I have long admired the next leading lawyer profiled in this series: Bindu Cudjoe, Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Technology & Operations Legal & Chief Knowledge Officer at BMO Financial (now that's a title!).
We first met as colleagues at McMillan LLP and I've been watching Bindu's career skyrocket ever since. Read on to learn more about Bindu's in-house role and her confidence that one day we will have a more inclusive and diverse profession:
1. Tell me a little about your practice or business:
I started out in practice as a secured lending lawyer, representing banks as they made large loans (cross-border, syndicated, collateralized) to their clients, first at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and then McMillan LLP.
Now I am in-house counsel at BMO Financial Group where I have had a variety of roles, from senior counsel for the Canadian Commercial business, to associate general counsel in Capital Markets covering corporate banking, trade finance and correspondent banking, and then into management-focused roles, first as Chief Operating Officer for the legal and compliance group (overseeing HR, finance, real estate, communications and the outside counsel management program for the bank) and most recently as Chief Knowledge Officer for the legal and compliance group (overseeing our group’s technology and knowledge management initiatives, project management and board reporting and the enterprise’s eDiscovery and litigation support work). In addition to Chief Knowledge Officer, I am also the deputy general counsel for the legal team supporting technology, operations, real estate, marketing, procurement and information risk (including cyber risk, privacy and data loss/retention). It’s been quite a ride!
2. Why did you go to law school?
Fundamentally, I wanted to learn a lot of stuff, and help people. I studied business for my undergrad, and while I seriously considered management consulting, I pursued law because I loved the idea of unlocking the language of law to help people navigate the complexity of issues in their lives. I think it’s a great privilege to have the training and discipline that the legal profession requires and to be able to apply that understanding to solve problems for our clients, and for us, our customers.
3. How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
Design, mostly. I am very goal oriented and struck out to complete school as efficiently as possible, and then to climb the law ladder as efficiently as possible. So when I got to partnership (brass ring! Goal reached!) at McMillan, I had to take a hard look at myself, my purpose, and my professional priorities, and think about what I wanted to do when there was no obvious next goal. My desires to learn and help people remained so I chose to leave one terrific organization to join another terrific organization to learn and apply different skills, in a different environment.
At BMO, I have been able to apply the commitment to client service, technical legal excellence and entrepreneurship that I learned in the law firm environment and develop new skills around business operations, people management and driving change to take on new roles and accountabilities, where I continue to learn and help people (our clients and my team). The chance part is that the step I took has led to opportunities I couldn’t have imagined!
4. What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
My family. I have an enriching professional life and it is made all the better because I am a partner to my supportive husband (20 years this month!), a mother to three beautiful children, and a daughter to my loving parents. I didn’t let fear of not being able to “do it all” drive trade-offs on the ‘what’ [but believe me, there are trade-offs on the ‘how’!] and I am proud that I am an example to other women, bumps, bruises and all.
5. What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
Setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves and then not allowing anyone to help us. Goals are not expectations. No one is perfect. No one can do it all on their own. We need support, encouragement and community. We need to learn how to face and overcome challenges (big and little), and thrive. And that takes practice.
Developing resilience is our greatest opportunity – it is what keeps us trying even when the systemic barriers remain, when we stumble over difficult clients, when we struggle to juggle all of the responsibilities we have at work and home. The drive to keep trying is powerful, and it means that one day we will see meaningful inclusion throughout society so we can reap the benefits of diverse perspectives and experiences.
6. What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
Be excited! What a great time to start practicing – everything is up for grabs! Clients, economic forces and technology are changing how law is delivered and by whom, and is the chance for women to take their seat at the table. Women clients (in big organizations and in their own creations) are increasingly influential. Let’s build a truly inclusive world so women and men can contribute and build together.
Thank you Bindu for taking the time to participate in this series!
ICYMI: Previous posts profiled Elliot Spears, Jessica Prince, Anu K. Sandhu, Claire Hatcher, Esi Codjoe, Kate Dewhirst, Jennifer Taylor, Rebecca Durcan, Atrisha Lewis, Vandana Sood, Kathryn Manning, Kim Hawkins, Kyla Lee, and Eva Chan. Sign up to have these profiles sent directly to your email address and stay tuned for the next post soon!
The "Women Leading in Law" series focuses on good news stories and highlights amazing women succeeding in the legal profession. Each post includes the profiled lawyer's answers to six questions. Prepare to be inspired!
The series will continue until December 2018. If you have suggestions of women to be profiled please reach out.
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of FLEX LEGAL, a network of freelance lawyers.