Q&A with Veta Richardson:  ACC Chief on Teaming with Australia

by | Sep 10, 2015

Q&A with Veta Richardson  ACC Chief on Teaming with Australia

Globalization is a consistent trend in the backdrop of the corporate counsel agenda.  Combined with the fact that corporate legal departments are taking more work in-house and a clear need for a larger support network has emerged.

It’s been nearly a year since the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association announced it was joining with the Association of Corporate Counsel – the largest professional organization for inside counsel.  We couldn’t help but notice globalization, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, was among the many reasons for blending these two organizations.

“Regardless of where a company is based, it is impossible to manage business operations without a global mindset,” according to ACC President and CEO Veta T. Richardson.  As the ACC prepares for its annual conference next month in Boston, we caught up Ms. Richardson to ask her about the new combined organization.

1. What was the catalyst for the teaming of these two international organizations?

“For almost 20 years, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA), a national association representing the interests of lawyers working for corporations throughout Australia, have enjoyed a longstanding relationship and natural synergy, which we wanted to build upon. When I became CEO of ACC in 2011, I reached out to my counterpart at ACLA to simply introduce myself. We ended up having regular discussions about our core commonalities – our similar member service models and shared operating philosophies.

In addition, ACLA was keenly interested in ACC’s recent success in establishing new chapters in Singapore, the Middle East, and Canada. We found that our organizations had a lot in common and ACC’s focus on expanding our membership base globally, particularly in the Asia Pacific region coincided with ACLA’s interest in creating a more global platform for their members throughout the Australasian region and beyond. Those discussions were carried to our respective boards of directors and it resulted in a mutual desire to explore a closer collaborative relationship and seek to forge greater networking opportunities together than either could individually.

As with most successful strategic efforts, we came together around a common purpose to form what we believe to be an extremely valuable alliance for our newly combined membership.”

2. Why did ACC, a US-based organization, join with Australia as opposed to another country, such as Canada or the UK for example?

“A combination of reasons made joining forces a smart choice for both ACC and ACLA. It’s an excellent example of strategy, opportunity and timing all coming together to provide mutual advantages. ACC’s strategic plan was developed after seeking extensive feedback from our members and we resoundingly heard that our members wanted ACC to create a much more robust global network of their in-house peers. So ACC set about doing so.

At the time ACC and ACLA started to discuss combining forces, ACC’s membership spanned 90 countries and included strong chapter networks throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, as well as in Argentina, Israel, the Middle East and Singapore (ACC’s first Asia Pacific affiliate, established in 2013). However, ACC’s membership in Australia was relatively small – well below 100 members – and ACLA had done an outstanding job growing its membership to about 4,000 lawyers nationally. For ACLA, ACC offered the opportunity to reach globally and for ACC, ACLA offered a robust new membership base in Australia.

The alliance with ACLA represents a 10 percent overall increase in members for ACC and provides the in-house counsel members located in the Asia Pacific region with an additional 4,000 peers from Australia to connect with regarding new developments and trends. Further, the addition of ACLA to ACC’s global membership network establishes a key presence for the association in the Australasian region and strengthens our ability to provide a broader library of tools, resources and programming on global legal issues for members throughout Asia Pacific and beyond.”

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3. Are there similarities in the legal system between the two countries? If so, please provide an example? 

“ACC’s global membership is so broad and diverse that our members have to navigate a variety of legal systems. For example, in nations such as the US, Australia, England, Ireland, Wales, Hong Kong, Pakistan, South Africa, and most of Canada and India, the legal system is common law based.

In addition to following common law, the US and Australia have similar laws on matters of employment and privacy. For example, there are signs that the Australian government will renew a push to enact a data breach notification standard. Following the recent passage of the data retention law requiring telecommunications service providers to keep customer metadata for two years, the Australian government signaled that passing a mandatory data breach notification law by the end of 2015 is a top priority. This is comparable to security breach laws in the US, where organizations are required to notify individuals about identifiable information breaches.

Another similarity is culture, specifically work-life integration. This affects all employees, regardless of ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status, so it is not surprising that there are a number of flexible work arrangement (FWA) laws enacted and pending enactment. In the US, Vermont and San Francisco have enacted FWA laws, while FWA laws are increasingly apparent in Latin America, the Asia Pacific region, particularly in Australia, and the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.”

4. Are there issues or trends in the Asia-Pac market that ACC believes are of particular interest to in-house counsel serving US-headquartered corporations?

“Regardless of where a company is based, it is impossible to manage business operations without a global mindset. Businesses are increasingly enlarging their footprint across borders and seeking the services of foreign counsel. Even those businesses that operate solely on a national scale must nonetheless be aware and informed of issues in the global marketplace. As more and more corporate counsel are practicing in multiple jurisdictions and/or grappling with cross-border issues, there is a greater need for readily available resources to assist in meeting the challenges of their day-to-day experiences.

According to the ACC Chief Legal Officer (CLO) 2015 Survey, which is representative of nearly 1,300 respondents in 46 countries, including Asia and Australasia, CLOs in the Asia Pacific region are more likely to spend their time “ensuring the company is in compliance with relevant regulations” than were CLOs in the US, Canada, EMEA or Latin America. There has also been a strategic shift in legal departments around the world to bring more work in-house. In fact, general counsel (GCs) in the Asia Pacific region spend the largest percentage of their overall budgets on internal legal spend (50 percent) compared to the US (42 percent). Further, CLOs practicing in the Asia Pacific region are more likely to have lawyers on their teams who work outside of the country where their organization is headquartered (28 percent, on average).

Moreover, companies in Australia are experiencing issues with privacy and increased exposure to litigation, similar to those of US-based companies, and the Asia Pacific region, specifically Australia, experienced strong activity last year in mergers and acquisitions. The dynamic in Singapore also creates a key market for members of the in-house bar practicing in the region. Asian countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, are forming the ASEAN Economic Community. The single market will become the world’s ninth largest economy, valued at USD 1.8 trillion.

These trends illustrate the fact that issues and responsibilities in-house counsel face are surprisingly universal, despite working for dozens of industries and thousands of organizations spanning hundreds of countries. From corporate data breaches to keeping abreast of compliance and regulatory developments to staying informed about the company’s operations, today’s in-house counsel are focused on providing effective counsel, managing the law department and contributing to corporate strategy.”

5. What does the combined entity believe to be the top three challenges universally facing inside counsel?

“ACC defines its priorities by the priorities of its members. Results from the ACC CLO 2015 Survey revealed 96 percent of GCs and CLOs rated compliance and ethics as the top issue keeping them up at night, followed by data breaches and litigation (82 percent and 79 percent respectively). Further, 30 percent of respondents in the Asia Pacific region noted that their law departments created new positions related to compliance over the past year, making it the top practice area for hiring in the region.

The role of in-house counsel has evolved vastly over the years. CLOs and GCs are expected to be both legal strategists and business advisors to the company. As the corporate business community continues to experience a high level of accountability, increased regulatory requirements and potential for liability, compliance and ethics will continue to be a high-ranking issue of concern for today’s GC and CLO. Additionally, in-house lawyers are increasingly placing responsibility for compliance functions on their companies, in place of outsourcing it to law firms.”

6. Additional items of interest about the ACC Australia (ACLA) announcement.

“This is an exciting time for ACC and our newest members in Australia. The establishment of ACC Australia (ACLA) adds 4,000 in-house lawyers to an engaged global network of inside counsel, and solidifies a stronger presence in the Asia Pacific region and provides invaluable services to members in a convenient time zone, with a local office in Melbourne. Overall, the alliance is ACC’s largest to date and serves as a high watermark moment in our association’s 33-year history.

Additionally, the ACC team was enhanced through the addition of several talented professionals who comprise the ACC Asia Pac staff office. Based in Melbourne, this high-performing team will serve ACC members throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific.

Next month, ACC will host the world’s largest conference for in-house counsel when the 2015 ACC Annual Meeting takes place in Boston (October 18-21) and brings together more than 3,000 in-house lawyers and legal professionals from over 20 countries to discuss best practices, challenges and emerging trends. The following month, ACC Australia (ACLA) will host its 2015 National Conference and In-house Lawyer Awards on November 11-13 in Queensland, and this program is the largest annual event developed for in-house counsel, by in-house counsel in the Southern Hemisphere.”

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Photo credit:  Flickr, Armand (CC BY 2.0

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