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RIM's chief legal officer joins parade of executive departures

Research In Motion Ltd. 's top lawyer has resigned – the latest in a string of high-profile changes atop Canada's technology giant.

Chief legal officer Karima Bawa is leaving RIM after 12 years with the Waterloo, Ont.-based company. Her departure comes just days after RIM's head of global sales, Patrick Spence, stepped down.

The latest executive departure comes as the company is believed to be readying for a wider round of downsizing. It also marks a shift in the way RIM chief executive officer Thorsten Heins, who took over the top job just five months ago, is reorganizing the BlackBerry maker.

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Shortly after taking over from co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, Mr. Heins indicated he did not see a need to dramatically change RIM's overall strategy.

But as the extent of the company's misfortunes became clear over the past few months, Mr. Heins has clearly changed course. At the same time, RIM has seen the departure of a number of its top executives who were hired by the former CEOs.

In a statement Monday, RIM said Ms. Bawa is retiring from the company.

"Ms. Bawa has been in discussions with the company about her retirement for some time, and plans to stay on and support the hiring and transition to a new chief legal officer once a replacement has been named," the company said.

Earlier this month, RIM shook up its senior ranks with two major hiring announcements – a new chief operating officer (Kristian Tear) and a new chief marketing officer (Frank Boulben). Both were outside hires, rather than promotions from within.

The company had faced criticism for not having a stable presence in the CMO's office at a time when it was struggling to promote its BlackBerry smartphone line against a slew of competition from Apple Inc. and others.

As its North American market share – and its share price – continues to slide, RIM has been forced to cut jobs in many parts of its operation.

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The first major round came last summer, when the RIM announced it would cut some 2,000 jobs, or about 10 per cent of its global work force at the time. This summer may mark another round, as the company tries to achieve its goal of about $1-billion by the end of its 2013 fiscal year.

But RIM's primary challenge remains the launch of BlackBerry 10, its new line of smartphones due out later this year.

Running on an operating system similar to that found on the company's PlayBook tablet, the next-generation phones may mark RIM's last chance to regain its position as a leader in the North American smartphone market.

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