In the early months of 1848, when news broke of found gold at Sutter Mill in Northern California, a rush of fortune-seekers from across the United States and abroad converged onto a boomtown called San Francisco. Fast forward to this past week where more than 2,600 corporate counsel flocked to San Francisco in search of a wealth of a different kind. For the attendees at the 2016 Association of Corporate Counsel Annual Meeting, riches were discovered in the CLE sessions and peer networking opportunities over the three-day conference.

Weren’t able to attend? Here are a few golden nuggets discovered along the way:

  • Eureka! Strewn around the Moscone Center, the venue for this year’s conference, were columns celebrating the ACC’s history and growth. Originally, ACCA (Association of Corporate Counsel of America) was founded in March 1982 with 2,400 members in the United States. As the organization grew and stretched across the globe, it eventually dropped the geography-limiting second “A” (America) to recognize its international membership; currently, the ACC has more than 40,000 members employed by over 1,000 organizations in 85 countries.
  • Where Profit Centers, a Founding Father and Broadway Intersect. Law departments are often considered cost centers for the business, not revenue generators. However, a panel moderated by James Partridge, senior legal editor for Practical Law, examined programs and strategies that in-house counsel use to reduce legal spend and generate revenue, including affirmative recovery programs (like monitoring contractual performance and intellectual property infringement), licensing IP and third-party litigation financing. Also on the panel? Legal legend, Tom Sager, former senior vice president and general counsel for DuPont Company and pioneer of the DuPont Legal Model. For those fans of both history and Broadway, Sager shared this trivia nugget: DuPont’s first outside counsel was none other than Alexander Hamilton, 1802-04. Also shared by Sager: DuPont’s program recovered $2.67 billion over 10 years—now, that’s value!
  • A Bastion of Innovation and Change. In the legal industry’s evolving eco-system, it is well established that it is the corporate legal department leading change toward creating greater value and efficiency. An entire track of sessions was dedicated to this topic and featured corporate counsel hailing from departments awarded at this year’s ACC Value Champions. The ACC Value Champions demonstrated the industry’s most innovative models and best practices for legal departments to adopt—from technology adoption and deployment, outside counsel collaboration, and other streamlined processes.
  • The Millennials are Coming! Like many employers, legal departments are wrestling with generational change and the incoming millennial workforce. In the “Lawyer or Leader? The Human Resources Side of Managing a Legal Department” session, legal departments discussed succession planning, career development and general counsel leadership. Also discussed was the need for flexible and virtual work environments that will be an expectation of millennial corporate counsel. The best practice for these flexible work arrangements is to set expectations to prevent actual (or the appearance of) abuse. Recruiting and retaining millennials was also a central theme of the “Chief Legal Officers and Intersection of Pro Bono and Corporate Social Responsibility” panel moderated by Eve Runyon, executive director of Pro Bono Institute. Her advice is that organizations invest in more pro bono opportunities for millenials; in fact, this generation expects volunteer activities from their workplace. To learn more about millennials and their impact on legal departments, be sure to check the Thomson Reuters report, The Generational Shift in Legal Departments: Working with Millennials and Avoiding Baby Boomer Brain Drain.
  • Tidbits Overheard & Worth Repeating. This “branding” pro-tip regarding legal holds: “Don’t call it ‘The Purge’; call it ‘Email Excellence.’” This crisis management tip from “Crisis Abroad: Protecting your Global Workplace”: “Avoid uttering the words ‘Don’t panic’ because the only word people will hear is ’panic’—and then they do.” And overheard in a Technology track session dealing with information governance, data and algorithms, “Lawyering in the Information Age”: “You know what they say about data—if you torture data long enough, it always confesses.”
  • From Body Art to Unisex Bathrooms to Spaghetti. This employment law session offered guidance to corporate counsel regarding the changing workplace and employment laws. Colorful questions concerning employee tattoos, unisex bathrooms in the workplace and religious accommodation, specifically whether employers must accommodate followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Did you know that these followers are called Pastafarians? Now you do, too.

There was much more gold and riches to mine during the ACC 2016, too much to share here. Let me know your takeaways! And, see you in Washington, D.C. next year at ACC 2017.

This post was written by Bernadette Bulacan, director of Market Development with Thomson Reuters.

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