ACC Europe: Further Insights from the In-House legal community

After what seems like a lifetime of webinars, we’re pleased to be getting back to in-person events with an action-packed few weeks at The Alternative In House event, ACC Europe and The Future Lawyer Week. Here are our highlights from The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) event in Madrid from 22nd – 24th May 2022.

An impeccable event. General Counsel decision-makers from many of the world’s leading organisations, making new connections, learning from each other and relaxing in the exquisite surroundings of the Hotel Riu Plaza España Madrid.

Embracing New Beginnings

The opening plenary covered a wide range of topics from Covid, ESG, globalisation, the war for talent, and digital. All of which present both opportunities and challenges to Corporate Counsel and fundamentally tests them on their leadership style – what type of leader they want to be, their legacy to their business and their teams. Speakers from KLM (Covid), ex-VWV (Dieselgate), The Cancer Research UK (Career transition) and Pepsico (Ukraine) all spoke passionately about their own recent challenges and what inspired them. Some fabulous reading recommendations to inspire others, including The Fearless Organization and The Alchemist, were noted.

Changing Ways of Working

In the first of the breakout sessions, GC panellists from Talend and Teva described changes to working practices in law brought about because of lockdowns and enforced remote working. Polling of the room indicated a heavy trend towards 3 day per week in the office and reduced physical office space. Best quote from the panel: ‘Covid didn’t force more use of digital tools (apart from conference call technologies). We already had the tools. Covid forced us to understand them!’

Coming on the day when Apple’s Director of Machine Learning resigned due to company-enforced working patterns, I found myself stepping back from the hybrid-working discussion and reflecting on broader changes happening to working practices. The Master Craftsman model, that was dominant in Europe for some 500 years only to be replaced during the industrial revolution by Limited Companies who took it on themselves to organise labour, now seems to be making a comeback. With the rise of flexibility, remote or part-time working and technology and facilitated by temporary talent sourcing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, I wonder if we are on the threshold of a new era of ‘MastercraftsPeople’, where talent supply sets the rules of engagement – location, availability, price, quality rather than the employers. Thinking of it that way suddenly makes 3 versus 5 days per week in the office seem irrelevant.

Corporate Digital Responsibility

CDR is the next big thing, according to Charlotte Walker-Osborn of Eversheds and the GC panel from Capgemini and Nokia. With global spend on digital transformation set to reach several trillion $’s in 2022, CDR – or to give it its definition the ethical, legal and compliance considerations surrounding digital technologies – is a key corporate priority. Topics such as AI bias (a system judging your mortgage application based on your physical address), cyber security and data monetization all fall within this. Some solutions offered include smart regulations, more agile competition rules and better capital allocation. As an aside, I especially liked the Change Management framework, required for the successful introduction of Ai – Mindset, Skillset and Toolset!

Switching Lanes

One session I particularly enjoyed was about General Counsel moving beyond their legal roles and into general management. At its heart, this is a question of risk appetite on the part of the individual, but there were many practical suggestions from the panel – all former lawyers, now GM/CEO’s. Not hiding, volunteering for hard roles, stepping up your profile ‘so that you become the story’, cultivating networks, non-stop learning and NOT.ALWAYS.NEEDING.TO.BE.RIGHT. A great case study from my former company Accenture which is now led by ex. GC Julie Sweet.

Unlearning traditional legal speak

Quote of the conference for me, came from panellist Jaap Bosman of TGO Consulting. He polled the audience as to who ‘was responsible for’ regulatory compliance in their organisations. A majority of hands went up. “No, you are not!” was his dramatic response! “The organisation is responsible for regulatory compliance, not the GC”. The reason I liked this exchange was that it encapsulates the mindset of many GC I meet. They feel they are responsible for something when in fact they aren’t. And if they truly did ‘own the responsibility’, they would think differently (and much more expansively) about the resources, processes and systems they deployed to protect the organisation, which at the moment, very few do.

In summary….

ACC lay on an exceptional event. Plenty of time for networking. Doubtless many new connections made and old friendships renewed. Content-wise, I would have preferred less law firm sponsored (and hence led) breakouts. Too often interesting topics were dragged down to the legal technical arguments rather than the corporate context. But if the intended message to the audience was that General Counsel are entering a period of unlimited personal and professional opportunity, then this was certainly achieved. And a good time was had by all in the warm Spanish sun…