The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Michael Dempster

Cast in the perfect role : working in-house for Uber

August 24 2016 24 August 2016

Jeremy Millard grew up in the theatre, soaking in the energy, creativity and performances of his parents and grandparents. It was magical, super cool, says the Toronto native. And while he didn’t follow the family career path, today he’s on a large stage himself—acting as Uber’s Legal Director for Canada.

Like the entertainment industry, Uber has its critics. But the company’s mobile app has plenty of fans, with people in more than 400 cities worldwide using the ride-sharing service.

“Internally, we know it’s a novel product,” says Millard. “You won't find many people who aren’t thrilled with the product and experience. That’s a great thing here for staff, or for any company you are working at.”

Millard joined Uber in July 2015 as its first lawyer in Canada. His role is to advise the San Francisco-based company on matters here and shape a domestic legal approach. The immediate overall goal, he says, is to encourage cities and provinces to enact smart regulations for ride-sharing. Regulations that ensure consumer protection and safety while letting an “innovative new service” grow.

The first year has been an exhilarating ride on an incredibly steep learning curve, he says. Moving in-house, understanding his role and setting a domestic legal direction for Uber—seemingly always in the headlines, from taxi driver protests to municipal bylaw debates and lawsuits—has provided a challenge he calls the best legal job in the country.

“It’s certainly different going from a law firm where you might have a matter you are working on in the press once in a decade to where we are in the press several times on a daily basis,” Millard explains. “I think you have to take it in stride. You just have to appreciate the environment you are operating in. In a high-paced environment … you can’t be checking headlines every five minutes. You have to block in time to do a unit of work and avoid distractions.”

During this year’s CCCA National Conference in Calgary, Millard, a keynote speaker, discussed how moving in-house with Uber was a great fit. He’d been a litigator for a number of years in Toronto, worked for vehicle manufacturers, done some regulatory work and remained a U.S.-licensed attorney [he worked in Boston for two years after graduating from law school in 2002].

“Working in a firm is great, and it’s great to serve clients, but I always had a sense that when a matter ended, I was on the pier waving to the ship going away. You’ve got companies doing and making something, and you help them solve problems, and then they go off and do whatever they’re doing. I wanted to be a part of that creative force.”

Uber, founded in 2009, presented a fascinating model for someone coming from private practice, he says. Advising on the law, he and his “brilliant team members” roll up their sleeves in all stages of development and activity. He also has the advantage of consulting with a core group of lawyers in the San Francisco headquarters who have specialization in various areas, like regulatory law.

“I’m also fortunate that, in our Toronto office, we are still small enough that I sit in an open concept office with a Foosball table. When I was in private practice, once a year I would walk the shop floor [of a client] and the lessons in that were always valuable. And now I’m on the shop floor every day.”

The office isn’t far from where he was born, just down the street from the Financial District, where he’s worked most of his legal career.

Growing up, he spent much of his youth backstage watching his parents, full-time professionals, and his grandparents perform. From an early age, he read lines helping them memorize their scripts. And though he didn’t feel talented enough for the theatre—“I’m best at playing myself, not others”—he developed presentation, timing, pronunciation and diction skills that serve him well.

He also became comfortable with technology through a circle of friends, many who went on to careers in programming. Though not scientifically gifted, he learned about computers through osmosis. Assembling computers as a hobby starting in middle school made working for a technology company like Uber feel more natural, he says.

It was politics that captured his imagination and led him to the law. “When I was 12, I read All the President’s Men, which usually makes people want to be journalists; it got me interested in government instead. I thought, ‘Surely, I can do this work honourably, where these guys failed.’”

To that end, Millard majored in political science at Yale University, 1995-1999; attended the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, 1999-2002; and earned an M.Phil, Politics (Comparative Government) at the University of Oxford, 2005-2007.

During law school, Millard, “a practical and pragmatic type,” quickly volunteered with the school’s poverty law clinic, Downtown Legal Services, where he spent more time helping clients than he did in classes.

“That’s how I really started to become a lawyer and not just a political wannabe—from the practical experience of interviewing and helping clients, and appearing in court, right from my first days at law school. You are doing good things from the get-go and being involved in a very direct way.”

Uber provides that same personal satisfaction. He sees its impact whenever he steps outside his office or explores Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods and architecture on weekend walks with his wife, Alexandra Kimball, a writer. Uber’s an amazing product in terms of the app helping people get around cities, he says, reducing congestion, reducing pollution and giving people opportunities to earn income.

In Canada, Uber’s in the early stages, an opening act if you will. As the curtain rises, Millard is optimistic it will be a long-running hit.

“Much as where the United States was at a couple of years ago, we are very much at the point where we are going city to city, province to province to get regulations to be enacted for this new business model,” he explains. “Once that is complete, we’ll be able to flourish as a company.”

*This article originally appeared in the 2016 Summer issue of CCCA

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