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Writer Computer Feature Looking beyond legalese, The Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) 2020 Chief Legal Officers Survey canvassed over 1000 top legal professionals from over 20 industries. The survey introduced a variety of new questions, and the results show the hierarchical evolution of the Chief Legal Officer position as over 80% of respondents now report to their organization’s CEO.

The survey uncovered results that will likely trend beyond 2020, such as the increase in importance of embracing technology by the legal department; an urgent need to improve efficiencies and workflows using that technology; increasing networking connections; and staying ahead of data privacy regulation. Finding viable answers to this array of issues involves knowing who to contact. Leadership Connect and its in-house counsel community can provide that solution.

One third of the CLO’s that participated in the ACC survey expected the size of their departments to grow in the next year. Having a strong pipeline in succession planning to ensure your team stays at the top of its game is a great way to stay in front of this trend. Steadily filling roles on your team with top performers will ensure there are no gaps in your teams’ consistency. And a team that’s consistent and strategically built is a great way to gain the attention of the C-suite. Furthermore, according to the survey, leadership and business management are rated as the top two non-legal skills used by today’s CLO’s. This means that legal departments aren’t just handling the legal aspect of their organization, they are taking on more business challenges. They are leading by example and answering legal questions but also answering questions specifically related to their organization’s business.

On the career side, CLO’s highlighted the age old buzzword “networking.” With the role of CLO evolving to include more business decisions, it is critical to know the business landscape and to have contacts in other organizations if you want the job of a CLO. Staying in your legal comfort zone will work but if you want to move yourself close to the top of your organization, it’s imperative to know your business environment and who can get you the information you need.

Technology: The old legal regime struggles to find its use. If you want to remain at the top of your legal game, you have to incorporate it. According to the ACC survey, more than half of its respondents are using new technologies to improve efficiencies in their departments. Embracing new technological ideas is a way to further increase your visibility in the department as well. Specifically, finding a way to redesign workflow using technology. For example, succession planning/hiring are slow and outdated processes for many organizations. Finding a new technology (like Leadership Connect) to make that process efficient is a step toward getting a seat at the executive roundtable. Increasing document generation – from settlement statements and demands to pre-trial disclosure – will also save time, not to mention free up space in your office. Keep track of your employees’ performance. Figuring out who’s at capacity, who can take on more and who’s meeting or missing deadlines, increases efficiency. Having clean and accurate data is another way to decrease overhead time and have your team working on what’s important. Spending time doing data entry, surfing the web to find contact information is not quick and one of the easiest ways to improve workflow efficiency. Also, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The survey found that half the CLO’s are encouraging the use of legal technology solutions to improve efficiency. With legal and business risk being at the forefront of many legal departments’ to-do lists, you can analyze risk and become more efficient by connecting professionally with counsel from other companies. Those conversations cut both ways.

One staple of survival is using outside counsel to help manage your workload. Connecting with law firms will prove to be even more important than it has in the past. A third of all respondents in the ACC survey expected the amount of work sent to law firms will increase in the next year. Strong relationships with outside firms will allow you to trust that your work is being done at the standard it requires. The opportunity for secondment and creating a win-win situation for corporations and law firms can be created by constructing rock solid relationships. Building and maintaining these relationships will only become a larger part of the legal department’s focus, so it makes sense to start working on them now.

In September, we wrote about how new privacy laws were shaping legal teams. If you don’t have your team structured to anticipate these changes, you’re likely already behind. According to the ACC survey, two thirds of CLO’s responded that they expect data privacy to become their biggest legal challenge in 2020. Data privacy and cybersecurity are the two most important legal fields to legal departments. Building relationships, both personally and professionally, to prepare for data regulation is a gigantic step for being prepared for the CLO role. Your legal industry colleagues may be reading about or using techniques/products that could be useful to you.

The good news? We have helped build relationships for over 50 years, and we’re doing it even better on the fly, with mobile. Embrace technology, find top candidates, locate top legal minds, connect with law firms, improve and redesign your workflows and get your questions answered efficiently by joining our in-house counsel peer community. The ideas to get ahead of the field are in this article, a solution resides with Leadership Connect.

See the ACC 2020 Chief Legal Officer Survey

Brian Beth

Operations Manager & Former Courts and Law Firms Team Leader