ACC’s Strategic Plan: Expanding The Global Reach Of In-house Counsel

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 13:25

The Editor interviews Veta T. Richardson, President & CEO of ACC.

Editor: Why were you tasked with the development of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s new strategic plan shortly after you were named incoming president and CEO of ACC?

Richardson: We thought this time of transition in the leadership of the association provided the perfect opportunity to conduct a comprehensive review of the organization, assess member needs, identify gaps and set the path forward for ACC’s continued success.

Editor: What group of ACC leaders helped guide the process?

Richardson: We had a lot of help from our dedicated membership as we prepared the Strategic Plan. We used a value-focused process to help us identify what mattered most to ACC members, which provided a clear framework of the value drivers that underlie the decision to join and remain a member.

To develop the plan, we relied on the guidance of the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, which was co-chaired by ACC board members Thomas Sabatino, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Walgreen Co., and William Sailer, senior vice president and legal counsel of QUALCOMM Inc. The committee included a cross-section of ACC members, including chapter and committee leaders, general counsel of large and small law departments, members who were new to in-house practice, international members and more.

Editor: To what extent were ACC members involved in developing the plan?

Richardson: Again, our members really stepped up to the plate during this strategic planning process, providing unprecedented levels of feedback. This feedback provided a clear understanding of the value drivers that underlie the decision to join and remain a member of ACC. We are very grateful to the 4,130 members who completed an online strategic plan survey; the 55 members who participated in focus groups held at the 2011 Annual Meeting; and the 16 members from six different countries that were kind enough to be interviewed for their thoughts on ACC’s mission, vision and past strategies. Respondents included board, chapter and committee leadership, as well as a broad spectrum of members – from CLOs to new and in-house members – from small and large departments worldwide, including from Canada, Argentina, Belgium, France and China.

Editor: Were members supportive of the ACC’s current mission and vision and therefore likely to recommend ACC?

Richardson: Both member survey responses and key stakeholder input indicated that ACC’s basic mission and vision statements are aligned with our member needs. In fact, member survey respondents were asked to rate the extent to which they believe ACC is currently fulfilling each element of its vision, and all elements of the vision were rated highly. This alone indicates that ACC has been successful in meeting member needs. The results also show that members are highly likely to recommend ACC to their colleagues and friends, indicating that the association enjoys a high measure of customer loyalty. This likelihood was even greater among members who serve (or have served) in leadership positions – either at the committee, chapter or ACC board of directors level.

Editor: I understand that ACC’s mission attainment principally relies on three value drivers: prominent market leadership, member satisfaction and retention and organizational stability.

Richardson: Correct. During the strategic planning process, the critical capabilities that have allowed ACC to stay true to its mission were identified and mapped into a value tree. The value tree is a visual representation of how ACC creates value and includes a collection of capabilities, activities, programs and services required for ACC to be successful. The three key success factors were identified as prominence in the legal marketplace; high levels of membership satisfaction and renewals; and the financial and organizational stability of the association.

Editor: Is ACC effectively meeting member needs in all key areas?

Richardson: Based on our survey, yes. Select value drivers from the value tree formed the basis for an online survey to collect feedback from all ACC members. They were asked to assess the importance and effectiveness of eight key areas that significantly influenced their decision to join – and stay – a member of ACC. The areas include:

  1. Exchanging best practices and practical resources
  2. Educational/professional development
  3. Thought leadership
  4. Access to networking opportunities
  5. Member engagement and visibility
  6. Brand value
  7. Advocacy efforts
  8. Sharing information and creating synergies

I’m proud to say, the effectiveness ratings for each of the eight factors were very positive, demonstrating a high level of member satisfaction.

Editor: ACC board members and general members agree that ACC is effective, but their perspectives differed regarding the relative importance of thought leadership, advocacy, and sharing information and creating synergies. How might you explain this?

Richardson: What a board values – in terms of “ranking” the ways in which ACC serves the legal profession, versus what the general membership values – is of course different, as a board member has a different responsibility to the association. Board members tend to place greater importance on thought leadership and advocacy, and less importance on sharing information and creating synergies, because they are charged with looking at the organization in terms of big-picture positioning and leadership for the profession. In term of our advocacy efforts, ACC fights for the rights of in-house counsel: the right to practice, to move freely, to protect the attorney-client privilege as it applies to in-house counsel and their work product, and more.  While the advocacy work that ACC does might not have an immediate, day-to-day impact on the average member, it certainly does impact the in-house profession and its ability to serve well into the future.

Again, the perspectives of the board of directors are different from that of the general member. While members tend to look at the value they get from ACC on a day-to-day basis, it’s the role of the board of directors to think about how ACC is positioned for the future – on issues that may not be pressing today but could be at the forefront tomorrow. Therefore, it’s not surprising that board members rated advocacy and thought leadership as more important to ACC’s success than would the general member.

Editor: I see that education and professional development are highly valued by your members.

Richardson: Education and professional development continue to be very important to our members. Opportunities for educational and professional development was ranked as the most important value driver to members, with 33 percent of the survey participants rating this as the top reason why they join and remain members of ACC. Key stakeholders interviewed during this process also noted that education is highly valued, and that for most U.S. members, all, or almost all, of their CLE requirements are met through their participation in ACC events.

Editor:  How does ACC accommodate the great diversity of its members?

Richardson: Our members are extremely diverse – by position, experience level, department size, industry and geography – creating inherent challenges in our ability to address the needs and interests of all ACC members and constituencies. Our members also come from a wide variety of industries, making it impractical for the association to segment its services at an industry level. For example, our substantive committees impact a variety of areas of legal practice, and we can’t necessarily have a committee for every practice area that might be covered by the breadth of ACC membership. However, based on feedback from interviews and focus groups, our members understand that ACC’s continued success requires prioritizing our members’ needs. I believe we are creating the appropriate balance, and our members are responding favorably.

Editor: More than a decade ago, ACC embarked on an effort to become more international in focus and membership. For example, ACC now has chapters in four regions of the world – in Canada, the Middle East, South America and Europe. Do members believe that ACC should continue to evolve internationally?

Richardson: Yes, we are fortunate that our members share our belief in the importance of building a strong international network of in-house counsel. Member survey participants were asked to rate the extent to which it is important for ACC to develop a strong global presence and international network of in-house counsel. The result: 81 percent responded that these matters are important to a moderate, great or very great extent. In fact, 45 percent of members strongly support developing a global presence, while only 19 percent responded that they are not supportive, or supportive only to a small extent. The numbers don’t lie: our members want us to continue building a strong global network of in-house counsel through which they can expand their peer network.

Editor:  How do members feel about the social media platform that ACC provides?

Richardson: When asked to share their thoughts on social media and its place within ACC, key stakeholders indicated that this is an area of importance to members, especially to our younger members.

Currently, ACC members are very satisfied with what we offer in the social media space. We have an active and growing presence in our e-group communities where members are engaged in our closed social network, where they are able to have real-time conversations on a variety of topics.

Editor: CLOs of large law departments can significantly impact ACC’s success. Are they satisfied with your current offerings?

Richardson: ACC currently provides significant resources to small law departments through committees, chapters and other resources – and we will continue to do so. These members play a critical role in ACC and to the profession. On the other hand, we must also make large-law CLOs more aware of the value of ACC. Through our surveys and member focus groups, we learned that some large-law CLOs felt that ACC provides more value to people on their staff than it does to them personally. Again, we do not want to leave any significant sector of our membership underserved.

Key stakeholders and large-law CLO focus group participants highlighted the need to more effectively serve this segment as the group is at a greater risk of joining our competition. Given their prominence and ability to sign up multiple members at once, positively adding to ACC’s visibility and stature, we know that engaging CLOs of large law departments – as well as our small law departments – will contribute to ACC’s growth.

Please email the interviewee at with questions about this interview.