This post was written by Patrick Johnson, senior marketer supporting Serengeti at Thomson Reuters

The final session on Wednesday at the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Annual Meeting in New Orleans included the ACC Value Champions for the year. Those champions included representatives from three leading legal departments: Embraer S/A; Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama; and eBay. In this session, they showed their journey to becoming Value Champions, what they’ve learned, practical tips, and a dash of inspiration.

Here were my top five takeaways:

  1. What you didn’t learn about technology in law school can hurt you. One clear and common theme for all three winners was the use of technology to achieve greater efficiency and to do more with less. For example, Hyundai used a new matter management system for their internal clients to request legal services and streamline the process of assigning that legal work to inside or outside counsel. This doubled legal requests in a year and their document management system reduced missing contracts by nearly 90 percent in a year.
  2. Seek value in your legal services. eBay took an innovative approach using a new contract management system to rise to the challenge from their CFO to deal with their increased contract load without adding expense. They assigned contracts coming into their contract management system for contract review and negotiation to lower-cost jurisdictions based on the contract value and strategic importance. This reduced costs, increased turn-around of lower value contracts, and reduced the workload for the home office in San Jose by 20 percent without adding headcount.
  3. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. When pushing forward initiatives in their legal department, all three winners put measurable goals in place so they could show management and executives the progress they made over the life of the initiative. Again, technology is key to be able to track and measure this progress and needs to be in place before measurable objectives can be quantified.
  4. You’ve got to get executive buy-in. Heard repeatedly during the session was the importance of having “tone at the top,” or executive buy-in. How is this done? The answer is (as usual with lawyers), it depends. Embraer’s executives initiated a program for the entire company to become more efficient, and its legal department answered that challenge by reducing budget overruns by 35 percent and meeting 98 percent of their compliance deadlines. eBay was forced to deal with an ever-increasing amount of contracts and was told to get more innovative in using their resources. Other departments noted having to go to the CFO or CEO and make their case with numbers to justify initiatives to increase the efficiency of the legal department.
  5. Taking baby steps is progress, and you’re never done. All the winning legal departments continued to try and improve their processes, use of software, and efficiency. In other words, becoming better is a process that is never done. Their advice to attendees was simply to get started, take baby steps, and keep moving forward. This is not a process that is done overnight and is always changing, so for all they’ve accomplished in their departments, they still had things to work on and more to achieve. So get going!

Congratulations to the 2014 ACC Value Champions.

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