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A Quick Q&A with AM19 Faculty, Session Recaps, and A Look at 2019 Award Winners

Curious about what happened at this year’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ? Check out a few highlights below. 

Session 201: In-house Counsel and Sustainability

An interview with Melissa Kennedy, Executive Vice President & CLO, SunLife

Your session, “In-house Counsel and Sustainability” focuses on an area of great interest for in-house counsel today, across industries. Why is this topic so important? 

As the executor sponsor of sustainability at my company, I encourage other counsel to become involved. I see sustainability becoming more important to our companies, and more of our stakeholders demand it, including investors, clients, employees, suppliers, and regulators.

What’s one thing in-house counsel need to know about advising the C-suite and the board in areas related to corporate sustainability?

Companies that have a direct environmental impact, such those in the extraction sector, have had sustainability issues on their radar for some time. But even companies, like mine in the financial sector, have a role to play. For example, at Sun Life we try to leverage over a trillion dollars of assets under management to be deployed in more sustainable investments.   

As CLOs continue to take on expanded roles and more responsibility within various areas of the business, like sustainability and corporate social responsibility, what are some of the biggest opportunities to be considered?

I think there is a natural alignment between lawyers and sustainability; we are usually some of the few employees who are been specifically trained in ideas like justice and human rights. Supporting sustainability is also good for business as the evidence overwhelming supports that sustainable companies have better performance.  

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ?

As a new member of the ACC board, I am really looking forward to meeting new colleagues in the in-house community in Phoenix.  

Headshot of ACC board member Melissa Kennedy

AM19 Session Recaps

Growing Your Role: Advancing Your Duties and Title Beyond the Legal Function

Whether they work in a small or large legal department, many lawyers strive to expand their role and responsibilities to advance their careers inside and outside the legal department. 

In the session "Growing Your Role: Advancing Your Duties and Title Beyond the Legal Function," Joan Archer, general counsel for Farmobile, led  a panel of accomplished GCs — John Ruzich, chief administrative officer and chief legal officer, Legends; Alexander Winsberg, general counsel, legal affairs and risk management, Angels Baseball LP; and Christina Zabat-Fran, vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, St. John Knits — in a discussion in which they provided advice, tips, and strategies to help aspiring lawyers fill their toolkits to take their careers to the next level. 

Their goal for the session:  to help attendees expand their roles and influence within their organizations.

Members of the panel discussed how they enhanced their own positions and roles throughout their careers, and in some cases added functions and teams beyond the legal department. They provided these key strategies and take-aways:

  • Set goals and let them be known.
  • Build cross-functional relationships and trust within your organization.
  • Understand your business and expand your knowledge beyond legal.
  • Capitalize on opportunities.
  • Develop an executive presence.
  • Network beyond your organization.
  • Find a mentor who is where you want to be someday. 

session leaders in discussion

Session leaders discuss "growing your role" at the 2019 ACC Annual Meeting.

Business Education for In-house Counsel: Getting Ready for Digital Transformation

M. Kathryn Brohman leads the session

M. Kathryn Brohman, PhD leads "Business Education for In-house Counsel: Getting Ready for Digital Transformation,” at the 2019 ACC Annual Meeting.

Digitalizing their businesses is a critical priority and strategy for today’s CEOs. However, many find putting the internal structure in place to handle the rapid and ongoing disruption caused by digitalization a struggle.

In the session, “Business Education for In-house Counsel: Getting Ready for Digital Transformation,” M. Kathryn Brohman, PhD, thought leader and associate professor at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University in Canada, cited a Gartner study noting that corporate legal departments must be prepared and ready to support these digital initiatives.

 “Digital transformation is about offering a robust customer experience, increasing performance, and equipping the organization to sustain changes in the long term,” notes Dr. Brohman. 

According to the Gartner study, “digital-ready” legal departments can increase digital project delivery by 63 percent and increase appropriate legal and compliance risk taking by 46 percent. Dr. Brohman discussed the foundational concepts necessary for digital transformation and the role legal departments need to play to advance their organizations’ digital readiness.  

In-house counsel don’t need to be experts in the technology, noted Dr. Brohman, however they need to understand the implications of the technology and why it’s important. She advises in-house counsel to sit down with the technology professionals and have them explain the technology, why it’s important to implement, and the business implications. Because technology will continue to drive rapid change, and because digitalization is a key priority for CEOs, it’s important that in-house counsel be prepared and knowledgeable about legal implications of digital transformation to earn a seat at the table.

Navigating Ethical Landmines: Protecting Your CEO, C-Suite, and Board

How do you deal with a CEO, members of the C-suite, or even the board of a private company who have a high-risk tolerance level and a disregard for potentially serious legal issues?  Lawyers in private companies that do not have the same SEC rigor as those in public companies, often must walk a fine line to protect the company, stay true to ethics, and not jeopardize their jobs while doing what the boss requests.

Gaining corporate trust and having a support network of trusted advisors are key to survival, noted a panel of experienced lawyers in a session sponsored by ACC Small Law Departments Network, “Navigating Ethical Landmines: Protecting your CEO, C-Suite and Board.” The panel included Cynthia Alberth, former general counsel, Other World Computing; Maria Buckley, general counsel, Joslin Diabetes Center; Brian Martin, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary, Juniper Networks; and Sonya Sigler, CEO, PractiGal LLC, who shared their insights on handling real-world dilemmas and scenarios.  

Issues discussed ranged from hiring independent contractors without vetting them through the IRS 20-point test; acquiring companies in a handshake deal without due diligence; to the CEO signing contracts that are fraught with pitfalls despite the GC’s warnings. The experienced panel answered questions regarding these and other situations and gave tips to help in-house counsel protect their company, while holding on to their ethics and law licenses when top executives want to bend the rules.  

Some key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Mention attorney-client privilege sparingly in your emails — otherwise you dilute the protection it provides.
  • You don’t want to fly solo when dealing with ethical issues.
  • Trust matters.
  • Know what you are talking about.
  • Make sure employees understand you are the company’s lawyer.
  • Protect yourself.
  • Often there is no good answer.
  • You must build your support network of trusted advisors. 

Learn more about the Annual Meeting and all ACC Educational Programming.

Annual meeting attendee

An attendee enjoys a session at the Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

It’s Award Season at AM19

headshot of a network award winner.

 

Robert I. Townsend, Jr. Member of the Year

Jennifer Mailander, Deputy General Counsel, Fannie Mae

 

Network Awards

 

Outstanding Large Network of the Year

Employment & Labor Law Network

 

Outstanding Small Network of the Year

Financial Services Network

 

Jonathan S. Silber Outstanding Network Member of the Year

David Cohen, CLO, Major League Business LLC

 

Network Sponsors of the Year

The International Society of Primerus Law Firms

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Network Achievement Award Honorees

Gold

Employment & Labor Law Network

International Legal Affairs Network

Law Department Management Network

Sports & Entertainment Network

members attending a session, in deep thought

 

Chapter Achievement Awards

Best Diversity Initiative

ACC San Francisco Bay Area

 

Best Membership Strategy Implemented

ACC Michigan

 

Best Partnership Program

ACC Louisiana

 

Innovative Programming Effort

ACC New Jersey

 

Chapter of Distinction Honorees

Gold

 

ACC Austin

ACC Chicago

ACC Colorado

ACC Greater Philadelphia

ACC Houston

ACC Nevada

ACC St. Louis

ACC San Diego

ACC Southern California

ACC South/Central Texas

ACC Tampa Bay

 

Silver

 

ACC Baltimore

ACC Central Ohio

ACC Michigan

ACC New Jersey

ACC New York City

ACC Northeast

ACC Northeast Ohio

ACC South Carolina

ACC Tennessee

 

ACC Value Champions

 

AbbVie

Anglo American & Exigent Group

Deutsche Bank & Quislex

Hatch & LOD (formerly Lexvoco)

MassMutual

McAfee

Rabobank & Thompson Coburn

Sonae MC

Telstra

Toyota Motors, N.A. & The Counsel Management Group

ACC

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