Peter is General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Privacy Officer of Resolver Inc., a leading cloud-based, integrated risk management software company. As a member of the company’s executive team, he manages Resolver’s day to day global legal affairs by providing advice on corporate-commercial, M&A, employment, corporate finance, employment and privacy law. Prior to joining Resolver, he was Senior Vice-President, Corporate Affairs, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of a TSX-listed travel technology company and he has also served as in-house legal counsel to a variety of early stage and mature companies in the technology industry. He currently also serves as an advisor to two technology start-up companies. Peter started his career practicing corporate and technology law at Gowling WLG LLP and has also practiced at Dentons Canada LLP.
He is a frequent speaker on the topics of law department innovation, legaltech, cybersecurity and risk management. Peter is the founder of the GC Forum a networking group for GTA-based General Counsel that facilitates informal informative dialogue between GCs themselves and between GCs and law firms.
Tell me a little bit about your background and how you came into your current role as general counsel and corporate secretary of Resolver.
I started in (Canadian) BigLaw after graduating, in 2000, from the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto practicing primarily business law (with an emphasis on technology transactions) and working with technology companies. After 2 ¼ years there, I decided to make a move in-house. I was fortunate to work with a small legal team at a mid-size Canadian company led by a GC who was only a few years ahead of me. I was inspired by the fact that she was able to rise to the top of the department so early in her career that I was determined that I would try to become a GC of an organization as soon as I could.
After spending the following 6 years in and out of a variety of in-house and private practice roles (yes, I went back to BigLaw!), in September 2010, I was appointed GC and Corporate Secretary of a then leading, publicly-traded (on the TSX) traveltech company. Between 2010-2015, I oversaw and/or was involved with, among other things: the expansion of the company from a purely Canadian-domiciled company to a company with offices in the US, the UK, Hong Kong, Ireland and Spain; multiple changes in founder leadership; an anti-trust investigation in the UK; 2 global acquisitions; multiple foreign dispute resolution proceedings; multiple equity and debt raises; and a public proxy battle with a hedge fund. The net effect of the proxy battle had me looking at other opportunities and I happened to come across the opportunity at Resolver through a friend of mine. After a series of meetings and interviews, I joined Resolver as its GC and Corporate Secretary in January 2016.
Having built a legal department from scratch in my first GC-opportunity, I was tasked to do the same at Resolver. Since I’ve been at Resolver, we have grown from 90 employees mostly in Canada, to a company with over 240 employees globally (the US, the UK, New Zealand and India) through a combination of organic, rapid growth and acquisitions.
You share an interest in legal technology and improving the practice of law. How did you first become interested? How have you innovated within your role?
The emphasis really should be on the improvement of the practice of law. Rarely do I ever leave my one-on-one meeting with Resolver’s CEO without remarking something to the effect of: “there needs to be a better way…of doing what I do”. I am constantly thinking about finding better ways to improve the delivery of legal services within Resolver and increasing the efficiency of my interactions with opposing counsel, primarily in the context of commercial negotiations. Part of this motivation is to minimize the work that I actually have to do and part of the motivation was to solve for, what I see, as inefficiencies in the commercial contracting process (which gets in the way of businesses moving forward at its desired pace). As you and many others have correctly identified once the process is made more effective, the application of technology makes it easier to operationalize.
In addition to innately wanting to find better/more efficient ways methods to deliver legal services, I am constantly influenced and inspired by my peers at Resolver in terms of leveraging technological solutions to solve day-to-day challenges. In particular, the company’s focus and emphasis on using a scientific method (i.e. hypothesis, prediction, testing and iteration) and using the data that is derived therefrom to drive business strategy and operations has required that I adopt a much more rigorous and systematic approach to how the law department operates including becoming much more data-centric. In turn, I look to technology to assist in this effort and it has allowed me to collect and analyze various data points regarding the legal process and activity at Resolver and to ultimately report on such process and activity to Resolver’s executive management team and other company stakeholders.
In terms of innovating at Resolver, I have been fortunate I that I have had the benefit of working in a corporate culture that encourages all employees to be ambitious and to experiment. In that vein, a little over 2 years ago, with the help of a junior product person who had just started at the company, I helped design and repurpose Resolver’s primary integrated risk management software (which is very adept at workflow and task management) into a “legal app”. This legal app is a legal intake tool and assists me and the company by: triaging request for legal services and initiating workflows; providing full visibility and transparency into the work of the legal department; and providing the foundational data to be able to report quantitatively on law department activities. While we did “take it to market” (as a bit of a skunkworks project) for use by other GCs and legal departments (as a solution to a frequently identified “pain point” in a legal department, our message certainly resonated with law department leaders), we ultimately decided that we would keep the legal app for internal purposes only. That said, in my continuing conversations with other GCs, there is still a real need for a cost-effective way of managing their increasing workload and I have contemplated bringing it back to market – who knows, the “legal app” may live to see another day.
What has surprised you as you’ve grown and worked as a lawyer and why?
I am most surprised that I am where I am? I did not have a lot of role models to whom I could look as I was going through law school and when I started in private practice. Admittedly, looking back, I was rather naïve. All I knew was the “traditional” path – finish law school, obtain an articling position at BigLaw (Prestige! Experience! Salary! Security of employment!), be offered an associate position, work hard…make partner. Obviously, it did not work out for me that way as I came to learn early on that such a path was not necessarily for me. Even when I made the move to an in-house team, I was under the impression that I wanted to work in a large, “brand name” organization (Prestige! Experience! Salary! Security of employment!) only to further discover that I did not necessarily enjoy working within bureaucratic corporate structures and reporting lines. It was only when I ended up in a 2-person legal department working with a GC/company founder of a tech company in the mid-2000s that I knew where I wanted to end up.
What remains your biggest challenge that you face?
For me, my biggest challenge is overcoming several innate attributes frequently associated with lawyers: the desire to provide a “perfect”, well thought out answer and not being particularly empathetic. While shedding the need to provide bullet proof advice and focusing on providing “good enough” advice but in a timely fashion has proven to be a relatively easy task, I admittedly am lacking in empathy and it remains a work in progress. Perhaps it is a combination of traditional training and personality, I struggle at times (a lot of the times?) in seeing other people’s perspective and how my views, opinions and advice might be better received if it was provided with an empathetic lens overlaid on top. It is hard but I feel I’m improving marginally day-by-day.
What keeps you doing what you do? How do you stay engaged and passionate about being a lawyer?
I have quite a bit of fun doing what I’m doing at Resolver and that really keeps me going. I work with an incredible team, top to bottom and across the board – it is an amazing group of smart, dedicated, engaged individuals. Collectively we are all truly encouraged to live our core values of being passionate, ambitious, collaborative, accountable and experimental and that also contributes to the “fun factor”. Not that say that there are not days that are just plain challenging, mundane or un-exciting; overall, however, the work environment and the people makes my job as a lawyer quite interesting.
I also stay engaged and passionate by working with younger lawyers through a variety of mentoring programs (shout out to the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law Alumni-Student program and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyer’s Mentorship program!), participating in speaking engagements on topics that are of personal/professional interest to me (legal operations, “legal tech”) and operating a GC networking group called the GC Forum. More recently, I have been advising a great legaltech start-up company, called Athennian, that provides a cloud-based legal entity management solution. I’ve been working with the CEO and CFO and passing on some of the lessons that I have learned about working in a tech start-up/scaleup and helping to facilitate connections within the industry. From my perspective, Athennian is a great example of a legaltech company that is truly disrupting the industry by having a real tangible impact on how law firms and corporate legal departments operate. These “extra-curricular” activities really keep me engaged with the profession.