TVO's General Counsel, Mark Le Blanc, on the Importance of being a Generalist

Dec 02, 2020

Mark Le Blanc is General Counsel at TVO, where he is responsible for overseeing legal matters and balancing corporate risk. He is a key player on the strategic team as TVO shifts from a legacy broadcaster to a digital product organization.  He has a BA in Economics from Queen’s and a JD from University of Victoria. His background is in IP and media law. He is a business first lawyer and is relied upon for his judgement. His focus has always been to leverage his legal skills and experience to advance the business of the organization. He is most interested in the evolution of the business of law, and in particular the evolving business/legal role of in-house counsel.

Counselwell: Tell us about your background and how you became the General Counsel of TVO.

Le Blanc: After starting out as an IP lawyer, I ended up at CBC where I first began to see the true value of in-house counsel to the objectives of the organization. I then wanted to try my hand in private practice, with a slant on delivering legal and business affairs services to clients without in-house counsel. But, the desire to have more influence on the business side of the deal led me back in-house, and I joined TVO, eventually becoming their GC.

Counselwell: How has your approach to work shifted since becoming a GC?

Le Blanc: Since CBC, I have been gradually shifting my legal work to increasingly drive value directly to the business objectives of the organization. As GC, this focus has increased significantly. I have taken much more of a team approach, contributing to these business objectives alongside the many other subject matter experts leading the organization – ie. heads of IT, HR, and relevant business units. Alongside this, I have also been focusing on legal innovation to help the organization to both better manage risk and compliance, and support smart decision making for the business leaders in the organization.

Counselwell: Should in-house lawyers specialize or generalize?

Le Blanc: I am an unequivocal supporter of generalizing. Though you may come in as a specialist (and some entry opportunities are more available for specialists), in my opinion you will not succeed if you remain a specialist. First, except for in the largest of organizations, you are rarely counted on for a specific skill, but expected to address a very broad base of issues. Secondly, and more importantly, there are no ‘legal issues’ in-house. Rather, there are only ‘business issues’, and this requires broad legal knowledge and great industry and organizational knowledge. Life in-house is rarely about specific specialist insights – you can go outside for this. It is about your experience and judgement.

Counselwell: How would you advise in-house lawyers to develop themselves professionally?

Le Blanc: Get as much experience as you can in your legal training. All experience is good. Get in front of as many clients and decision makers as you can. These are the people that are driving organizations. Network as much as you can. Opportunities mostly come from your network. If you can, get a mentor or group of people who you can chat with to gain insights. You can learn more from a (virtual) coffee (or from drinks or any other less formal setting) than you can in countless conferences. 

Most importantly, discover your real strengths/assets as a person, and draw upon them. They will be what distinguishes you from the crowd. Not all buyers will buy it, but those that do will be very interested. Demonstrate a keen interest. We all want people that are interested and motivated. Raw legal skills are table stakes. Be a T-shaped lawyer.

Counselwell: Do you have any advice for young in-house lawyers?

Le Blanc: This is the best time to be a young lawyer. There are so many non-traditional and diverse opportunities that will more align with your strengths and interests. It may be more daunting as many opportunities are not immediately obvious, and the path not well trodden. Law is going to look very different in the not too distant future, and getting in on the ground floor is a great opportunity. Especially as you get to shape it.