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Canadian counsel look for answers at ACC annual meeting

|Written By Heather Gardiner
Canadian counsel look for answers at ACC annual meeting
Teri Monti, counsel and director of employee relations at the Royal Bank of Canada, speaks at a session on crisis management at the ACC annual meeting.

There weren’t many places the 2,500 people attending the Association of Corporate Counsel’s annual meeting could go without running into a Canadian lawyer or symbol last week. With a strong presence among speakers, delegates, and sponsors, Canadian legal departments and law firms were set to join the discussion dominated by talk about billing arrangements, social media, ethics, and project management.

The ACC says more than 1,600 in-house counsel representing 30 countries were in attendance at its San Antonio, Texas, meeting where Canada was represented by lawyers coming from some of its largest and smallest legal departments.

Billing models related to the ACC’s Value Challenge and developing an ongoing dialogue with counsel were key issues at the event, says David Allgood, who as executive vice president and general counsel for the Royal Bank of Canada leads a team of more than 200 in-house lawyers.

“Some of the law firms have almost been indicating that the in-house counsel community is more conservative than the law firms would like, which is a lot different from the conversation we were having two years ago,” Allgood tells InHouse. “I think one of the trends is that the in-house bar, we need to take a step out, take some risks, test, and learn around some of these new billing processes, be a little innovative.”

In an increasingly global world, Canadian in-house counsel from even the smallest legal departments are finding it important to attend international events like the ACC annual meeting, where they can get information on issues beyond Canadian jurisdictional law.

“You are beginning to see that world and the law itself is going to have to become more international, more governed by treaties, and I think . . . you are going to see a change in how we do business around the world,” says Anne Barkman, legal counsel at Hytek Ltd., a Manitoba-based company where she’s the only in-house counsel. “As lawyers, we need to stay abreast of that.”

The growing use of social media with its potential pitfalls and opportunities was also the focus of a lot of discussion at the conference, and although much of it was U.S.-centric, potential implications for Canada can easily be found in the subject matter, says Janis Vanderburgh, a speaker at the conference and senior counsel at the York Region Rapid Transit Corp.

“In the social media discussions . . . we are seeing the trends that U.S. courts are applying for the use of social media,” Vanderburgh tells InHouse. “That’s all very applicable to Canadian lawyers.”

Canadian law firms also had a strong presence at the event, featuring speakers and moderators at several sessions that dealt with Canada-U.S. relations and international trade. Several large Canadian law firms also served as key sponsors of the conference.