Senior lawyers from across Australia’s in-house legal community gathered at the General Counsel Summit in Sydney earlier this month. TransPerfect Legal Solutions (TLS) sponsored the in-person event, itself exciting, and it was a pleasure to learn from a variety of speakers.
Risk management, structuring internal legal teams and cyber resilience were, as ever, abiding themes. Below we summarise other, less well-trodden but equally important topics and some takeaways from the two-day event.
Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG)
Refreshingly central to the conference agenda was a big focus on the environment. With the ACCC’s greenwashing crackdown and ASIC’s climate-related reporting, there is now a real impetuous for corporations to act, not least because ESG class actions and litigation are on the rise in Australia – which has seen more climate change litigation per capita than any other country.
Summit keynote speaker Lawrence Kim of ENGIE was a highlight. His talk on ESG and ENGIE’s outlook on the planet, people and profit explored how the company transitioned away from coal (one of the country’s largest generators of greenhouse gasses) by closing their Hazelwood plant early.
General counsel are uniquely positioned to drive this change, Lawrence explained. He provided ESG strategy advice based on the Hazelwood Rehabilitation Project, including:
- Being prepared – to make decisions based on incomplete information
- Doing the ‘right thing’ – can have significant and immediate adverse impacts
- Your customers are demanding action – so act now
It was interesting to learn how ENGIE reduced their EBIT in closing the plant at the time, while simultaneously managing a 20% profit hike compared to previous years. In his words, ‘We gave up short-term cash for long-term credibility, which is most important when considering ESG strategy.’
Regulatory Reform and Engagement
The ever-changing regulatory landscape came up across all sessions. On day one, the ‘When Regulators Come Calling’ panel ran through advice on staying out of the firing line and included the following points:
- Proactive relationships – each of the panellists spoke of the deep respect their teams have fostered with regulators, who have shown the same approach in response.
- Culture is important – the entire company needs to help with this. ‘Show me don’t tell me’ is the mentality, so actively training teams on what the regulators do is key. At the end of the day, they know (or will invariably figure out) what is going on. There is no hiding anything with the amount of data and information organisations are duty-bound to share in these circumstances.
- Cyber and operational resilience – with more people working from home, and hackers only needing two hours to ‘weaponise’ a Microsoft patch after its release, cyber resilience is firmly on the regulators' agenda. Ensuring adequate IT resilience, employee training, and honesty if an incident occurs were the central pieces of advice shared.
The Summit also focused on how senior leaders can retain their best performers, a relevant topic given the great resignation and increasing numbers of top legal talent tempted by higher and higher salaries. Some tips included:
- Developing a ‘purpose statement’ – define the team’s vision and purpose via a centralised statement is key to ensuring team members understand their work is more than just the day-to-day.
- Clear pathway to promotion – ensure all team members have a clear understanding of their ability to move up or across, and what is required for them to do so.
- Flexible working – part time and flexible options should be in the job description and encouraged. Senior leaders should also drive this.
- Diversity and ESG – a company’s stance on ESG and the team’s diversity are key drivers for those moving jobs. Diversity, in all its forms, should be clear for all to see.
Legal operations was another focus area. Legal ops has become a key role within in-house legal teams and law firms alike. With in-house teams continuously looking to achieve ‘more with less,’ panellists provided advice for getting the most out of their role, delivering successful transformation projects and driving ongoing value from a legal-ops team. Four key points stood out, including:
- Use data to make decisions – this was the central theme of the panel hosted by TLS. Asking for data from partners to help drive decision-making and the continuously tracking KPIs ensures success is judged by objective metrics.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint – transformation projects don’t happen overnight; it’s a journey. Every team and company are different, so realistic expectations and timelines should be set.
- Establish easy wins – look for what can be achieved immediately, e.g., fixed fee pricing or a workflow modification (which can get runs on the board quickly) establishes legitimacy and increases collaboration.
- Look for ‘Change Champions’ – find people in the organisation who will help drive change and work alongside legal ops teams to ensure a project or tech deployment is successful.
Every in-house legal team is different, but it seems all of them are still under pressure to deliver high quality work with less budget and head count. In contrast to the 2019 summit, it was refreshing to see technology and legal ops more readily addressed as solutions to these problems. Additionally, the emphasis on ESG, diversity and well-being as key components of a GC’s role showed how much the pandemic has influenced their approach to delivery and team management.
The TLS team was proud to sponsor the summit and learn more about the issues in-house teams are facing. As a company, we are constantly looking to learn and understand, so we can continue to solve business problems for our clients. Please reach out if you’re interested in learning more about our solutions spanning information governance, disputes, intellectual property, M&A and more.