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Economy a central focus at ACC annual gathering

|Written By Kelly Harris

SEATTLE — The global economic crunch was a central theme at theAssociation of Corporate Counsel annual meeting, with law departmentmanagement sessions jam-packed and outsourcing a central theme in theexhibit hall.

Nearly 3,000 general counsel, outside counsel, exhibitors, and media converged on Seattle’s Washington State Convention and Trade Center from Oct. 19 to 22. While the number of attendees was down from last year, organizers attribute that to the location in the Pacific Northwest, even more so than the slumping economy.

The sessions, however, were timely with a number focused on ways to control law department costs.

“These are difficult economic times,” says ACC president Fred Krebs. “The types of things people are gravitating to are those that help address issues they are facing now.”

One topic that received more than a fair share of attention was the ACC Value Challenge. The challenge aims to create a connection between law department legal costs and the value of those costs. It is based partly on the experience of the legal departments, attrition, and retention rates. At one point Krebs said here was so much interest in the challenge that the fire marshal threatened to close the session if the crowd did not thin.

More information about the value challenge can be found on the ACC’s website at

“Sessions that address ways that you can save on or reduce the legal spend, or improve what you get for your money seem to be really popular,” says Krebs.

Reducing costs and law department management were highlighted during the financial services general counsel roundtable featuring David Allgood, executive vice president and general counsel for the Royal Bank of Canada. Allgood noted that RBC, ranked as one of the top 15 banks in the world, has undertaken a process and has trimmed the number of outside law firms it uses from 1,000 to 150.

He also noted that RBC has a general counsel whose job is to monitor the work they are receiving from outside law firms to ensure RBC is getting the best value.

Scattered through the exhibit hall between Wii games, e-discovery and outsourcing firms, and spinning wheels were booths with several Canadian law firms. Blake Cassels Graydon LLP was one of the first Canadian firms to start attending the conference and has returned for at least the past seven years, according to national managing partner Rob Granatstein.

There were eight Canadian firms attending this year’s conference.

“We’ve got a lot of clients that are here,” Granatstein says. “This is the leading gathering of U.S. in-house counsel, there are a lot of people here who have Canadian needs that don’t currently have lawyers in Canada.”

The ACC also announced that it has reached the 25,000 mark with members in more than 80 countries employed by more than 10,000 organizations. The 2009 ACC Annual General meeting will be held in Boston. The 2007 meeting was held in Chicago.

Check back next week for our editor’s video report from the ACC conference in Seattle. More information about the Association of Corporate Counsel Annual General Meeting can be found online at