Welcome back to Inside Track. I’m Law.com in-house reporter Stephanie Forshee.

It’s that time of year again. Time for summer, sunshine, friends, and oh yes, Corporate Counsel’s Best Legal Department awards. We introduced some new categories into the competition this year, and our editorial team has been busy interviewing the honorees. I spoke to each of the writers of our Best Legal profiles to bring you this behind-the-scenes look at our 2018 picks.

(As always, if you have tips, story ideas or other feedback, email me at sforshee@alm.com or find me on Twitter: @InOtherNewsNow.)


Meet The Honorees –

 

 

Legal Department of the Year goes to none other than Archer Daniels Midland. My editor Rebekah Mintzer profiled the department and spoke to the legal team.

➤ In her reporting, she said there were a few things she found really interesting. First was “how far the department has come in a relatively short time.” Prior to GC Cameron Findlay joining ADM in 2013, “things were not great” for the legal team, Rebekah told me.

➤ When someone on the business side wanted to hire a lawyer, for instance, they “would often skip over the legal department entirely and just call their favorite outside firm.”

➤ As you might imagine, this could lead to using a lot of law firms. Yes, at one time ADM used more than 700 firms. Today, they’re down to 23.

Read the full profile to learn more about how Findlay and his team worked to keep the number of outside firms (and the rest of ADM’s legal work) under control.

Fun fact: One tidbit Rebekah didn’t get to include in the story is why the legal department wasn’t better organized in the past. It turns out it had a lot to do with location, according to several lawyers she interviewed. Before 2014 when ADM moved to Chicago, it had been based in Decatur, Illinois.

“In-house attorneys said that when the department had been housed away from an urban center there was less knowledge sharing going on about best practices in legal department operations and cost cutting. They were operating in kind of an isolated way, but of course, that’s no longer the case,” Rebekah said.


 

Corporate Counsel selected DXC Technologies as its Best Legal Department Finalist. My colleague Sue Reisinger spoke to lawyers there about how DXC has built a law department of the future, dubbed “Legal 2.0.”

➤ DXC GC William Deckelman took a big risk last year. To help restructure the legal department after a merger, the company inked a shared services agreement with UnitedLex that has been called the industry’s largest ever managed services transaction.

Mike Brito, vice president of contracts and strategic transactions, joined DXC about a year ago and it is his first in-house counsel job. He told Sue that he isn’t disappointed.

➤”From my perspective, I am very proud of the fact that we are a learning organization. Dynamic. And we are always encouraged to learn about how we can more effectively contribute,” Brito told her.

➤At one point, he says DXC brought all of its global leads and corporate leads together for discussions. “We looked at, what is the cultural DNA of DXC Legal? We came up with a list of 25 attributes, such as ‘self starter,’ and ‘dynamic,’ and so forth. That’s what makes this department so great.”


 

Our 2018 inaugural GC of the Year is Wanji Walcott of PayPal. She has been a champion for diversity and inclusion at the company since being named general counsel in February 2017.

I was the reporter assigned to profile Wanji and it was clear from everyone I interviewed that she has a heart for making PayPal a more inclusive place. She also seems to be a natural-born leader, according to what her colleagues told me.

Her commitment to leading by example struck me as impressive. Despite the fact that she’s overseeing a department of 170 legal pros around the world, she makes time for mentoring and pro bono work.

Read the story here.


“I’ve always lived by the saying, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

— PayPal’s Wanji Walcott, 2018 General Counsel of the Year, speaking about her career.


 

Our first-ever Compliance Department of the Year is Anheuser-Busch InBev, led by general counsel John Blood and compliance director Matt Galvin. My colleague Sue profiled the adult beverage company’s innovative program, including the high tech tools it uses to stay within the bounds of global rules and regs.

She told me that although Blood’s legal department is highly analytical, he also treasures human judgment. “We don’t blindly follow the algorithm,” Blood explains. “It’s like the GPS in your car. I may not know the local roads, but I won’t drive off the bridge if my GPS says to. There is always the human factor involved.”

Read Anheuser-Busch InBev’s story here.


 

Corporate Counsel’s choice for Best Use of Technology is NetApp.

“Just start” is a mantra of the legal department. My colleague Caroline Spiezio interviewed lawyers and operations pros at the company, who are early and enthusiastic adopters of legal tech. Here’s what Caroline had to say about the experience:

“What impressed me the most about NetApp’s use of technology wasn’t the increased efficiency or costs saved. It was the department’s culture of trying new tools and strategies, even at the risk of failing. That mindset’s allowed them to become beta testers for the entire company, not just the legal department.”

Read more about NetApp’s early adopters here.


 

James Chen is Corporate Counsel’s Startup GC of the Year. In interviewing him for the profile I wrote, I found that he truly is the epitome of a successful startup lawyer. He’s made an impact in the burgeoning electric vehicles space, most recently at Chanje. He previously worked at Tesla and Faraday Future.

I also spoke to those who know Chen, including Joerg Sommer, chief operating officer at Chanje, who was part of the executive team that hired him. “Jim has been an expert in the electric vehicle business almost a decade now,” Sommer told me. “I always look for candidates who stand out in their field, who have influenced decision-makers in their path,” Sommer says. “He was influential in forming legislation and in how the industry was shaped in the U.S.”

You’ll want to read more about Chen’s achievements here.


Don’t Miss –

 

Tuesday, May 29. Global Leaders in Law will hold a session titled, “What Do You Do If Your CEO Resigns?” in Toronto. On Thursday, May 31, a session on the same topic will be held in Vancouver. GLL is an invitation-only membership group, offering GCs a global platform for in-person collaboration to exchange ideas and receive advice and guidance from peers. For more information, contact Meena Heath at mheath@alm.com.

June 11-13. The Association of Corporate Counsel is hosting the Legal Operations Conference in Chicago. The conference will kick off with a session on artificial intelligence for legal departments and a keynote roundtable with general counsel on the future of legal service management. The conference includes a number of interactive workshops, “shark tank”-style pitches allowing comparison of legal service vendors, a pair of working sessions on blockchain, and a debate on what “the rise of the ‘non-lawyer’” means for the legal industry.

Thursday, June 14. The American Lawyer and LegalWeek will present the Transatlantic General Counsel Summit 2018 in London. The summit provides a platform for some of the most elite general counsel in the U.K., Europe and U.S. to identify and determine the meaningful difference the legal function can make when contributing to a company’s strategy.


➤➤ Inside Track is on vacation next week and will return in June. Click here to check out more briefings from Law.com writers.