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Legal 06.21.19 BLOG 

Key Takeaways from the 2019 General Counsel Summit

By TLS Australia

To learn more about TLS, visit: www.transperfectlegal.com

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Key Takeaways from the 2019 General Counsel Summit

One of our experts was lucky enough to attend the annual General Counsel (GC) Summit in Sydney, Australia, in early May. It was a genuinely enthralling event, with senior speakers from a variety of industries walking through their challenges, failures, solutions and lessons learned. We have summarised our five key takeaways below, all of which could hold value to anyone in the legal world:

Ethics and Diversity

The notion that GCs no longer have to think about “what is legal,” but rather “what is right” was echoed throughout the conference. The global community now expects companies to work ethically at all levels, which impacts the modern role of the GC as they guide multiple departments within their organisation toward this goal.

The conference also benefited from a number of excellent female speakers. A memorable keynote from Christine Harman of Cricket Australia unpacked a case study about the struggle for increased diversity within a traditionally male-dominated sport. She provided a couple of recently established, real-world examples that are worth shining a light on, including the base pay rates of players being equalised and the same prize pool being made available to both men and women.

Changing Role of the GC

Knowledge of the law is no longer enough—a broad understanding of all business-related matters is needed. GCs must be “common sense managers” for the board and their colleagues across all departments. As their role evolves, GCs should focus on three areas to ensure success:

  1. Establish a process for involving the legal team as early as possible in business decisions. This ensures legal will have insight into any potential risks and issues before they hit the department’s desks.
  2. Communicate that the legal team is “here to help” and is not a barrier to change—or worse—profit.
  3. Provide a mechanism for easy access. For this point, there were many good suggestions at GC Summit:
    1. Sit closer to the parts of the business with the most needs or risks.
    2. Create a “single front door” for all legal inquiries to channel through.
    3. Hold a one-hour reciprocal meeting every Friday to address any issues and develop the GC’s role as a “people manager.”

Cybersecurity

Statistics show that more than 950 data breaches were reported to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) in the first year of the Notifiable Data Breaches (NBD) scheme. Cybersecurity was a central topic at GC Summit, and we heard some terrifying, real life examples (e.g., TransGrid battles 50–60 thousand attacks every day). The advice was simple:

  1. Be prepared:
    1. Engage internally – IT teams need to have a crisis management plan in place and an expert on the team to ensure that plan is executed correctly.
    2. Engage externally – The company should have a combination of a strong breach response partner, a law firm who has cyber experience and cyber insurance coverage in case of any incurred losses.
  2. Train the entire organisation: Training is hugely important, not only within the IT team but also across the entire organisation. Cyber is now a business problem, not just an IT problem, and the weakest link is usually an untrained employee.
  3. Test thoroughly: These steps must be tested organisation-wide to ensure they work in practice. It’s too late to do this once an incident occurs or is attempted.

Global Regulatory Updates

With significant changes happening to the regulatory landscape domestically and globally, various panellists offered advice on how to keep up:

  1. Strong third-party relationships: Collaborate closely with a law firm or third-party provider who works regularly in this space and can provide valuable advice, scan the horizon for potential new issues based on upcoming changes and use their solutions to help you avoid those issues.
  2. Competitor collaboration: Collaborating with industry competitors when approaching a regulator can be very valuable, as your message is aligned and pulls more weight when resources are combined.
  3. Short-term resources: Internationally experienced contract lawyers or secondees can provide a vital, dedicated resource, helping to provide advice and training specifically focused on regulatory changes.

Automation

According to Veritas, Australian legal teams will see significant cuts in their budgets this year. Therefore, innovation, technology and how to “do more with less” were all themes of GC Summit. Various panellists offered their advice, which included:

  1. Leverage outside counsel or third-party vendors to help test new technology and artificial intelligence before implementing it internally, helping to reduce the risks associated.
  2. Increase your informational IQ so you can leverage data internally and prove to the board that technology is a worthy investment (e.g., matters handled, problems solved and time spent).
  3. Measure the problem you’re solving, figure out the time that it will actually save and create an ROI report based on hiring a five-year Post-Qualified Experience (PQE) lawyer instead.

Conclusion

In the “age of innovation,” we were actually surprised that technology and automation were not referenced more during the conference. Panellists provided stories about how they are reducing costs, but the majority of the conversations were about the more “human” elements of the GC’s role, particularly how they interact with, support and help their colleagues grow and succeed. Legal teams may not generate profit directly, but they are definitely a catalyst for growth. Supporting their colleagues and the business is their priority, and all those who interact with them should view their role as such.

 


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