Authored by: Casey Harris, ACCDocket.com’s Ethics & Compliance columnist, and vice president, general counsel, and secretary for Univera.
Casey Harris, ACCDocket.com’s Ethics & Compliance columnist, muses over how technological advancements, privacy concerns, and regulatory changes will unfold for in-house counsel in 2018.
1. Growing effect of China on world business
While it appears that China’s economic data isn’t always necessarily reliable, it is undeniable that it has a large effect on the international business world. Jack Ma, cofounder of Alibaba Group, a consortium of internet-based companies, has an estimated personal worth over US$38 billion — and he is not alone. The BBC reported in 2016 that the number of Chinese billionaires surpasses the number of US billionaires. Though this information makes it hard to deny that China is an increasingly attractive place to do business, the regulatory environment there can still be challenging. It will be interesting to see whether that environment relaxes in the months ahead.
2. Executive appointments to US regulatory agencies
US President Donald Trump still has a large number of federal appointees to nominate in 2018, and most of these positions are for regulatory agencies that will impact a wide range of industries. As new nominees get confirmed and assume the posts that were previously held by Obama-era appointees, we will definitely see shifts in the focus of many agencies’ enforcement efforts.
3. US federal budgeting changes
Likewise, some agencies will continue to see their funding levels change in Trump’s second year, as his administration has settled in. Varying staffing levels or amounts of resources that are based on these budgetary limitations will also affect enforcement priorities — either negatively or positively — depending on the company’s perspective. In general, less funding means lower staff levels and restricted agency reach, which tends to be pro-business in some industries.
4. Twitter’s stance on its own character limit
In November, Twitter updated its 140-character tweet limit to 280 characters. But there is still debate as to whether Twitter will allow this increased character limit to stand. Some commentators have expressed concern that the increased limit will lead to more cyber harassment — a PR problem that Twitter has faced for years.
5. The #MeToo movement and continued fallout
As much as I keep hoping that we have heard the last distressing story from a sexual harassment or assault victim, I doubt we’ve seen the end of this movement. With this surge of victims coming forward to share their stories, it is inevitable that a growing number of in-house counsel must handle reports of inappropriate behavior perpetrated by some of our clients’ employees. We should be prepared to give these stories our full attention if and when they come to our desks.
6. North Korea
While not strictly involving the in-house community as a whole, the aggression between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, as well as North Korea’s escalation of missile and nuclear programs, should be monitored closely for the next several months, Apart from the looming threat of nuclear missile strikes, if the United States and North Korea do not resolve these monumental issues peacefully, businesses associated in the Korean peninsula could face detrimental economic consequences. Let’s hope that the two nations never approach that line in the sand.
7. Lawyers becoming CEOs
Lately in-house counsel, and general counsel in particular, have been seeking roles at the top of the company. This trend should come as no surprise, as in-house counsel must be well versed in both legal matters and business matters. Having a leader who can see all business matters from a legal standpoint can be more valuable to companies and their bottom line. This holistic advising approach is driving leaders from the general counsel’s seat to the CEO’s — and soon more lawyers will follow suit.
8. Live streaming and advertising
From the direct retail sales industry to the entertainment world, companies are watching the increased use of live streaming applications like Facebook Live or Periscope with intrigue and reservation. Companies are flocking to the new communication tool, as it’s an immediate and relatively easy way to engage your customer base. But live streaming can create legal issues from inadvertently violating advertising regulations of companies’ products and business opportunities. In-house counsel should keep these potential risks in mind when their company creates a social media campaign.
9. Artificial intelligence and e-Discovery
For the past several years, artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly popular for lawyers to review documents during discovery proceedings. However, AI is only as good as the people who program and “train” the software. As humans continue to advance computer sophistication, we will certainly begin to see AI appear in other legal areas, such as research and contract lifecycle management.
10. Artificial intelligence generating legal documents?
The potential for AI is limitless and becoming more accessible each year. In December, a group of computer programmers and literature editors created a three-page original Harry Potter fan fiction piece using artificial intelligence that had been fed the text of the seven main Harry Potter novels and that “learned” from author J.K. Rowling’s writing style. Could this type of automated writing program come to the legal world in 2018, and offer us computer-authored briefs and pleadings? Probably not this upcoming year. One of the plot points in the Harry Potter piece involves fan-favorite Ron Weasley doing a “frenzied tap dance,” then eating Hermione’s family. Perhaps we shouldn’t let AI write any Supreme Court briefs until it sorts out its obvious cannibalism issues.