Patricia Hatler: Helping Shape The Voice Of In-House Counsel In 2010 At ACC

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Patricia Hatler, Chair of the Board, Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Executive Vice President, Chief Legal and Governance Officer, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

Editor: What is your role as ACC's 2010 Board Chair?

Hatler: As ACC's Board Chair, I aim to lead the board's development and support for ACC's strategic direction.The board and ACC staff are working together to ensure the association continues to be the voice of the in-house bar and the premier professional resource for in-house attorneys.As Chair, I will also be a voice for ACC's positions and a resource to ACC executive leadership as they implement the 2010 plan.

The board and ACC staff are working together to make sure the association continues its track record of developing fresh, current, accessible resources and opportunities for its members. Beyond CLE credits and the Annual Meeting, ACC has established itself as the leader in providing in-house counsel with the tools and educational opportunities necessary for personal and professional growth. From the Executive Leadership Institutes to Mini-MBA and New to In-House programs, ACC continues to provide professional development for in-house attorneys at all stages of their careers. Committees and chapters continue to grow in both size and expertise and they serve as terrific resources for ACC members. They also are ambassadors to carry the message of what the association has to offer. In turn, they also communicate member feedback so ACC can hear what members want and need in their daily work.

For 2010, I am particularly looking forward to the Annual Meeting in San Antonio in October. The success of the 2009 meeting in Boston was remarkable - both in terms of attendees (nearly 3,000) and the depth of sessions and events. We offered session tracks covering an enormous amount of ground - from ethics, to global reach, to meeting economic challenges, to career development, to dispute resolution to contracting considerations to pro bono to management strategies. I know that the San Antonio Annual Meeting will be just as enriching for our members. I also personally enjoy the networking opportunities at these and other meetings, and as Board Chair, one of the most gratifying aspects is the exchanges I have with other General Counsel and in-house members. I learn from their challenges and solutions and try to carry those lessons back to the ACC Board as frequently as I can. It is easy given our "day jobs" to get caught up in the pressing needs of our companies, and I find the time I take to step away from these demands through my ACC role and interact with other in-house attorneys, the more I learn. This fresh perspective carries over to my work at Nationwide and affords me with the added benefit of sharing the collective knowledge with my in-house lawyers.

Editor: Please describe your involvement with the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Hatler: It is hard to believe that I have been an ACC member for over 23 years. When I left a law firm to take a position in-house in 1983, I quickly concluded that ACC was the only organization focused on meeting the professional needs of the in-house bar. I joined ACC and began serving on the Board in 2005. During this time, law department practice has evolved, as have the expectations of in-house attorneys as managers of the services they deliver and the expense of those services. Since I joined, ACC has grown its membership to 25,000 - a remarkable figure that represents a large U.S. footprint and a rapidly expanding global reach as well. In-house counsel who belong to ACC come from 70 different countries and are employed by over 10,000 organizations. A network of more than 50 chapters connects our members throughout the U.S., Canada, China, Europe and Israel. The multinational makeup of many companies in this era has made ACC's worldwide reach and global resources a key component of success for both large and specialty law departments.

Editor: What do you plan to emphasize in the coming year?

Hatler: I will certainly be emphasizing two of ACC's most significant priorities - the protection of attorney-client privilege and the ongoing ACC Value Challenge initiative to help reconnect value to the cost of legal services. In addition, I will be focused on what I call "Board Development." The ACC Board is a remarkably talented group, and we want to make certain we are tapping into that talent as much as we can for ACC. My other key focus area will be on the ongoing expansion of services ACC offers to our international membership.

ACC has been a leader in articulating the importance of protecting the privilege - both inside the United Sates and across the world. Demands for waiver by prosecutors, regulators, auditors, and third-party plaintiffs are increasing in frequency and scope. ACC fights for the protection of the attorney-client and work-product privileges, and our clients' rights to confidentiality. Legislation to protect the attorney-client privilege in the corporate context is strongly endorsed by ACC.

Another important initiative continues to be the ACC Value Challenge (www.acc.com/valuechallenge). In 2008, ACC announced this bold initiative to fundamentally improve and change the profession's conversations about how legal services are delivered. ACC has been at the forefront, encouraging client discussions with firms on how to infuse value propositions into their legal relationships. These discussions certainly relate to cost, but they are more profoundly about the process and structure of service delivery. In 2009, ACC received a lot of attention for its efforts to reconnect value and costs of legal services and to promote a dialog among corporate counsel, law firms and others interested in driving alignment and focus on value. With the rise of alternative fees and the diminution of the billable hour as the sole means of charging a client for legal work, ACC has held Value Challenge sessions in many cities, Columbus, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia, to name just a handful, in which law firm partners and GCs have gathered to discuss - and sometimes debate - the Value Challenge concepts.

In conjunction with the ACC Value Challenge, ACC developed the ACC Value Index (AVI), which was launched at the association's Annual Meeting this past October. The AVI allows members to share ratings of law firms based on client satisfaction so that they can better meet company needs. An expansion of the social network that in-house counsel already rely on when making decisions, members are able to score their firms on a five-point scale using basic criteria such as: Does the firm understand your objectives? Has the firm met expectations and offered good legal advice? Is the firm efficient in its work? Do they communicate well and are they responsive to your needs? How do the firms' budgeting skills and results compare? And finally, the all-important ingredient - Would you hire this firm again?

As I noted above, ACC continues to expand its global reach, with a wealth of very specific resources to assist members in many parts of the world. From cross-border transactions and the General Counsel's role in Europe, to global litigation concerns and Green Energy regulations in different countries, ACC is committed to providing practical tools for attorneys working overseas in companies that face an increasingly complex and interconnected global business environment. Along those lines, ACC has expanded its Jobline listings to include international opportunities for in-house positions - this is an area that was rarely available 10 to 15 years ago. Many law departments in the U.S. now seek attorneys with expatriate experience, and ACC is working to provide international opportunities for in-house counsel.

In 2010, ACC, in conjunction with its International Committee, will be strengthening its global network. In Europe, ACC will be ramping up membership recruitment efforts, including an expanded array of educational programs.As a sponsor of CLE Europe's MCLE Fair in London (January 15-16), lawyers practicing in the UK and Europe and requiring U.S. Continuing Legal Education credits will be able to tap into a wide range of programs to meet CLE requirements, including legal ethics, international insolvency, outsourcing, IP and substance abuse.

ACC will also continue to advocate on privilege issues in the U.S. and Europe, to offer CLO Think Tank programs in Europe and Canada and to offer webcasts in China and other countries. There will be ongoing educational and networking seminars in Canada, especially Toronto, Ontario and Calgary, and an expanded presence in China, Latin America and South Africa. Through its increasingly enhanced Web site and social media outlets (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), ACC is able to reach its member community around the globe through online communications and targeted publications for Asia, Europe and Canada. This growing global outreach will continue to provide instructive and interesting opportunities for all members.

Editor: What are your greatest challenges?

Hatler: In-house attorneys are challenged today to do more with fewer resources, to advise clients in the face of a shifting regulatory and business landscape, and to manage the expense of their services in more sophisticated ways. As I talk with my colleagues at other companies, I find these themes repeated again and again. ACC is positioning itself as a key resource for in-house legal executives as they meet these challenges.

In-house counsel will continue to be expected to do more with less, with implications for both expense management and service delivery models. Budgets and staffing will continue to be scrutinized, and outside legal spend will need to be carefully justified in the eyes of the C-suite. Regulatory and compliance matters will also still be at the forefront of many law departments.

Editor: What sets the Association of Corporate Counsel apart from other professional organizations?

Hatler: We are the only professional organization that is "by in-house counsel, for in-house counsel." With more than 25,000 members in over 70 countries, employed by over 10,000 organizations, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest professional organization exclusively serving professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in legal departments of corporations, associations and other private sector organizations. As the voice of the in-house bar, ACC focuses on the intrinsic needs of in-house counsel and law department management and provides access to a unique community for in-house attorneys. No other organization offers the depth of resources, educational programs or networking opportunities for corporate counsel.

ACC's legal and business resources cover a wide range of areas, including drafting and interpreting contracts; defining the role of the in-house counsel and representing one's corporate client; intellectual property primers; small law department human resources manuals; and how to implement legal holds. Many of these topics are covered in "InfoPAKs" that are specifically designed for in-house counsel. Each InfoPAK contains articles, sample forms, policies and other materials downloadable from the ACC Web site.

Additionally, ACC is the leading source of information about the in-house practice of law. ACC offers valuable and timely benchmarking data through a variety of surveys and industry research. Data is collected from a variety of members of all levels, their organizations and other legal industry organizations.This month, ACC is releasing its annual Chief Legal Officer Survey that addresses outside counsel spending, company revenue, legal staffing and the type of work that would demand most of the general counsels' time and resources. This important survey provides CLOs and GCs wishing to evaluate their own corporate legal departments with timely comparative data. ACC also partners with outside groups, such as Serengeti Law, for the Annual Managing Outside Counsel survey - now in its 10th year; and with Empsight, on Law Compensation surveys. ACC conducts member surveys periodically to assess member needs and help ACC respond to those needs as they evolve.

ACC also offers members access to key publications, most notably, the ACC Docket , an award-winning journal that offers articles by in-house counsel for in-house counsel. The ACC Docket has 35,000 readers worldwide who benefit from the timely news and practical advice that they can apply to their daily practice. The Digital Docket enables members to access the magazine online to find articles and immediate access to related links and other online resources. The ACC Docket also offers specialty publications such as ACC Docket European Briefings and ACC Docket Canadian Briefings . Each explores current legal topics and emerging legal issues in their respective jurisdictions. In March 2010, ACC will launch the inaugural issue of ACC Docket Asian Briefings, which will feature contributions from our members in Asia. The first issue will include timely articles penned by Michael Chang from Warner Brothers and James Wong from Chinney Capital. No other association has this kind of global resource offering.

ACC's strong advocacy role is unmatched. Whether fighting for members' professional rights and their clients' representational needs before courts, media, government agencies, legislatures and bar groups, the association's advocacy work focuses on those issues that impact the in-house counsel community. ACC is committed to monitoring - and stepping in when necessary - on such issues as multijurisdictional matters, corporate responsibility, attorney-client privilege, ethics, and other issues that affect the ability of in-house counsel to provide effective guidance to their corporate clients.

Editor: How has your role as Executive Vice President, Chief Legal and Governance Officer, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company prepared you for this new role as ACC's Board Chair?

Hatler: As Nationwide's Chief Legal Officer, and in my previous role as General Counsel at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, I have gained insight into corporate governance issues and law department management challenges that tie in well to the priorities of ACC. ACC advocates for what in-house counsel need to succeed in their profession and at their companies. The association also provides resources to help lawyers at corporations large and small do their jobs better and more efficiently. At both Nationwide and Blue Cross, I have always worked to have my team leverage resources from ACC to amplify our effectiveness and keep our advice current.