While it certainly behooves every attorney to stay up-to-date on legal news, perhaps none is better served than a General Counsel. As 2014 revs up to full speed, now is a good time to take stock of advancements in the legal field and to consider the best ways for your company to move forward efficiently. Presented here are five particularly relevant tidbits that should stay top of mind in the New Year.
- Privacy Prevails
As companies continue to collect and store all manner of customer data, privacy has become a focal point for both consumers and executives. In fact, 55% of internet users have already taken steps to keep their data away from certain organizations, including the government, and 11% have had their personal information compromised.
As a general counsel, in 2014 privacy should be your concern, too. This means keeping tabs on the type on information your company collects as well as the systems you have in place to protect that data. It is your responsibility to know what liability your company could face should private data be compromised.
Be sure that you are included in the relevant conversations about data and privacy because it can easily become a legal issue. It is much better for you to have a game plan for the worst case scenario (e.g., a major breach in security) that to be left floundering for answers if something does happen. Privacy concerns are only going to get stronger. Let 2014 be the year you’re prepared to address them.
- Cloud Technology for Legal Efficiency
It may seem counterintuitive to speak about privacy and cloud-based technology in the same breath, since the idea of losing control of data that exists in “the cloud” can certainly be a concern. But the truth is that innovations in cloud-based services have created a new way to improve your work efficiency as a general counsel.
Most GC’s see a good deal of contract legalese on a day-to-day basis, constantly reviewing, revising, and executing. Cloud-based tools like ContractRoom are set to revolutionize the typical contract negotiation. By allowing multiple parties to access a contract from anywhere (because it is stored in the cloud) negotiations can go much faster. ContractRoom also allows users to work in multiple languages, making the tool, and other like it, invaluable to multinational companies that work in many countries.
But cloud technology does not stop at contract efficiency. There are also applications that will help you with legal research, secure intraoffice messaging, and other time consuming administrative tasks. Ravel Law, for instance, lets users search for any case information from its site, regardless of jurisdiction or year, and then creates a visualization of those results. While Ravel Law is not creating information that wasn’t already available to you as an attorney, they are using technology to make a better, more efficient user experience. Similarly, Wickr is a messaging app for your smartphone that uses military-grade encryption, making it safe to send even confidential messages.
- Data Preservation
You are probably seeing a pattern here: Data. Technology. Security. Just as you need to be concerned about customer privacy and data security, you may also need to be concerned about data retention. The more data you collect from customers, the more you have to worry about what is going to happen to it over time. Assuming your company will go on for many years after you have left, a plan needs to be in place to deal with the (virtual) mountains of data you will have collected.
Unfortunately there is no easy answer or perfect app for this situation because every company has different needs. Some companies may be subject to government regulations that require them to maintain records for a set period of time. Others may not concern themselves with the process at all. Most likely you and your company are somewhere in between. Just as you should be a part of the discussion for data security, so should a forward thinking general counsel consider data conservation and long term storage in the months ahead.
- In-House Privilege Shifts
A general counsel in the U.S. enjoys a great deal of privilege when it comes to intraoffice communication. However, this has not always been the case for GC’s in Europe. But there is reason to believe things might change in the coming year, or as quickly as the wheels of European justice can turn. In 2013, the Brussels’ Court of Appeals declared all communications and advice provided by in-house lawyers is privileged. For now, this case only applies in Belgium but any lawyer knows how one decision can mean the tide is shifting throughout the country. Both GC’s in the U.S. and in Europe should be cognizant of these kinds of changes since they can have a big impact on how you do business, particularly if you work for a multinational company.
- Legal Vendor Variety
As a visitor to UpCounsel, you are likely already considering the diversity among legal vendors that has sprouted and continued to grow alongside the internet. If not, start considering it.
The fact is that the traditional big law firm structure – with exorbitant starting salaries and an obsessive focus on rankings and prestige – is a thing of the past. In 2014, a successful general counsel will be a nimble general counsel. That means you should be able to navigate the different legal vendors that are available to you and quite possibly manage a diverse team of talent that is just as likely to live across an ocean as across the street.
Hiring talented and experienced attorneys no longer means starting a relationship with a massive firm. Instead, sites like UpCounsel allow you to cobble together a team of the specialists that you need so that your company only pays for the lawyers that make the most sense.
Legal outsourcing is also increasingly common, with legal processing outsourcing (LPO) revenues expected to top $1 billion in 2014. Increasingly, companies in places as far flung as India and New Zealand providing affordable and reliable legal assistance. The new year will likely see these types of companies becoming even more competitive and common. As a general counsel, it should come as welcome news that you can begin (or continue) to explore options outside of the typical big firms.
As a general counsel that wants to thrive in 2014, you should explore the new technologies that could actually make your life easier and your overall job satisfaction better.
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While there is no predicting the future, the most successful GC’s will stay vigilant in learning about the best practices for their particular position as well as the technologies and changing tides that can affect how they continue to function in 2014.