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The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, nonprofits and other private-sector organizations around the globe.

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IBI Group’s lean, five-person legal department advises a global architecture, engineering, and technology company that employs 3,000 people in more than 60 offices across 10 time zones from its perch in Toronto, Canada. Leveraging technology and innovation, this first-time ACC Value Challenge entrant increased its value proposition in 2020 by putting together a whole toolset in a multifaceted transformation initiative that included adaptation and adoption.  

Upon joining IBI Group in 2014, General Counsel Steven Kresak received a mandate from CEO Scott Stewart to create a global legal services platform that was outcomes-focused, highly practical, and would concentrate on efforts that would really move the needle on value. Given the latitude to play outside the box, what would success look like? “Getting the best out of our people, blended with the best of technology, to reduce risk and create value,” Kresak says. “It was our goal to take the mundane out of the everyday.”

With Stewart’s encouragement, Kresak and Associate General Counsel Catherine MacInnis began collaborating with IBI’s Robotic Process Automation team to add legal functionality to the firm’s chatbot, BotIBI. The new functions assist staff worldwide in corporate administration and contracting, as well as managing annual compliance certifications and ongoing professional education.   

VC21 IBI Judge Quote Box

Next, turning their attention to high-volume, low-risk work, the  legal team partnered with LawGeex to automate the review of NDAs, services agreements, and the like, which has allowed IBI to reduce its external legal spend on contracting and leases by 100 percent in the past five years. Simultaneously, they focused on insourcing high-value, high-reward work; in 2020 alone, managing two large transactions and 15 smaller projects internally allowed the department to reduce external legal spend by 70 percent. Further, it has served to expand the legal department’s integration with the business.

“We have been very intentional about insourcing all contract review, not just to eliminate the cost element—although that is highly desirable—but to grow the expertise within the firm more broadly. This is a significant component of our service strategy” Kresak says.

These technology implementations were surrounded and underpinned by changes in governance, adopting Microsoft Teams to eliminate the need for costly standalone board governance platforms; moving global entity management to a sophisticated, cloud-based app; and providing robust training on industry trends, including a new TikTok-inspired initiative to deliver training in microbursts of four minutes or less.

The department also partnered with Brightflag to leverage artificial intelligence to reduce administrative time spent on invoice review. Progressing from adoption to adaptation, they worked with the developers to leverage the solution’s detailed reporting and benchmarking capabilities and create a bespoke dashboard that improves real-time access to legal management data.  

“We worked with Brightflag to determine what we really wanted from the software, including what sort of visibility into the matters would be most valuable. Of course, everyone wants to save money, but they could help us track much more than that,” MacInnis says. “This also helps us manage the relationship with counsel in a way that’s not just about reducing costs but rather making it more efficient for everybody—new ways of working together on these projects.” She estimates savings on outside counsel spend of 5 to 8 percent in the first year.  

Change management with outside counsel was both crucial and collaborative. “We began socializing this change day to day in our communications with counsel as soon as we knew it was happening. We also worked with Brightflag to develop a message to let outside counsel know our expectations and guidelines in terms of what they were tracking on their end,” MacInnis says.

The department also supported the continued growth of the business during the COVID-19 pandemic, playing a key role in the transition to remote work by implementing customized SAAS contracts to support the firm’s new product offerings.

Transformation requires agility and course correction in the face of failure, says Kresak, who had found inspiration in previous ACC Value Champions. With limited points of reference outside of the organization, “It was really valuable to see what others are doing,” he says.

“The agility of the legal skill set continues to grow, and the courage legal teams have nowadays to step outside of their traditional boundaries is remarkable.”