ACC’s global network: Addressing the concerns and interests of European in-house lawyers
By Christopher Murphy Ives, Julia Zange and Carsten Lüers
With more than 2,400 in-house lawyers spread across the Continent, ACC Europe, the European chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s membership of more than 43,000 in-house lawyers in 85 countries, represents a diverse array of in-house lawyers. Given that these 2,400 members hail from hundreds of companies and dozens of industries, the interests of the corporate counsel community are wide-ranging. Indeed, they span the spectrum of issues currently facing the business community. However, despite the differences in law departments and company size, industry, and country, the needs of in-house lawyers are ultimately more alike than they are different.
All in-house lawyers have a shared need to keep current on the latest legal updates in their practice areas, to demonstrate the value of their law departments to their businesses, and to cultivate leadership skills to best serve their companies.
ACC Europe serves these shared needs of European in-house lawyers by publishing resources, providing education, advocating on behalf of the profession, and facilitating peer connections through networking. Within this framework, European in-house lawyers benefit from local content and connections within the chapter as well as from the vast resources and networks of a global legal association. An in-house lawyer in the hospitality industry in Brussels, for example, may cultivate a network of in-house legal peers in his or her hometown, but also benefit from the industry knowledge of a hospitality-industry corporate-counsel peer in Singapore. ACC offers both these local networks and global connections.
With the ever-changing, increasingly complex business and regulatory environment, corporations depend on their in-house lawyers to not only be aware of the newest laws and enforcement trends, but also to anticipate what’s next. Published each January, the ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey provides insights from general counsel (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs), including what they anticipate will “keep them up at night” in the year to come. This year, regulatory or government changes was the most concerning issue keeping CLOs and GCs up at night.
Taking the pulse of 1,275 CLOs and GCs in 48 countries, the 2018 ACC CLO Survey also found that data breaches and the protection of corporate data are the fastest-growing areas of concern, as 36% of CLOs rated this area extremely important in the year ahead. This is a huge increase since 2014, when just 19% rated it as extremely important.
Similarly related to research, companies are increasingly curious about how their competitors or organizations with similar size or revenue parameters navigate the global business environment. To meet this need, ACC offers extensive benchmarking services. Last year, ACC research covered a host of topics of particular interest to corporate counsel. These include salary and benefits data for more than 5,000 in-house lawyers from 65 countries in the 2018 ACC Global Compensation Report; details on cybersecurity preparedness, insurance, and protocols in the 2018 ACC Foundation: The State of Cybersecurity Report; and intel on law-department structures, C-suite reporting structures, and chief concerns for GCs and CLOs in the 2018 ACC CLO Survey.
Education and networking
While lawyers can access ACC reports, articles and briefing documents from anywhere around the world, there is no substitute for in-person education. Meeting the needs of the European legal population spread across the Continent, ACC Europe offers programs and seminars in dozens of cities. Just in the next three months, ACC Europe will host programs in Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt am Main, Milan, Amsterdam, Lugano, London, Paris, Böblingen, Geneva, and Munich.
Our signature European program each year is the ACC Europe Annual Conference. We convened in Paris in 2018; and May 12 – 14, 2019, the event will take us to Edinburgh. In Paris, delegates explored how to develop leadership in uncertain times through three dynamic tracks: lead yourself, lead the law and lead the business. This combination of legal updates, business education, and sessions on “soft skills” like communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence touch on all three areas of responsibility for the modern in-house lawyer. From counselor in chief to law-department leader to business strategist, the role of in-house counsel today encompasses more than it has ever before, and lawyers need to hone their skills in all three areas.
While many in-house lawyers join ACC as members of corporate-law departments comprising dozens — if not hundreds — of lawyers, there are also ACC members from very small law departments, including solo practitioners. For these lawyers especially, networking with fellow corporate counsel is paramount. ACC of course offers in-person social events connected to and independent from our substantive legal programming . But we also offer a host of virtual networking opportunities as well. Lawyers looking to connect with others in similar practice areas benefit from joining one of the 19 ACC networks. Topics include information governance, intellectual property, and litigation. Programs include webinars, conference calls, and online forums.
In addition to serving members’ individual needs for education and professional development, ACC works on behalf of the entire community of in-house lawyers. We seek to elevate the professional role and status of in-house counsel and to speak out on behalf of the in-house community on issues that impact members’ work and lives.
Most recently, we submitted comments to the United Kingdom Financial Reporting Council (FRC) on revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code and Guidance on Board Effectiveness — urging the FRC to incorporate a recommendation on the role of the legal function in influencing corporate culture.
This effort is part of a broader program to demonstrate that legal and regulatory matters are increasingly central to the implementation of business strategies. Inclusion of the law department in the development of business decisions signals to the company’s stakeholders that ethics, compliance and other legal risk considerations are top priorities for the company. ACC urges that a GC should have a permanent seat at the executive and boardroom table as well as report directly to the chief executive officer (CEO). This is less common in Europe than in other parts of the world, but no less important.
Last year, we also advocated that the European Commission should promote incentives for corporate compliance programs and recognize the important role of in-house counsel and legal professional privilege in ensuring robust whistle-blower protections. ACC supported the protection of whistle-blowing and stated that strong corporate ethics and compliance programs educate and encourage employees to come forward with allegations of corporate misconduct.
In Germany, ACC celebrated the German decision in 2015 to correct a 2014 ruling by the Federal Social Court on in-house lawyer independence. The legislation passed both the Bundestag and Bundesrat within a record period of less than one year. Effective January 1, 2016, the new law has established that corporate counsel may become members of the German bar association and outlined requirements that would have to be met to consider an in-house lawyer “independent.” We hope to have additional victories along these lines as we promote the professional role and independence of the in-house lawyer.
Global connections yield knowledge sharing
In 2018, in-house lawyers are dealing with cross-border issues more than ever before; in Europe, more than eight in 10 in-house lawyers have cross-border job responsibilities (ACC In-House Trends Report). Between cross-border duties and the huge impact of geopolitical events on business operations worldwide, in-house lawyers need global resources and connections in addition to local networks. ACC Europe serves to keep in-house lawyers aware of the latest legal developments, facilitate global peer connections, and provide the advocacy and education that help European in-house lawyers to advance their careers.