With two days packed full of actionable insights, together with topical legal and regulatory updates on the latest developments in commercial law, our inaugural Informed Counsel Conference gave GCs, Deputy GCs, Heads of Legal and their teams the opportunity to bounce questions off our experts and to network with their peers. 

Hosted at WBD's London and Newcastle offices, delegates heard from a range of speakers, covering key topics facing in-house lawyers today. Sessions included: financial crime, corporate whistleblowing, critical incident management, competition law, innovation and, of course, Brexit. 

Insight into the life of General Counsel for IKEA US from our keynote speaker, James Hanlon, gave delegates a view of the issues facing in-house lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic, with takeaways including the increasing importance of law tech in the provision of legal services, and the need for external legal providers to deliver innovative solutions and metrics to clients. 

The cost of careless words

Professor Ewan McKendrick, editor of Goode on Commercial Law and Professor of English Private Law, delivered his ever popular commercial contract update covering the most important cases of the year. Facilitated by WBD's own Malcolm Dowden, the session delivered actionable insights, together with topical legal and regulatory updates on the latest developments in commercial law. In a session that covered everything from how to handle unsigned contracts, the tension between getting a deal done and ensuring your business is protected and the cost of 'careless words' or stray commas, Prof McKendrick brought the many issues to life – even citing the Spice Girls' split as an example of good faith (and bad behaviour).

GC in America - context is all

The keynote speaker James Hanlon, General Counsel Head of Legal Operations & Company Secretary at IKEA USA, shared his fascinating and very personal views on being a GC on both sides of the Atlantic. Previously Head of Legal at IKEA UK, James delivered an insightful speech on his new responsibilities across the Atlantic and how being a GC in America can be a very different experience. The cultural context for those working in a senior legal role in the US made for some fascinating listening, particularly the America First agenda of President Trump, the importance of law tech, and how paramount it is for external legal advisers to be able to provide innovative solutions and metrics to clients. 

The age of the whistleblower

What every employer needs to know about whistleblowing was delivered by Michelle Chance, Employment Partner at WBD, who used a variety of case studies to illustrate the complexities of the law in this area. The session looked at what organisations need to do to create a 'speak up' culture whilst ensuring they are protecting themselves against the potential damage of dealing with a whistleblower incorrectly. Michelle also talked through the changes in legislation that need to be considered such as the 'public interest' requirement and what this actually means in practice. In addition, the session covered the steps that employers can take to be in the best position they can be – from establishing whistleblowing policies and hotlines to identifying a specific 'champion'.  

Financial crime and punishment

As part of the session on financial crime prevention, WBD Legal Director Emma Radmore gave her top tips to keep businesses safe and explained how GCs and in-house teams can safeguard their company by mitigating risks, designing a compliance programme, training staff and knowing what to do if something goes wrong. Emma also provided an update on the key legislative changes relating to financial crime from Proceeds of Crime Act and Money Laundering Regulations through to the Bribery Act 2010 and the Criminal Finances Act 2017, to name just a few. Emma also looked at some practical examples to demonstrate best practice and where some cases have gone wrong and why. 

Competition, competition, competition…

WBD's Andrij Jurkiw and Angelene Duke provided insights on competition law, particularly looking at the increased risks for directors, how to turn the legal team into a profit centre and the likely implications of Brexit. Andrij, head of the firm's competition practice, provided an update on Director Disqualification by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the need for directors to get to grips with the law and take the appropriate steps in relation to potential competition law breach. 

He also explained how legal advisers can support on competition damage claims and generate millions of pounds for clients, effectively becoming a profit centre, as was the case with a major UK supermarket which was awarded £68m in its claim against MasterCard. Associate Angelene Duke looked at the current enforcement trends and priorities, particularly the rise of resale price maintenance cases in Europe, the use of pricing algorithms in law breaches and how excessive pricing in the pharmaceutical industry is taking a huge chunk in the CMA's resources. 

How to get it right when it all goes wrong

Being prepared and knowing what first steps you would take in a worst case scenario for your business were all part of the session delivered by WBD's Legal Director, Stephen Panton. With fascinating insights into the critical incidents the firm has advised on in the past, Stephen ran through why some of the simplest things can have a huge impact on the outcome and the developments in corporate and personal liability that everyone should be on top of. The current sentencing trends and the Higher Courts' attitudes to the fines associated with these cases were also covered – along with the extremely high value of having a corporate governance strategy in place before disaster strikes. 

Deal or no deal

Immigration experts at WBD Andrew Tingley and Alan Kennedy gave an extremely topical Brexit update on Immigration and EU workers' rights including what is currently outlined in Theresa May's draft agreement; what those rights will be during the implementation period and in the event of a no-deal; the EU settlement scheme as well as the early feedback from the trial that is currently being piloted; and the key dates to watch out for in the coming months including the Immigration Whitepaper and Immigration Bill due in 2019. 

The future is… lawbots?

Innovation and the disruptive impact of technology on the legal sector was the theme of the session led by Andy Layton, Legal Solutions Centre Director and Rachel Jones, Managing Associate of WBD. In a session packed full of facts about the future that is already impacting the legal sector, it was revealed that 114,000 legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years. However technology doesn't mean the end of the lawyers but the end of the 'drudge work' that sees many leaving the profession after only a few years. With technology, the role of lawyer will be different: we are already seeing the introduction of new job titles such as technologist and legal process designer. The role of the law firm to test all of the new technology and software and provide guidance to in-house clients who don't have the resource or time to do so was also discussed. Andy and Rachel also explained the new service to clients recently launched by the firm. WBD Advance pulls together all of the firm's key technology and business services that are becoming increasingly essential to clients alongside its traditional legal advice. These services include support for high volume projects such as document review; project and risk management of legal work; automation and process design; managing knowledge and information; and flexible resourcing.

Planning for our 2019 conference is already underway. Visit our dedicated IC page to find out more about the conference, and our wider Informed Counsel programme, and to have your say about the topics you'd like to see on next year's agenda.