As Shara Roy prepares to officially take over the top legal job at EY Canada, she says she’ll be expanding her team with more junior lawyers, and leveraging technology and processes to provide more and broader in-house legal services to the business.
“We’re able to bring in the resources, the innovation, the thinking that the business has done and [use] that to help us provide them with better legal services,” she told Law.com International.
Roy, who has been in training for the position since January, takes over the chief legal counsel position from Doris Stamml, who has been at EY for 34 years and its top lawyer since 2008.
The biggest change Stamml said she has seen in her career is a shift in the general counsel’s office role from being very transactional to a trusted advisor. She, and now Roy, are members of the firm’s seven-person executive committee, while other members of their legal group are part of leadership teams across the business.
“That was really trailblazing in Canada at the Big Four for somebody in the general counsel’s role to then be part of the executive committee of the firm,” said Roy.
Roy said the role has “changed dramatically over the last decade,” providing legal representation in areas such as contracts, litigation, employment, and compliance. The legal group has expanded over the years and is now 15 people and growing.
The team Stamml built is “people who are trusted by the business, who solve big complex problems for the business, and do so in a way that the business values, and so taking that forward my main goal is to keep that trust that has been built by the team,” said Roy.
That trust also translates into more legal work, including acquisitions and other large transactions, being done in-house over the last few years, Stamml said.
“We feel that we could do it more efficiently and cost-effectively than some of our outside counsel,” she said.
The chief legal counsel job also includes overseeing the affiliation between EY and EY Law, which under law society rules is a separate entity, as executive managing partner. In Canada, EY law has six offices across the country that offer tax, business and immigration law services.
While EY is expanding its legal services in some jurisdictions around the globe, Roy said the offerings of EY Law “complement the services that Ernst & Young” already provides in the areas of accounting, tax, and consulting to make it a “one-stop-shop” for clients. They’re not looking to take on the big national law firms, she said, but continue to use “cutting-edge technology to provide terrific service,” to their clients.
“Our law firm is focused mainly on tax services and mobility, immigration services as opposed to full services,” said Stamml. “It’s not a wise strategy to become a full-service law firm.”
Prior to joining EY, Roy was a partner at respected litigation boutique Lenczner Slaght. She said “expanding her knowledge and learning around leadership,” has been one of the most exciting parts of her move from private practice to in-house.
At her previous firm, she said you could know everyone and communicate directly with them. And while that will still be possible with her EY legal team, it’s not possible on a broader basis.
“So how does one lead a 7,000-member firm? And how does one deliver one’s point of view and affect policy change and all of these things?” she noted. “Leadership is an ongoing learning process.”
Maybe an even bigger question is how one goes from being a partner in an 80-lawyer firm to the chief legal counsel at one of the Big Four professional services firms. Mentoring and a strong relationship between inside and external counsel were key ingredients.
EY and Stamml had been clients of Roy’s firm for about a decade and during that time, Stamml began to mentor Roy. Having discovered Roy “had leadership skills beyond just being a good external litigator,” Stamml and the business felt confident when she was preparing to pass the torch that her mentee was up for the job.
“Because of the relationship that we had with Lenczers, our leadership team also knew Shara,” said Stamml. “This is the importance of counsel having a relationship with the business and external counsel.”
Roy said she loved litigation and wasn’t looking to move out of private practice, but after 17 years was open to a new challenge when it was presented.
“I thought, this is a low risk that I should take and have all of that great learning experience and see where the future takes me,” she said.
She officially takes over the chief legal counsel job on July 1.
After that, Stamml said she’ll continue to work on some special projects with EY and look for some interesting board opportunities. But she also plans to do “more of the things I enjoy,” like camping, reading and traveling, she said.