The increasingly global scope of the in-house practice came clearly into focus at the recent Association of Corporate Counsel Annual Meeting. The 2,000 in-house counsel attending the conference included representatives from nearly 40 countries. The more than 130 exhibitors included vendors, law firms, and legal service providers from around the world. And, many of the over 100 program sessions were specifically styled as providing “the global perspective.”
Here are some observations about the conference:
1. The conference had a decidedly Canadian flavour. Most significantly, ACC selected David Allgood, executive vice president and general counsel for the Royal Bank of Canada, as the first Canadian chairman of its board of directors. David has long been recognized as a leader of the in-house practice both inside and outside Canada. A few years ago I had the privilege of presenting him with ACC’s 2009 Excellence in Corporate Practice Award, Canadian Lawyer has recognized him as one of its 25 most influential lawyers, and the RBC Law Department received the International Law Office 2010 Global Counsel Award for its pro bono efforts.
When I asked David about his agenda he noted he was “thrilled to be the first chair from Canada” and he planned to focus on the international aspect of the ACC mission. He indicated a desire to focus on services to CLOs of both large and small departments. He also emphasized that “improving diversity and inclusion in law departments and the profession” remains a “passion” of his.
Other Canadians were out in force at the meeting as well. One session that received a lot of attention dealt with the Canadian Anti Spam Law and how it will affect your business. The session offered practical tips on how companies both inside and outside Canada can prepare. Canadian in-house leaders also provided guidance in several other sessions on topics such as contracts, corporate investigations, and EU privacy challenges in e-discovery.
The ACC Ontario chapter helped launch the meeting with its Canadian Kick-Off, a pre-conference networking event, which drew a large and enthusiastic crowd. Which leads to my second observation.
2. Networking at the ACC annual meeting may be equally as valuable as the programs themselves. When you have 2,000 in-house counsel from literally everywhere and many of them are repeat attendees, you have an unparalleled opportunity to connect and re-connect with your peers. As I noted in a previous column you cannot do it alone. Building a network remains a crucial component of a successful career. Meetings like this provide an opportunity to make and strengthen professional and personal connections that will help you advance.
3. The vast majority of the speakers were in-house counsel and they focused primarily (not surprisingly) on providing useful and practical information rather than theory or pie-in-the sky assessments that had little connection to the real world. Tellingly, many of the sessions continually emphasized the need for counsel (inside and out) to be more literate in business matters and technology. Additionally, one track of sessions dealt exclusively with the ACC Value Challenge and the drive for better value for your legal spend while providing practical guidance from those who had developed successful programs in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Some takeaways from these sessions:
• Your initial efforts will be challenging and difficult (“the first year will be hell”).
• Continuous and frank communication is essential for success.
• Do not be afraid to try something new. Not everything will work the way you want.
• You must try, evaluate, improve; and then start the process over again.
• To achieve long-term success, the relationship must work for both sides (“trust is essential”).
• Results will be worth the effort.
4. In-house counsel around the world face many of the same issues, including how to provide the best value to clients, working with outside counsel, status in the profession, internal relationships, and managing client expectations. And they take different approaches to solving these problems. Yet, nearly everyone seems willing to share what they have learned as well as to learn from others. The wisdom of the panellists impressed me. But, the wisdom of the crowd and its willingness to share that wisdom impressed me even more.
So what does it all mean? In-house lawyers from around the world have more similarities than differences and we have much to learn from each other. ACC has the unique, proven ability to enable in-house counsel to connect globally, yet network locally through its chapters in Canada and beyond. And, David Allgood, a Canadian, will lead that effort.
Sounds good to me, eh!