Insights from the 2015 General Counsel Forum
Inventus has long supported some of the most forward-thinking and reputable thought leadership conferences, forums and programs in the legal space. The recent General Counsel Forum presented by The Consero Group LLC in San Francisco was no exception. During the two and a half day event, General Counsel from over 75 corporations of varying industrial sectors, sizes, and legal profiles came together for insightful panel presentations led by their peers. It was truly a unique event, in that it brought together like-minded individuals and was driven by a sense of collaboration, rather than the typical, sit down and let the experts preach experience. It was precisely this collaborative environment that led to some of the best insights and feedback that I have been able to gain in my more than ten years in this industry, and it is this insight that I would like to expound briefly upon.
The role of the General Counsel, as described in KPMG’s Over the horizon: How corporate counsel are crossing frontiers to address new challenges, "has broadened far beyond narrowly defined legal matters to encompass such things as risk, compliance, finance, regulation, HR, and business issues.” This broadened role was affirmed by the more than twenty-five General Counsel, who we had an opportunity to speak with. In each of our conversations, specific legal matters were low on the list of items they wanted to discuss and were trumped by their need to learn how other organizations are proactively mitigating their risk profiles and demonstrating their department’s value as a business unit and not a cost center.
As it relates to both of these core principles – risk mitigation and business value -- Ben Heineman, Jr. opines as follows in his The Rise of the General Counsel, published by Harvard Business Review: “The general counsel is now a core member of the top management team and offers advice not just on law and related matters but helps shape discussion and debate about business issues. Because ‘business in society’ issues pose so much risk (and in some cases opportunity); the general counsel is viewed in many companies AS having the same stature as the Chief Financial Officer.” Once again, our conversations with the General Counsel confirmed that they are now directly linked to the C-Suite and the CFO, in particular, more than ever. In fact, one GC stated that because his company has an “incredibly light litigation profile” he spends more time serving the organization as a financial advisor role, counseling on business-oriented objectives.
From a business value perspective, the individuals we met with were most interested in learning how some of their peers had successfully shifted the mindset held by their respective executive suites that the legal department was a necessary but costly part of operating a business. What became abundantly evident was that litigation was the root cause for this common executive sentiment; since if not properly managed it can indeed prove tremendously costly and may even threaten the entire livelihood of an organization. However, it was agreed that if there was a way to significantly reduce the costs while also eliminating many of the redundancies that plague the litigation process, a legal department could start to focus on driving value. One of the GC’s we spoke to planned to do just that through partnering with Inventus and leveraging the suite of services and solutions that Inventus developed to keep discovery costs maintained. Upon learning about Inventus’ Luminosity offering, this individual was eager to implement these cost-saving methodologies such that his team could start to “aggressively” defend their numerous patents from a plaintiff’s perspective and put an end to the “industry-wide” pilfering that they had previously viewed as being too costly to deal with.
Risk aversion or proactive mitigation, however, was a far more hypothetical talking point amongst the attendees of the conference, but a prevalent theme nonetheless. The General Counsel that we met with all agreed that they were concerned with a variety of risk-related items within their respective organizations ranging from retention policies (or lack thereof in some cases), compliance with various regulatory restrictions, data security both inside and outside of their organization, amongst other issues. It was evident that there is no one-size-fits-all option for risk aversion, but there are ways to ensure that the opportunity for risk-related issues to surface is substantially mitigated.
With this in mind, the individuals we spoke to agreed that consolidating their outside providers who maintain and/or have access to their corporate information was key in ensuring that those same providers aren’t making additional copies of this corporate information within their own systems. Of course, the outside providers must also adhere to and have documentation and experience in managing data within an environment that is stable and secure, complying with many of the most stringent data security protocols in the world, such as: SOC II Type 2, Tier III+++, SSAE 16, etc. Once again, each General Counsel we spoke with was pleased to learn that Inventus not only maintains all of these compliances and certifications but is also the only organization that maintains data in a single storage environment, without the need to ever move or make additional copies of data.
Prior to my attending the General Counsel Forum, my impression was that the GC were really most concerned with cost and keeping their department’s spend at a minimum. This indeed remains a high concern, but pales when compared to that of adding value as a business unit and mitigating their organization’s risk profile. What also became extremely evident is that Inventus is well-suited to afford General Counsel the opportunity to do just that by way of our differentiated technology-enabled workflows, solutions, and applications. With a continual emphasis on client-driven custom development, I am excited to start working with these General Counsel to implement these proven methodologies in order to address their current concerns while keeping an eye toward the future and adding our next bit of value-driving, risk-mitigating applications to our suite of services