Why we need to be more than a lawyer: a review of the Australian ACC National Conference 2018

by | Nov 27, 2018

Why we need to be more than a lawyer: a review of the Australian ACC National Conference 2018

By Paul Garth and Alison Laird

ACC Conference

Evolution of the GC

With the challenges facing in-house counsel – delivering value, managing technology, wrangling legal providers and meeting budget – it’s no wonder the Association of Corporate Counsel chose “more than a lawyer” as the theme for its November 2018 conference in Brisbane.

Professor Richard Susskind delivered a stirring livestream opening session to set the stage for the thought provoking conference. After outlining his thoughts on current and future legal trends, he set out some key steps to best prepare for the evolution of legal work.

He predicted rapid and accelerating change across a number of industries and, for the legal sector in particular, more growth and change in the next two decades than the profession has seen in the last two hundred years.

Identifying the drivers for this change he pointed to:

  • a continuation of the ‘more for less’ mentality of the clients served;
  • increasing numbers of alternative legal providers (NewLaw), including those with new labour models, legal start-ups, expanded offerings from the Big 4 and organisations like Thomson Reuters; and
  • increasing tech offerings.


He saw in-house counsel dealing with these, particularly the more for less mentality by taking advantage of the other drivers. Large matters are becoming disaggregated, with a willingness to multisource solutions to the work, rather than rely on just one provider. With this diversified approach comes a diversified role of the lawyer, whether it be the solicitor who codes, the legal operations professional who manages the workflow, or the strategic business partner delivering corporate value.

He left the conference with an upbeat message and the feeling that we got from the conference overall was that the legal profession is embracing change; people are interested to know what is possible. As Prof Susskind pointed out, if you make the future, there is less reason to fear it. And we should be excited to be living through this evolution of the legal profession.

Role as a moral compass

Professor Gillian Triggs asked: ‘Should in-house counsel be the moral compass of corporations?‘ This is based on the growing expectation and demand from communities for their corporate citizens to follow more ethical paths.

She cited examples of failures to do so and examples of proactivity in this area leading to better outcomes.  The obvious benefits to in-house GCs include:

  • better economic outcomes;
  • superior risk management; and
  • it’s simply the right thing to do.


Nick Galloway, Regional Counsel PPG, then joined Prof Triggs to round out the session with a discussion on where human rights fall within the direction of a business. It was clear from the chat that both have seen shifts in broader society, and their own organisations, whereby corporations are taking up the slack on social responsibility where there is perhaps a lack of political will. Corporates now often lead regulators in this area and both believe that lawyers are best placed within their organisations to raise human rights issues, from both the moral and risk perspectives.

Time to breakout

Following on with the #morethanalawyer theme, the program opened up into breakout sessions with delegates free to choose sessions that suited their current issues or interests. Team PM split up for maximum learning and Paul learned how Agile working methodologies could be incorporated on both large and small projects to ensure completion and wrangling of multiple stakeholders.  Theo Kapodistrias, Legal Counsel from the University of Tasmania, used his own experience to highlight how IT project management methodologies have assisted him in dealing with complexities and change.

Alison attended a session on creating value and ROI from legal processes. Jodie Baker from Xakia delivered a session outlining the steps to develop a legal technology roadmap to help GCs dictate specifically how technology will support the business strategy of delivering value and driving business priorities. Her steps included defining the content, identifying needs, prioritising, researching, creating the roadmap, planning and delivering.

We then both attended a session on how to improve legal department performance and law firm relationships. The key message was to first, determine the sort of work going on in the legal department, and where it’s coming from, and secondly, to compare it against strategic business priorities.  At that point you decide what resources to throw at it.

The answer to how to improve performance and relationships is data. Data is the key to everything from delivering management insights, ROI, to the value legal delivers to the business. The data solutions range across the areas Prof Susskind covered in his drivers of the future, with Telstra adapting Agile methodologies into the training of their legal teams; PwC turning to their own NewLaw solution; LegalOps getting another mention and all agreeing that creativity was a key component for successful innovation.

The wrap up of the first day sessions was Alexander Downer taking a macro view of world events that impact business in Australia. He riffed off Trump and the US, Brexit, China’s influence and threw in several comments on events based on his own experience as Australia’s top diplomat to Britain and leader of the Liberal Party. Whatever your political leanings, it was a fascinating talk that helped remind the audience that we do not operate within a vacuum.

The awards dinner was not only a great showcase of talent, but also a wonderful representation of the profession. Attendees were interested in meeting new colleagues and there was an air of genuine interest in learning and sharing from others.

Day 2

The first session of day 2 focussed on diversity and inclusion. With one of the challenges of the future being a multifaceted approach to legal services, this topic is an important issue for the profession to get right, as the benefits towards flexible and successful outcomes have been well documented.

The panel spoke of ‘ground up’ diversity programs, but also of the need to ensure service providers applied the same. Much of the discussion focussed on gender and ethnic diversity and many opinions were expressed.  When a question was raised by one of the counsel from NDIS on what programs were in place for people living with a disability, the responses were brief and tended to not answer the question. An indication perhaps that whilst there have been wins, this is an area needing further discussion and consideration.

Unbalanced work/life balance

Lexvoco took to the stage next and attempted to answer the quandary of how to do more with less, but still keep your home life healthy. Their solution began with process mapping work within the team, allowing for better identification of bottle necks. They demonstrated how utilising a Six Sigma approach provides a data-driven process of improvement and how it can lead to saving up to 40% of the work normally carried out, leaving time for the good stuff.

The intrepid Pinsent Masons team then missed an hour of breakout sessions as they got caught talking to various people at the NSW Bar Association’s coffee bar. The main topic there was the College of Law’s new Masters of Legal Business course, a course to which our own Head of Innovation, Alison, had contributed. Even when shirking we could not get away from the topic of how to prepare for the future of law.

Ducks and Movies

Alison then attended a session on Change Management and Innovation within in-house teams, and Paul went to a workshop on employment law issues. Paul learned when a duck is not a duck and Alison learned how to ask someone to the movies – where the business case is the ‘trailer’ and the innovation idea is the ‘movie’.

Match fitness

Following lunch Grevis Beard from Worklogic gave an energetic and hilarious talk on fixing toxic teams. Grevis broke down the types of toxic behaviour to look out for and highlighted that the most common dysfunction in teams is the manager’s style.

The closing session was delivered by Andrew May; an engaging speaker who takes lessons from elite sports and corporate health, and applies them to performance management. He spoke to the delegates about performing at their peak. An interesting take away from that session was Andrew’s idea of match fitness. He looked at how professionals should view their roles as parts that are first, training and lead up, and secondly parts that are ‘matches’. It is in the matches, be it a negotiation, a presentation or otherwise, that people should look to hit their peak. Andrew then outlined practical tips from diet to life choices that can allow people to hit match fitness more consistently.

The wrap up

Overall the conference was engaging, entertaining and informative reaffirming the ongoing evolution of the legal profession, and the need for us all to be “more than a lawyer”.


Paul Garth is an Account Manager for Vario from Pinsent Masons.  Alison Laird is Head of Innovation and Project Delivery for Asia Pacific for Pinsent Masons.  Both Paul and Alison work out of our Melbourne office.

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