Q&A with James Merklinger, ACCCI

March 12, 2018

What makes a good In-House lawyer? Can it be quantified? Perhaps not, but Jim Merklinger, the President of the new ACCCI (Association of Corporate Counsel Credentialing Institute) thinks there are measures that can be put into place to enhance, develop, and further professionalize the role of the In-House Counsel worldwide. This is via a thoroughly researched certification program put together by some of the world’s best lawyers, delivered by some of the world’s best lawyers, with the support of the world’s largest body of In-House Counsel. He also thinks Dubai is the best place in the world to pilot this program. I sat down with Jim recently to find out why.

Jim, appreciate you sitting down to have a chat with me. Most people know the ACC well, but what is the ACC Credentialing Institute?

Thank you, Ben, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss the ACC Credentialing Institute and its In-house Counsel Certification program. As many in-house counsel know, the Association of Corporate Counsel is a voluntary bar association for lawyers that are employed as in-house counsel. It has over 43,000 members working in more than 10,000 corporate legal departments around the world.

ACCCI is a newly created, wholly owned subsidiary of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The whole purpose of the ACCCI is to set standards to advance the in-house practice of law, and to provide the training necessary to meet those standards. We’re lucky that we’re able to leverage on the decades of experience that the ACC has in this area to bring something to the legal community that can reflect their continued development.

What does the program entail?

It’s a four-day program that will provide training and subsequently measure the delegates’ proficiency across three core areas: stakeholder relationships, law department management, and legal services. Importantly, participants will develop a toolkit for translating technical expertise into actionable business solutions. We’re attempting to make intangible phrases like ‘business partnering’ more tangible.

So if I understand correctly, any In-House Counsel who successfully passes the program will walk away with a recognized qualification?

That’s correct; delegates that complete the training and pass the assessment will receive the designation of In-house Counsel Certified, “ICC”. This is a voluntary standard and is not required for the practice of law nor does it substitute for any jurisdiction’s licensure requirements. In developing this designation, ACC drew upon many years of experience serving the in-house profession, research and feedback from a global advisory council.The council consisted of the heads of legal departments from Australia ,Dubai, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the Unite States. Attorneys, in general, are always seeking to gain knowledge and improve professionally. The certification training offers not only an opportunity to learn about global best practices but also to demonstrate a proficiency in the skills association with successful in-house counsel.

This is one of the very first – if not the first – program of its kind for In-House Counsel. We’ve seen many other professions within the corporate suite (Finance, marketing, Compliance etc.) have the option for a number of years to add additional credentials to their professional qualification, and further enhance their careers. Why do you think it has taken so long in the In-House legal space?

In-house counsel are obviously attorneys, and with few exceptions around the world, it is a licensed profession already governed by rules and regulations. At first glance one might believe that is all you need to be an in-house counsel. Why would anyone voluntarily ask for more testing or additional certification? Going through law school and being admitted to the bar is tough enough. Training contracts are tough! What ACC found over time is that knowledge of the law alone is not an indication of being a successful in-house counsel. What it ultimately boiled down to was the ability to translate legal knowledge into a business solution.

I was asked by ACC board of directors more than two years ago to explore the development of a certification program for in-house counsel. Two benefits of certification were immediately identified; one, attorneys being able to demonstrate they are continually seeking to improve professionally and have a level of competency in the skills identified as significant to the in-house practice of law. Two, employers seeking candidates from a global work force could have a recognizable standard, from what is the world’s largest organization of in-house counsel.

ACC is attempting to create a recognizable global standard but it’s not the first certification for in-house counsel that I’m aware of in existence. My understanding is that South Africa will soon implement a certification, if it has not already, Singapore recently announced training requirements specifically for in-house counsel. The Canadian Corporate Counsel Association started a certification program a few years ago and at least one law school in Australia offers a program specific to the in-house practice of law. All of these programs recognize the unique skills and opportunities in-house counsel provide the employer. Each of these existing programs appears to be jurisdictionally specific. While I’m certain each of these programs provide value to participants, ACC’s emphasis is on a global standard, recognizing the business is conducted all around the world and attorneys may seek opportunities around the world as well. With ACC’s global membership in over 80 countries, we feel it is uniquely situated to offer a global standard for in-house counsel. What is important to remember is that although ACC, through its Credentialing Institute, is promoting standards through it certification program, it is ACC’s global membership that helped develop those standards.

And I guess the other question is – this is the first program – why Dubai?

ACC was in the process of developing the in-house counsel certification program when it was invited by the Dubai Legal Affairs Department to offer the certification in the Emirate. His Excellency, Deputy General Dr. Lowai Belhoul recognized the value of providing training specific to in-house counsel and ACC was honored to accept his invitation.

Dubai itself might be one of the best jurisdictions in the world to launch a global standard for in-house counsel. The Emirate is a melting pot of companies and in-house counsel from literally around the world; with different educational backgrounds and legal training.

What are the criteria for someone to sign up for the course?

The training is for licensed attorneys who either a) are currently employed as in-house counsel, or have previously been employed as in-house counsel (for a minimum of one year). It’s important to note that at this time, attorneys currently employed at law firms are not eligible to participate in this program.

And how do they do so?

Anyone who wishes to registered and do so on-line, http://www.acc.com/icc or feel free to email certification@acc.com with any questions they might have.

Is the intention for this to be rolled out globally?

Yes, ACC has the goal to offer this training around the world.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss this exciting initiative.