Facing continual pressure to do more with less, in-house counsel gathered at the SuperConference breakout session titled “Legal Challenges at the GC and CEO Level: What’s Keeping You Up at Night” to discuss ways to efficiently and effectively manage their departments.
Gene Landoe, a member of DataCert Inc.’s board of directors, moderated the panel, which featured Bank of America Corp. Associate General Counsel Nadia Dombrowski; Janice Block, executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer of Kaplan Higher Education; and Edward Ryan, executive vice president and general counsel of Marriott International Inc.
To begin, panelists stressed the importance of defining the legal department’s responsibilities. They reminded attendees that they must be firm with their clients in terms of what work they are willing to take on.
“Advocating for a strong law department is a 24/7 job,” Ryan said, adding that lawyers often accumulate nonlegal work because they don’t know how to tell their clients they don’t have time for it. “A lot of pressure within the law department is a self-inflicted wound.”
Panelists also discussed their priorities in selecting outside counsel and how their relationships with law firms are evolving. Most panelists said their departments had recently pared down the number of core law firms with which they work. Block said Kaplan seeks outside lawyers who are good communicators, strategic and nimble in the way they think. “We look for outside counsel who have the same passion as we do about our business,” she added.
All speakers said their companies are actively prioritizing alternative fee arrangements with their outside counsel, and they haven’t had any trouble doing so. “Law firms today are really interested in understanding what clients need and finding ways to get to a win-win situation,” Block said.
One major challenge in-house counsel face is keeping abreast of technology. “[Technology] ripples into everything,” Dombrowski said. “Lawyers must be engaged participants.”
Ryan added that the “avalanche” of social media presents unique challenges to law department leaders because it is immediate in nature and difficult to monitor and control. “People are seeing the utility and cheap price of social media,” he said, noting that companies can quickly launch marketing campaigns on social media for virtually no cost. On the consumer side, negative social media posts can jeopardize a corporation’s image.