“I’m so glad to see everyone’s faces!” became the refrain to start every panel at Legalweek 2022 (along with, “Did you see those dad jokes?!”). The conference, which was one of the last in-person events of 2020 and virtual in 2021, made its big return to New York in March with a host of new topics that reflect the changed world of legal tech.
The sessions covered myriad topics, from knowledge management to crisis management advice from Judy Smith, the inspiration for Olivia Pope in “Scandal” (“‘No comment’ is the wrong way to go,” she quipped. “We all have a good command of language. You can say five sentences that really say nothing.”). Still, there were a few common threads that popped up in most conference conversations.
1. Talent retention is critical right now
Although “The Great Resignation” is the prevalent term for the current market favoring job seekers, Heather Nevitt, the editor-in-chief of Corporate Counsel and Global Leaders in Law, suggested we think of it as “The Great Reflection.” Employees aren’t re-evaluating if they want to be in the legal field, they’re looking at how, why, and who they’re practicing for. Nevitt said that law firms and corporations can stand out in the competitive field by having a mission-based culture that prioritizes initiatives like diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), mental health, and flexible work.
In a session on the future state of the industry, Tomek Jankowski, Director of Pacesetter Research, said that the legal field can look to innovators in the UK and Australia to see what the future holds in terms of business models. However, he also noted that the Big Four accounting firms will soon be a part of the legal talent ecosystem as well, trying to lure legal practitioners by providing opportunities to learn more about the business/operational side of the industry.
In DISCO’s panel on laying a foundation for legal teams of the future, Mark LoSacco, EVP and General Counsel at HSBC, stressed that the key to retaining talent is to know your people. “If you’re in a position of trying to retain people and you’re asking, ‘What should I do?’ shame on you,” he said. He suggested finding out what will personally motivate your employees — off-cycle raises, promotions, recognition, even attending a conference — and then doing it.
2. Change management is still a challenge
The need to transform how legal teams work has been a topic for this conference for years. Now the emphasis is on how to also thrive amidst change. Almost every session on technology included discussion of how to actually get people to use the solutions — a continuation of the conversations of ILTACON. Nevitt shared survey data that tech adoption was the third-biggest problem in-house counsel is facing. Though advice from panelists varied — from a slog of setting up individual meetings with attorneys to leaning on vendors who act as partners to relying on top-down mandates — it’s clear that simply purchasing software will not necessarily solve the business problem. Meredith Williams-Range, Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer at Shearman & Sterling, shared that she thinks of technology as the final 10% of any major change (read more about Shearman & Sterling’s six-step process for change management). That said, choosing technology that’s intuitive and user-friendly certainly makes a difference in how willing and able employees will be to adopt it.
3. In-house counsel are reaching a breaking point
Every panel with an in-house component mentioned that the familiar request for general counsel to “do more with less” is becoming impossible. Nevitt pointed out the expanding role of GCs — brand management, onboarding board members, head of DEI, etc. — creates opportunities for outside counsel to show they are true partners. Speaking of more burdens on in-house counsel…
4. Hybrid work is here to stay — and so are privacy laws
Like the rest of the world, legal teams are re-evaluating the traditional office environment, which has particularly significant implications for data privacy. Multiple panelists reported that the move away from an office environment is what got their leadership to take data privacy and security seriously. Figuring out where the data is located and whether or not that is in compliance with regional laws is becoming a headache for legal practitioners. In a panel on global discovery requests, Rishi Chhatwal, Assistant Vice President - Senior Legal Counsel at AT&T joked that their nightmare customer was a 16-year-old German student studying in California, as they would be subject to laws for minors, Germans, and Californians. That same panel called for a more robust data privacy shield that would allow data to freely pass between the United States and the EU.
Beyond where data is being stored, companies must also be careful of what data they are collecting, and whether it is on employees or consumers. In a panel on data ethics, Dora Wang, a data strategist, emphasized, “What the law does not prohibit is not the same as what the company has a right to do.” Kevin Fumai, Assistant General Counsel at Oracle, asserted that data ethics now is what data privacy was five years ago. The panel recommended categorizing data by risk level and at the end of the day, having a solid defense of your actions and decisions when collecting data.
The major topics of Legalweek 2022 provided an interesting look at how the legal world has changed over the last two years. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at specific challenges legal teams are facing and how they can prepare for the future.