The Summits on Legal Innovation and Disruption (SOLID) are different than other legal events. They function like TED Conferences – but for the inside counsel and law firm crowd. We attended SOLID West in San Francisco last week, and here were a few of our favorite talks:
Clarity, Communication are Key for In-House Counsel
Wendy Callaghan, chief innovation legal officer and associate general counsel at AIG, advocated for in-house counsel doing a better job at supporting innovation within the business. While the role of the legal department is always to ensure compliance, there’s no reason that the legal team can’t help address novel issues in a nimble way – while alsoensuring compliance.
Keeping an open mind while also protecting the company is a delicate balance. And that balance is aided by clear, crisp communication with business stakeholders.
“Treat your colleagues like your clients,” Callaghan said. “Speak in ways that are easily understood, and ditch the jargon to cultivate better communication.”
When legal’s priorities are fully understood, and business stakeholders feel listened to and supported – the business will learn to rely on legal and proactively bring problems to them. This is the ultimate goal of a legal department – building strong relationships internally so that when potentially litigious or risky issues do arise, stakeholders bring them to the legal team’s attention immediately.
A Seat at the Table: New Roles for General Counsel & Law Firm Attorneys
More than one discussion centered around new roles for legal – the rise of chief of staff titles within in-house legal teams and the rise of chief innovation officer titles within law firms.
The Legal Chief of Staff
A traditional chief of staff reports directly to the president or CEO, holds a generalist background, and plans and directs all financial, administration, and operational activities for the executive to facilitate decision making.
At some innovative companies, however, such as Hewlett Packard, Western Digital, and Autodesk, this role has been added to the legal function. The legal chief of staff serves a similarly critical function – serving as the single point of contact between leadership and the legal team, facilitating quick and deeply informed decision-making, and generally greasing operational wheels both in and out of the legal department.
The Law Firm Chief Innovation Officer
More and more law firms have been adding chief innovation officers lately. Typically more familiar to Silicon Valley tech firms and Fortune 500 multinational corporations, this title is relatively new to the legal space. But innovative law firms like Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, Ballard Spahr LLP, Stoel Rives LLP, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Katten Munchin Rosenman LLP have been adding them.
Why? The people in these roles have a high technical IQ, take an entrepreneurial approach to their work, and embrace more risk than is typical in a legal environment. This allows them to try novel approaches to driving market share, research and development, drive cultural change, and ultimately net new revenue.
Next Steps in Legal Innovation
The day concluded with a discussion on how attendees could put what they learned into action. These legal innovators are now poised to take plans and ideas from the event and put them to use back at their law firms and corporate legal departments.