The Lawyer GC Strategy Summit: musings from the airport

Your correspondent files this copy from the glamorous surroundings of London Luton Airport’s departures terminal.  Cappucino in hand, laptop open, tapping the keyboard and looking forward to some sunshine on arrival in Portugal for The Lawyer’s GC Strategy Summit 2016.  Sometimes, working life is quite a hardship but we all have to take one for the team occasionally.

I’ll be blogging two or three times from the Summit (the only people who can get away with going to an event called a Summit are Heads of State, United Nations delegates and General Counsels – fact) and those kind folks at The Lawyer are also letting LOD loose on their Summit Twitter wall so much fun awaits.  I’ll be trying to share some of the key themes on the minds of GCs and others here, which hopefully go beyond the opportunity for a cocktail by the pool (although hopefully there will be plenty of time for that too).

Over the last couple of days I’ve been in touch with a few of the GCs attending the Summit and asked them what is on their minds, what they hope to get out of the next few days, which they kindly agreed I can share.

It will be no surprise to any conference veterans that the ‘R word’ continues to feature highly on the GC agenda.  That old chestnut about how to effectively manage risk.  More specifically, the GCs I talked to are thinking about how to minimise not only contractual but also reputational risk, finding out new perspectives on how to approach it and implementing good corporate governance practices to manage risk within a framework.

Important stuff.  I was particularly interested in the perspective on risk one GC had, which is to manage risk “better than our competitors to enhance sales”.  Talk about turning a potential negative into a positive.  The concept of ‘legal’ as the business prevention department has long been consigned to the dustbin.

Others are coming along with a bit of an Innovation hat on.  As one GC put down the challenge, “if there’s so much talk going on when it comes to disruptive innovation, then what is holding the GC back in actually changing the game in the middle of play?”  Tough words designed to shake things up a little bit.

That’s an interesting perspective, because often the in-house community look to their suppliers to provide the innovation toolkit from which they can browse, but this kind of talk puts the ball firmly into the GC’s court.  Many will welcome that, others may not.

Providers of legal services will not be exempt from challenges like this either once we get to Lisbon.  One GC wants to find out “which providers are genuinely doing something different and innovative versus which are spinning the same old yarn.”  Gulp.  Some people are going to get found out on this one.  Luckily, we at LOD will have our new online marketplace for lawyers to talk about…..or #swiperightforlaw as some wag on Twitter put it.

Those GCs who are doing a bit of horizon scanning see a few sticky regulatory issues coming down the pike (apologies for the horrible mixture of metaphors!).  Planning for potential Brexit, data security and of course the juggernaut now solemnly referred to as the GDPR (the grimreaper approacheth) are issues which no pro-active GC can be ignoring.

In fact we can expect to hear a lot about data generally as it’s also on the mind of GCs in other ways.  Two or three GCs raised the question about how to make clever use of data in order to improve the service they can provide to their clients.  Big Data is firmly on the in-house agenda, even if no-one appears to have cracked it yet.

If these are the big themes that will be dominating discussion inevitably there are many issues specific to individuals or their businesses where delegates hope to pick up top tips from their peers.  A few of these include effective talent management, innovative technology, building relationships with new stakeholders and reviewing the use of legal service providers.

But if one theme above all dominated the responses I received from the GCs we know at LOD, it was that desire for a bit of old fashioned face-to-face networking with peers.  A wish to “share experiences”, “swap tips”, “exchange views” and “make contacts”.  It’s easy to forget, that the GC hot seat can be a lonely place.  The CEO expects you to always make decisions as if you’re armed with perfect information, as does the most junior member of your team.  The GC role is not one where you can often openly express doubt or uncertainty to your colleagues.  Nor do colleagues outside of the legal team often have the required expertise or context to help GCs see how they might improve the operation of their function.

It is this network which the Summit will bring together, enabling GCs to generously share their experiences, leaving everyone with something extra to take back to base on Friday. Perhaps it is this more than anything else which will help GCs reach what one called “the long predicted break-through moment”.

Right, the cappuccino has gone cold, the gate number is flashing and it’s shortly time for wheels up.  See you on the other side where your correspondent will be blogging from the more salubrious location of the Penha Longa Hotel in Sintra.  Hopefully there’ll be a sun lounger with a table to rest the laptop on.

See you on the other side.



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