This post by Sue Reisinger originally appeared on Law.com’s Corporate Counsel section on October 7, 2019.
Senior corporate counsel Robert Taylor of Liberty Mutual Insurance likes to start with the mantra: “It’s called transformation if you are paying attention, and disruption if you’re not.”
Taylor, who leads Liberty Mutual’s legal ideation and transformation team in Boston, pays lots of attention to change in the legal space and how to adapt to it. He recently took part in a roundtable discussion with other in-house leaders as part of the Executive Institute.
“For me, it is a rather unique experience,” Taylor explained to Corporate Counsel, “with a very curated group of professionals that come together with the sole intention of wanting to have mature in-depth discussions to examine and define and promote leadership around a particular issue, such as diversity and inclusion, technology/process/people, sustainability and leadership.”
They are all top-of-the-mind topics for legal departments, he said, “but rarely do we get an opportunity to have in-depth discussions about them. If I have a concept I want to get at, one good way to harden my theory is to go to one of these roundtables and put my idea out there and let people react. And if I get a massively negative reaction, that’s valuable for me to know.”
It’s not panels or talking heads, Taylor added, but intimate exchanges of ideas and perspectives among 35 to 40 peers. The Executive Institute roundtables are facilitated by attorney David Curran, chief business officer of New York-based FiscalNote, the parent company of the institute.
“Curran is a master facilitator,” Taylor said. “He’s not dominating the conversation, but facilitates the extraction of the collective brilliance in the room.”
Curran brings his past legal experience to the sessions. He worked 15 years as in-house counsel and a chief compliance officer at Thomson Reuters, Reader’s Digest Association Inc., Campbell Soup Co. and other companies.
He said the roundtables are built around a few key themes, such as change management. “Lawyers are not trained in these things in law school,” Curran noted. “Change management is core.”
The roundtables usually include general and senior in-house counsel, a few participants from outside law firms, plus experts on behavioral and data science. Sometimes, especially when companies host a roundtable, he will include CEOs and chief operating officers in discussions with their own and outside lawyers about certain issues.
Several of the roundtables have dealt with #MeToo issues. “It’s hard to get a handle on,” Curran told Corporate Counsel. “I personally believe that lawyers made the Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinsteins possible, and were complicit in their behavior. They got their oxygen from lawyers, and were protected by lawyers and their confidential settlements.”
Curran added, “I believe the profession needs to do a way better job of having a conscience and not letting those things happen. Outside counsel make a lot of money off these investigations, and I’m not sure lawyers are doing all they can proactively to solve the problem.”
He said companies that have recently hosted sessions include Uber Technologies Inc., headed by its general counsel, Tony West; Microsoft Corp. in Brussels; and The Economist Newspaper Ltd. in London. Latham & Watkins and Viacom Inc. hosted a session about disruption on Oct. 2 in Menlo Park, California, and Paul Hastings is hosting a Nov. 12 roundtable in New York on big data and artificial intelligence in law.
“All the discussions have a couple common themes,” he explained. “One is the collision of modern-day challenges, and the in-house and law firm structures that are not designed or prepared to deal with them.”
Some of the issues, he said, are not purely legal, such as sustainability. “Lawyers historically weren’t involved early on,” he noted, “but now find themselves at the table to deal with reputational risks and quasi-legal obligations.”
For example, he said, many lawyers were in attendance at a recent conference on climate change. “Five years ago, they wouldn’t have been,” he noted.
Another major trend he sees for legal teams is the growing number of nonlawyers—people with technology or business backgrounds—helping run the department. “Those trends will continue,” he predicted, “with more businesspeople running legal departments and law firms.”