Veta T. Richardson, president and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, looks at the impact of technology, diversity and career development within the legal profession.
CCBJ: You’ve worked with thousands of in-house counsel. Looking ahead, what do you think will be the most positive trends for the in-house bar?
Veta T. Richardson: I believe that 2017–18 marks the start of the age of the chief legal officer, where the CLO’s role as a legal and business advisor will be increasingly at the forefront. I also believe the CLO’s role as an ally to the C-suite and board as a key influencer regarding corporate culture and setting the right tone from the top will continue to expand in professional stature and impact.
Our research shows that contributing to the development of business strategies and decision making will be the top way that CLOs add value to their companies over the next five to 10 years, followed by providing legal advice, managing legal matters and proactively addressing legal and regulatory trends that present risks to the company.
To free up more of their time to focus on corporate strategy, risk mitigation, regulatory challenges and geopolitical change, general counsel will increasingly delegate responsibility for managing legal operations. To that end, the growing presence of legal operations functions and the use of technology in the law department are fundamentally changing the way the legal industry works, from beginning to end. The ACC 2018 CLO Survey found that 47 percent of surveyed CLOs have at least one legal operations professional on staff, and that companies in the top quartile in revenue report an average of six legal operations professionals.
One in five CLOs and GCs worldwide also view the emergence of new technology as extremely important in the year ahead. From blockchain, artificial intelligence and big data to technology software and automation processes, we are on the cusp of introducing significant changes across industries. The GC will play a central role in this transformation, which is why I believe we are seeing the dawn of the age of the chief legal officer, just as in 2007–08 we saw the chief financial officer role taking a more prominent position.
You’ve also worked with many elite firms and legal service providers. What kinds of changes do you expect to see in their approach to the in-house bar?
Just as legal departments are overhauling how they purchase legal services, outside counsel and legal service providers will rethink how to demonstrate value and build more productive relationships with their clients. A solid inside-outside counsel relationship requires good communication about the goals of the engagement, as well as an understanding of how both sides derive value from the work. Thus, it often involves the realignment of resources and work processes, with an eye toward improving outcomes, cutting costs and increasing efficiency and responsiveness.
What career development resources does ACC offer?
We have a robust virtual resource library where members can search for thousands of resources on a number of topics, including compliance and ethics, contracts, law department management and litigation. From “Top 10 Tips” on key issues and sample policies to leading practice profiles and “QuickCounsels,” these resources allow members to pull information from an immense knowledge pool.
Our internal research team can also generate custom benchmarking reports for corporate law departments, as well as segmented survey data to help in-house counsel be successful at their jobs.
But the most important new offering will be a global compensation survey that enables ACC to provide compensation benchmarks for in-house lawyers across the globe, segmented by company tenure, legal practice area, industry, company and department size and more.
Additionally, as part of our focus on raising standards globally for the profession, ACC and the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department have developed an innovative, first-of-its-kind credentialing program to create consistent best practices and standards for all in-house lawyers working in the countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council.
What initiatives or programming related to diversity and inclusion does ACC offer?
Through the ACC Foundation, we support various national diverse bar associations to further promote diversity and inclusion initiatives in the corporate legal profession. The ACC Foundation also engages diverse counsel from corporate legal departments, law firms and legal service providers through participation and sponsorship at educational conferences and annual meetings of diverse legal bar associations. So we serve as a nucleus for introducing diverse counsel to one another.
The ACC Foundation also spearheads the Women in the House (WITH) initiative to champion full and equal recognition of women in the legal profession across the globe. In 2016, the ACC Foundation started working with Diversity Lab and its OnRamp Fellowship project to create “OnRamp In-House,” a returnship program for women lawyers who want to re-enter the workforce in a corporate law department after taking time off to take care of family or pursue other responsibilities. WITH members serve as mentors to OnRamp In-House fellows, and ACC chapters welcome OnRamp In-House fellows to participate in their educational events to further strengthen their legal and business skills.
The ACC Foundation will host its annual Global Women in Law & Leadership Event at the United Nations on June 19, featuring distinguished honorees who have been instrumental in advancing opportunities for women around the world.
What advice would you give to law department leaders who are looking to broaden their career or make changes?
I would advise them that the best lessons and advice often come from their peers. No one knows it all, so it’s important to expand your personal network to include a diverse set of advisors. I would also advise them that ACC provides an unmatched global network that they will likely enjoy connecting with and find to be an instrumental part of their professional development.
Veta T. Richardson is president and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the largest global legal association serving in-house counsel. Previously, Richardson held executive-level positions in the nonprofit association realm and served as in-house counsel at Sunoco, Inc., where she was responsible for corporate governance, securities disclosure, financings and M&A transactions.
Published April 2, 2018.