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10 Lessons In-house Counsel Learned in 2018

F rom last-minute scrambling to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to dealing with unethical bosses, 2018 was a stressful year for in-house counsel. (Luckily, we published tips on managing stress this year as well.) Here are the top 10 lessons that in-house counsel learned in 2018.

1. GDPR is here

After hovering over the heads of legal and IT teams for years, GDPR went into effect on May 25, 2018. Many companies still weren't ready, and some, like Facebook and Google, are facing large fines.

The chaos has mostly ebbed, but don’t fall into a false sense of security. Now in-house counsel should prepare for European Data Protection Authorities, who can impose heftier fines on top of previous ones.

2. Big data is top of mind

With big data comes great responsibility. Apart from enforcing GDPR policies, in-house counsel must properly protect, leverage, and even erase the hoard of consumer information it has collected.

But the threat of a breach still looms. Legal departments should appoint a head of privacy and develop a plan to respond to cyberattacks before the PR team needs to step in.  

3. The #MeToo movement isn’t slowing down

The #MeToo shockwaves are still rumbling more than a year after actress Alyssa Milano’s viral tweet, inspired by activist Tarana Burke’s movement, sparked a global conversation about sexual assault.

As allegations of sexual harassment continue to emerge, in-house counsel must prepare and prevent such misconduct from happening at their own companies. Building a healthy workplace culture with a consistent tone at the top to mitigate the risks of any potential lawsuits.

4. Social media is a wild beast

Despite its pervasiveness in our personal lives, social media is uncharted territory in the corporate world. With one tweet, a rogue employee can spark a PR crisis that can take days to contain and months to recover from.

To avoid these disasters, start with a social media policy and response plan. A clear policy will ensure that staff will think twice before sharing an inflammatory post, and the response plan will help you if they did.

5. Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere

There’s no avoiding it, technophobes: AI is steadily integrating itself in the legal world. But unlike what the doomsayers have decried, this technology will not replace you or your colleagues.

Instead, it will simplify your workflow and expedite processes with the right strategy in place. In-house counsel must adapt to the revolutionary technology for the sake of their company and their jobs.

6. Blockchain basics

Like AI, blockchain is a widely discussed technology in the legal industry that raises more questions than it answers. Specifically, how does it apply to businesses and how can in-house counsel implement it in their law departments?

A familiar blockchain application in the legal world is smart contracts, which streamline and accelerate business deals. Of course, this cutting-edge technology can be used in multiple industries, including finance, healthcare, and more that are waiting to be disrupted.

7. Mindfulness is key

Stress runs rampant in the legal field. That’s why it’s sadly unsurprising that 33 percent of lawyers have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression. Leaders of legal departments should offer resources and solutions to help staff — and even themselves — manage these problems. Self-care, work-life balance, and mindfulness are the first steps in having a productive and healthy life.

8. Career transitions are waiting

In-house law is no longer a one-track career path. Whether you want to pioneer an emerging legal tech industry like blockchain, lead a pro team in sports operations, or even move to a traditional generalist role, the opportunities are limitless.

9. Remote jobs are on the rise

Telecommuting and remote jobs have become undeniably more popular over the past few years. Though companies might be initially hesitant to let staff work from home, new collaboration tools have made it easier than ever to work with employees and clients across the globe.

10. Never compromise your morals

As the moral compass of your organization, you’re expected to guide your company or client through turbulent times. But what if their unscrupulous (or even illegal) decisions could steer you off course? The ethical choices are clear: Stay and right the wayward ship or save yourself and leave.

In Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch’s case, he chose both after learning of foreign efforts to manipulate the social media platform to influence the 2016 US presidential campaign. He announced his departure, then rescinded his resignation. Ultimately, he will leave later in 2019.

For in-house counsel, it is critical to set the ethical standards for your company and yourself, and, more importantly, follow them. The rest of the staff will notice and follow your lead too.

About the Author

Karmen Fox is the web content editor of ACC Docket.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.