Legal department resources are stretched – that was one of the recurring themes we heard at the ACC 2014 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. While that is not a surprise there was also a number of other interesting trends that emerged.
Here are six trends we found at this year’s conference:
1. Compliance. Legal industry surveys have demonstrated for some time that compliance is high on the corporate counsel agenda – and it continued to be a hot topic of discussion at the ACC conference. There were dynamic discussions as to whether it’s better for legal departments to “own” compliance management or shift it out of legal operations and into a department unto itself.
2. Data Security. Are law firms the soft underbelly of corporate America? Is it safe to hit send on that email? Is the cloud more secure than that server in a closet? There were a number of sessions on data security at the conference – and every single one was packed. Inside counsel definitely is concerned about security.
3. Internationalization. U.S. businesses will have to look across borders if they want to grow. This brings the corporate legal focus back to data security, but with an international flavor. Although audience members seemed to prefer Safe Harbor, most presenters seemed to consider Binding Corporate Rules (BCR) as the “Gold Standard.” In time, speakers seemed to think BCR will win out over Safe Harbor as the international standard that governs how businesses may collect, transfer or distribute personal data across worldwide borders.
“It’s not just about doing more with less; it’s about doing less more effectively.”
4. Process. “It’s not just about doing more with less; it’s about doing less more effectively.” Speaker after speaker, session after session, emphasized the need to create and improve processes within the corporate legal department. The term “six sigma” made cameos in a measurable number of presentations. This focus on process was often aimed at one or more of the following priorities:
- Continuous improvement
- Risk management
- Resource allocations
- Strategic alignment
5. Business Alignment. The sentiment among presenters and attendees alike could not have been clearer: corporate legal must become true partners with the business. It’s no longer just about protecting a company from risk but working across departments – domestically and globally – to collaborate and create enterprise alignment. As a result, corporate attorneys are being asked to expand their skills from practicing law into analytics, project management and more direct support of business initiatives.
6. Proving Value. For many attendees corporate legal is locked in a continuous battle to fight the perception that the department is a cost center. There are significant opportunities for the legal department to create transparency the business desires. Analytics increasingly looks like a prime example by providing data to predict budgets, timing and ultimately legal outcomes. In other words using data to drive decisions will inherently prove value.
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Did you attend – if so how do these trends marry with your own experience at the ACC Annual Meeting? If not, do these reflect or match what you are seeing in your day-to-day operations?
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