Jeff Isaacs has given much thought to the evolution of legal services over his 30-plus year career in the industry, both in legal operations and as an attorney acting as both outside and in-house counsel. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with him on his career and his decision to join KPMG LLP as Director, Global Legal Managed Services.
Isaacs sees the move from his previous roles as global head of third-party governance and global COO for legal at Goldman Sachs as a natural next step in his efforts to contribute to the goal of bringing about sustainable change in how legal services are delivered. At KPMG, he will help in-house legal departments harness technology, improve processes, and strengthen governance to reduce risk, enhance transparency, operate more efficiently and effectively, and increase impact.
“Leveraging my previous experience as a Global COO of Legal at two Fortune 100 companies, this is a space I am passionate about., “ Isaacs said. “I continue to believe that we are experiencing an evolution in how legal services are and should be delivered, and I am excited to be part of the ecosystem looking to bring about sustainable and meaningful change in the space.”
He had his sights set on becoming a lawyer from a young age, influenced by the lawyers of the post-Vietnam era. After graduating from Columbia Law School, he started his professional career as a corporate associate at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP. He then moved to Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, attracted by the opportunity to serve the firm’s portfolio of entrepreneurial-focused clients.
"Corporate transactional work suited me,” Isaacs said. “There is a cooperative spirit on both sides of the table to get a deal done in a relatively short time frame that contributes to a sense of accomplishment. Deal-making relies heavily on the art of negotiation, which fascinates me.”
In late 1997 Isaacs joined Prudential as head of M&A—Legal. In 2005 he was named COO for Law, Compliance and Business Ethics at the leading insurance company. He continued to lead cross-border M&A legal work for the company, which was in an acquisitive mode then. To manage the workload, he brought in Darren Guy (now at AIG) as his lieutenant.
The pioneering legal operations team made tremendous strides over a few short years, while having fun along the way. One particular goal was for attorneys to focus on working at the top of their practice Other accomplishments included implementing an electronic billing system and a convergence program for law firms aimed at cutting costs and building deeper, more sustainable relationships, rolling out of document management system, and developing a supporting communications strategy.
While at Prudential, Isaacs became involved with the NJ Law and Education Empowerment Project, a newly formed non-profit organization dedicated to helping make college more accessible for disadvantaged youth. The group used law—constitutional debates, moot court exercises, and more as a framework to excite them about education. The organization’s mission aligned with Isaacs’ core belief in the need for greater diversity in the legal profession, so he volunteered to serve on its Advisory Board and was later appointed to the Board of Trustees.
Isaacs continued to build his legal operations network. Initially, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) was his primary resource. The ACC hosted two annual meetings for COOs at in-house law departments to discuss issues such as effective outside counsel and matter management, emerging technology, talent development, and effective organizational structures. Attendance at these meetings was intentionally kept small to facilitate open and frank conversations about common challenges and possible solutions in a “safe-to-say” environment. Much was learned through these meetings, but their actual value lay in the relationships forged that enabled COOs to pose questions and share thoughts and ideas informally through the years and in the groundwork laid for the Legal Ops Section as the next iteration.
In 2010 Isaacs joined Goldman Sachs as global COO of Legal. Shortly after that, drawing on his experience at the ACC, he organized an informal New York City legal operations group comprised primarily of legal COOs at large financial institutions in the New York Metro area.
Isaacs recalled, “This group of COOs provided good camaraderie and a collaborative atmosphere in seeking answers and innovative solutions. A common entrepreneurial spirit shared by the participants ultimately resulted in ideas for modernizing legal departments and making them more commercially effective in how they delivered legal services.”
In 2011, under Isaacs’ leadership, members of the New York City legal operations group launched a cybersecurity initiative in conjunction with a dozen law firms. The initiative aimed to determine the cyber-security posture of the law firm community to arrive at a solution for sharing information and analyzing threats. The participants quickly realized that these law firms—which held some of their clients’ most confidential information on litigation, regulatory, deal-related, and other matters—were targets of cyber-attacks. In 2015, with the support of their financial services clients, the law firms formalized the Legal Information Sharing and Analysis Organization.
“We got in front of an issue early enough while there was still time to create impact,” Isaacs said. “The law firms picked the brains of the cyber experts from the banks, and there was and continues to be excellent collaboration on an issue where interests are very much aligned.”
As he assumes his new role at KPMG, Isaacs is excited about the opportunity to carry on the work to which he’s dedicated much of his career: Enhancing and strengthening the effective and efficient delivery of corporate legal services.