The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) recently hosted their largest event of the year, the 2019 ACC Annual Meeting, from October 27th-30th in Phoenix, Arizona. Over 3,000 legal professionals flocked to the area to attend dozens of CLE sessions on matters currently impacting the industry, with a special focus on workplace diversity and equality, legal operations, and technology.
As a sponsor of the ACC Annual Meeting, ContractWorks had a team on site to discuss contract management challenges and opportunities with attendees, learn about the latest industry trends, and present a classroom session on the role of artificial intelligence in the contract management process. Here are the highlights and key takeaways from this year's ACC Annual Meeting.
Workplace Diversity and Equality
One of the sessions highlighting the #MeToo movement and its implications within legal organizations was “Gender Relations: Effective Strategies for Promoting Gender and Pay Equality in the #MeToo Era". The presenting panel highlighted how a renewed focus on pay equity has created a patchwork of laws requiring employers to think strategically about legal compliance and pay equality, while offering practical advice on how to identify and address implicit biases that can lead to potential gender discrimination and pay equity litigation. Practical advice from the panel included conducting a privileged pay equity audit and pay gap audit, effectively communicating policies to personnel, and being transparent about compensation and advancement opportunities based on shared objective criteria.
Another session titled “Boosting Diversity: Is Your Outside Counsel Mansfield Certified?” introduced attendees to the Mansfield Rule, a winning idea from the 2016 Women in Law Hackathon by Stanford Law School, with the goal of increasing opportunities and growing the leadership pipeline for diverse attorneys. The Mansfield Rule, named for Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to practice law in the United States, requires that law firms affirmatively consider women, attorneys of color, and LGBTQ+ attorneys for leadership and governance roles, promotions, and lateral positions. Organizations that participated in the second round of the Mansfield pilot program reported a 94% increase in diversity of the candidate pool for pitch teams, a 79% increase for the lateral partner candidate pool, and a 76% increase for that of equity partner. The panel encouraged broadening the pool of candidates not only to uphold the values of integrity and respect for individuals, but also because inclusive teams make firms more innovative and creative in the long run.
In the session “Best Practices in Legal Operations for Small and Midsize Company GCs,” Brian Campbell of DHI Group, Inc., William Deckelman of DXC Technology, and Eric Reicin of MorganFranklin, Inc., presented best practices and quick wins for several legal operations disciplines including compliance, contract negotiation and management, financial management, IP, technology, and strategic planning. The panel also explored how the use of evolving technology permits in-house counsel to adopt practices that were once only available to legal departments within large companies and potential ethical issues surrounding the use of technology. Their key technology areas to focus on for the 2020 fiscal year are:
Integrate AI to create efficiencies in how you work and execute better contracts
Optimize business process via high-utility tools that improve the department's use and internal customer experience
Proactively manage risk across the portfolio via new technology for Transactions and CCS to increase profitability, limit exposure, and simplify how you work
Embed analytics at all levels of the department to manage your business more effectively, highlight your successes, and propel your future evolution
In addition to several sessions on legal operations, the ACC hosted a legal operations boot camp. Participants created their own roadmaps towards advancing their department based on the ACC Maturity Model, and learned strategies on financial management, external resource management, and technology. Key takeaways provided to participants were: advancing the maturity of legal operations is a marathon, not a sprint, know your measures of success and be able to report on them, and understand how your team’s actions and investments tie to department and organization strategy.
Technology, and more specifically artificial intelligence, was a common thread throughout many sessions at ACC Annual with a few presentations going into greater depth on what defines AI and its capabilities and limitations when applied to the practice of law. One such session, “I'm Afraid I Can't Do That, Dave: What In-house Counsel Should Know About AI and Machine Learning” outlined the difference between AI and machine learning, AI’s applications for pattern recognition, prediction, and performing routine tasks, and the issues surrounding data acquisition and management. An effective summary provided by the panel states,
“AI is more than just robot lawyers, don't dismiss the concept outright, but also don’t start training for a new job just yet.”
Although the potential for AI is immense, current AI tools are not able to mimic advanced cognitive processes like logic and reasoning. A survey conducted by Wolters Kluwer and Priori asked corporate legal departments, “what technology tools have had the most significant impact on the efficiency of your department’s operations?” Interestingly, 74% said digital signature, followed by legal research, communication, and then contract management at 59%, while more complex AI applications like prediction and litigation technology were at the bottom of the list at 17%.
This illustrates that although AI is not currently a candidate to take over entire roles, it can and should be utilized to eliminate tedious and time-consuming tasks that take away from higher level work. In fact, Anthony Perry of ContractWorks presented at ACC Annual with that very idea in mind. "Artificial Intelligence: How ContractWorks is Transforming Contract Management for Corporate Counsel," outlined how ContractWorks utilizes proprietary artificial intelligence to automatically tag key contract information, allowing legal teams to quickly track down the information they need and save valuable time.