LAS VEGAS — The voice of the general counsel was prominent at this year’s CLOC Institute, the annual gathering of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, shining through in numerous panels and plenary discussions.
Throughout the event, the distinguished group of General Counsel speakers — including Mark Chandler of Cisco, Reggie Davis of DocuSign, Janet McCarthy of The Santa Fe Group, John Schultz of Hewlett-Packard, Matt Fawcett of NetApp, Jennifer Warner of Columbia Sportswear, Andrew Magowan of ASOS, and Jeff Carr of Univar — weighed in on topics from the value of legal ops to talent diversity.
During their sessions, these GCs gave us a close-up look at how modern general counsel see their role and that of the legal department they lead. A message echoed by all was the paramount importance of achieving operational excellence — not just as an efficiency play but as a value play — to achieve a central goal: to have the legal department seen as a company asset.
And that’s where the role of a legal operations team finds its sweet spot. As HP’s Schultz explained in the plenary session, The General Counsel’s Perspective: Legal Departments, Operations & Service Delivery Today and Tomorrow, the importance of legal ops is not only its role in improving the department’s overall performance, but also its role in measuring that success in a visible way. In Schultz’s experience, it’s the combination of these two outcomes that has been “crucial in expanding the influence of in-house legal throughout HP.” Fawcett and Chandler, also on the panel, echoed Schultz’s remarks and all expressed thanks to their legal operations chiefs — Connie Brenton (NetApp), Steve Harmon (Cisco), and Molly Perry (HP), respectively — for their exceptional leadership and contribution. It was clear that for these GCs, Brenton, Harmon, and Perry are part of their departments’ executive suite.
The importance of developing the increasingly sophisticated and varied talent within the legal department was another message that was echoed by the GCs in their various presentations. Indeed, for some, it was stated as an imperative not just about people, but, as Fawcett noted, it was about having the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
This led to discussions about when to develop talent in-house and when to partner with an outside legal service provider, be it a law firm or an alternative staffing solution. In one session, Building a Better Global Legal Support Model: A Tactical How-To, Univar’s Carr outlined an approach that is simple and profound: “We make sure we have the right people, in the right roles, engaged and enabled to do the right things,” he said — in other words, the right mix of talent and operational processes. For Carr, that means rethinking the entire inside/outside counsel paradigm by increasingly blending the two into a seamless tech-enabled workflow.
Another theme that permeated many of the GC sessions was the need to recruit, develop, and promote a diverse talent pool. That is, achieving talent diversity by actively looking at the full range of experiences, styles, and perspectives necessary to achieve business excellence. In the plenary session, Women in Legal Leadership Roles: The General Counsel’s Perspective, Columbia Sportswear’s Warner adds to this theme by making a powerful and impassioned case for evaluating an individual’s ability to contribute to the enterprise, free of categorical assumptions — many of which are often wrong — by asking, “[W]hat decision would I make if I [didn’t make] those assumptions?”
Every General Counsel at the CLOC Institute was a splendid example of not just the face of the modern GC, but also the face of true leadership. Their clarion call for the entire legal industry is that embracing change is a not a choice but a requirement.
This point was driven home in the excellent plenary session by Cisco’s Chandler, Transforming Legal for Speed and Growth: A General Counsel’s View, where he shared a quote by US Army General Eric Shinseki that said it all: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”