My last article about conferences and innovation was received with interest on social media, primarily invitations to attend other cooler conferences. Walking into the Consero General Counsel Forum at the impeccable Langham Huntington in beautiful Pasadena, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I left the Forum a few days later convinced of the high degree of value from our investment and impressed with two aspects of innovation: the conference format itself, and a practical discussion about innovation.

Innovation at the conference

Consero has a reputation for facilitating extremely productive discussions between corporate counsel and legal service providers. Counsel attend at the cost of the sponsoring providers, and they agree to meet with the providers that align to their interests. Consero makes this happen through a unique selection system that relies on mutual ranking, so that the business meetings are between parties who have actively expressed a desire to connect to each other.

Natalie Cohen Smith, Senior Vice President at Consero Group, embodies one of the greatest differentiators for Consero Forums: an exceptional service model. From the moment Natalie greets you, she is immediately charming and exudes a high degree of competence. The warmth, competence, and attention from her unflappable team provide a subtle level of seamlessness for all the attendees. This is highly intentional, according to Natalie. “First and foremost, Consero is dedicated to making each event a positive experience for our participants.”

I asked Natalie about the secret to Consero’s success. “People seem to appreciate the strategically curated group of senior-level attendees,” she said. “By gathering a set of executives with common experiences and challenges, the event provides a uniquely potent opportunity for peer-to-peer learning.” Interacting through the sessions and the meetings confirmed this, as it was apparent that general counsel love to engage with each other. One general counsel commented that “this is like therapy for us.” After a great dinner together on the property lawn, everyone seemed eager to continue the conversations inside at the bar.

Consero also weeds out fluffy panels and uninteresting topics by just trying hard. Natalie believes that one of the most key elements of value is “the care we take to bring service providers that offer thought leadership and strategic vision to support the day-to-day and long-term interests of our delegates.” Sponsoring service providers need to “add substantive value.”

So the formula, ultimately, isn’t rocket science: a curated group of senior attendees, a methodology to match parties that express mutual interest, exceptional service quality, and attention to substantive thought leadership. But as is frequently the case, execution is the difference — it is notable that few conferences can pull off that combination of success factors.

Innovation among general counsel

I had responsibility to facilitate a session called a “Knowledge Bridge.”  These are boardroom-style meetings where a moderator presents topics and insights for discussion to encourage sharing best practices. My topic was around practical and sustainable innovation in corporate legal departments. Without disclosing specific details, here are some of the lessons from the discussion:

  1. Solve for a present need. If someone is selling a contract lifecycle management system that promises a new and sparkly vision of a perfect future, consider how quickly that system will solve a current and articulated pain point in your legal department and your business.
  2. Relatedly, beware of the words “at scale.” Yes, there’s something real about traversing past a threshold of frontloaded effort in adopting a new solution or process, and there’s no question that an “at scale” effect exists. But how long does it take to reach scale? Is that scaled need — and envisioned scaled solution — foreseeable?
  3. Sometimes people are the best automation. One general counsel shared that for a new technology system they implemented, they created three extremely power users that the other several dozen legal professionals could call upon any time they had a need. This may have reduced the number of users that initially adopted the system, but it accelerated the overall usage of that system and gave it some staying power with some invested stakeholders.
  4. This is also true from a spend perspective. Another example of people being the best automation is something I see every day in the managed services world. Clients will rationalize spending $500,000 on a massive system investment that’s meant to be their platform of the future, then spend three years doing implementation, data migration, and pleading with their users to use it.  That same spend could have engaged a team of three to four full-time, tech-enabled experts working around the clock. Which one would be more productive?
  5. And relatedly, measure your organization’s readiness to adopt. Is your legal department actually ready to adopt whatever innovation you are planning? Agreement from the top of the organization is critical, but if there’s resistance or unpreparedness from the people who will be users of technology or stakeholders of a new process, adoption will be difficult. Can you visualize people throughout your group engaging meaningfully?

All in all, a productive time.  Conversations are being fostered at the highest levels, and conversations among general counsel are looking like the right ones with thoughtful decision making.

Ed Sohn is VP, Product Management and Partnerships, for Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services. After more than five years as a Biglaw litigation associate, Ed spent two years in New Delhi, India, overseeing and innovating legal process outsourcing services in litigation. Ed now focuses on delivering new e-discovery solutions with technology managed services. You can contact Ed about ediscovery, legal managed services, expat living in India, theology, chess, ST:TNG, or the Chicago Bulls at or via Twitter (@edsohn80). (The views expressed in his columns are his own and do not reflect those of his employer, Thomson Reuters.)

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