A former ACC Chair once defined a successful conference as one that provided a good idea that you could take home and use immediately to improve your department, business or yourself. The recent ACC Annual Meeting in Denver clearly met and far-surpassed that standard. Below, you will find some ideas and observations that I gleaned from the meeting. I credit the speaker or the session where I am able. If no credit is listed, it is because the observation is from an off-the-record meeting, a comment from an audience member, or an amalgamation of my own thoughts and comments from several individuals, and thus, not so readily identifiable.
I hope you find them useful or at least thought provoking.
On your career:
1. Comfort and growth are incompatible. – Michele Mayes
2. Get comfortable outside your comfort zone. – Susan R. Lichtenstein
3. You cannot be so focused on what you think you want, that you miss what you get. – Michele Mayes
4. If your values get crossed, you must be willing to walk [away from your job], even though you do not know your next step. Fortunately, there are few times when your advice is non-negotiable. – Michele Mayes
5. To be good, you must talk the language of the business; to do that, you must learn to listen. When you understand how the money is made, you are halfway there. – Michele Banks
6. Nobody cares about a legal problem except as a business problem. If you couple that with an understanding about how the money is made, you will be successful. – Susan R. Lichtenstein
On value and value-based fees:
7. For my company, the billable hour is a cost of production. We make money by reducing our costs. Why don’t law firms think that way? For most of them, the billable hour is a unit of production, and they want the number to go up! – GC of a manufacturing company.
8. We have made great progress in the movement toward value — today, nearly everyone acknowledges its importance and is talking about it. However, the enemy remains us. I estimate that 40 percent of the in-house community is actively seeking to achieve value-based arrangements with their law firms, but the remaining 60 percent are too busy, find it too hard or simply like their existing firms. – GC of a technology company.
9. Do not underestimate the importance of the lessons-learned process — a post-mortem analysis is a key part of knowledge management. – Comment from audience in session on Value Fees in Litigation
When crisis strikes
10. Identify those who can derail the situation and develop relationships with them. This could include regulators, clients and major bankers. Make sure your stakeholders are fully informed and part of the process. – Judge Sven Holmes
11. A crisis is a defining event that can take you to the next level. – Ed O’Keefe
12. Planning and preparation are crucial; even though no plan survives the first engagement, planning does. – Ed O’Keefe
13. Your first obligation: Breathe and stay calm. Your first question: Do we actually have a crisis?
14. You begin by collecting the facts. You must be able to gather, protect, analyze and report on the information you collect. Avoid “ready, shoot, aim” and jumping to conclusions without facts. – Brad Lermer
15. You should have a team in place prior to the crisis, and know who will collect the information, where it will be kept and how you will communicate information. Identify the other professionals that you will work with both internally and externally (finance, accounting, law firm, etc). – Ed O’Keefe
16. Know your legal team and identify whom you would go to on your own staff. It should be someone who has an enterprise focus, is fact-based and has the guts to say when you are wrong. Character matters. – Ed O’Keefe
17. Get your message straight. Determine who talks with the media on background and on the record. Be ready to deal with information and misinformation that comes out. Companies have changed how they deal with the press. They are much more willing to engage press even when there is no big story or crisis. This raises credibility and allows for a long-term relationship strategy.
18. Make certain everyone understands his or her role and responsibility. At the close of a meeting or phone call, specify decisions made, who does what and next steps.
19. My biggest mistake — not giving the full picture to the CEO about how bad things are when they are worked up and do not want to hear about it. You must have confidence in the maturity of your business leaders.
20. My biggest mistake — not listening to that little voice inside you when something looks funny. It is probably worth looking into. – Stasia Kelly
21. Decide in advance how to handle difficult sets of facts involving senior management, and have protocols in place that determine what and when to report to the board and audit committee. Have a relationship with the board and audit committee before problems arise. Never forget that you are the lawyer for the organization, not senior management. – Judge Sven Holmes