basis, an MBA in Strategic Management. Most people assume I was always a gifted student, but they don’t know the truth (but they may now)!
• What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
This is not really a hobby, but outside of work and law, I love attending community events and legal events. This opportunity to network is, in my opinion, worth its weight in gold. I always encourage my students and mentees to network, network and network, and I must say that this is something that I very much enjoy as well.
• What’s your favorite sports team?
I am a huge fan of soccer. Having been born in Argentina and having grown up in Uruguay and Canada (and now also a supporter of Portugal because of my spouse), I can sincerely say that I love watching these national teams play at the highest levels. My ultimate treat is every four years when I can run through a broad range of emotions watching my teams battle it out in the world cup. If my teams are no longer in the running, then I default to support the underdogs.
• What’s your favorite city?
I am biased. As much as I love Miami, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and, conscious of the fact that there are still many numerous beautiful cities that I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, for me, there is no better place than home. For all of its faults, Toronto is a beautiful city. A city that is vibrant with music, food, diverse cultures, and a good mix of fun and work. To sit in a subway and listen to so many languages being spoken around you, by so many people from around the world who now call Toronto their home, it is clear to me that there is no place like home!
• What’s your favorite food?
I love all food and I am not very picky! That being said, there is nothing like a great steak (although I do like it medium well)!
• What’s your nickname – and why?
Can’t say I have one anymore. I had a few in my younger years, but those will remain in the past.