Golden and red foliage along with crisp autumn air welcomed a record-breaking crowd of more than 3,000 for this year’s Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting. Starting on Oct. 18, attendees converged upon Boston’s Hynes Memorial Convention Center for four days of continuing legal education, best practices, power poses and the opportunity to network with fellow corporate counsel from legal departments across the globe.
Weren’t able to attend? Here are a few of my top observations from this year’s conference.
- Most Exclusive Ticket in Boston What was the hottest, most exclusive “ticket” from this year’s conference? Was it an invite to the annual Thomson Reuters Customer Kick-off Party, this year at the exclusive, oak-paneled Harvard Club? Or was it Sunday night’s ACC Leadership Dinner, where this year’s ACC Value Champions were celebrated for improving costs, predictability and outcomes for their organizations and the legal industry? Or maybe obtaining the coveted, LED blinking bracelet, necessary to gain admittance into the ACC’s So-Cal closing “Martinis til Midnight” dance party? All good guesses, but this year’s most exclusive crowd would have been found in the program track dedicated to the Chief Legal Officer (CLO) Club. This year’s by-invitation only sessions included a workshop with long-time corporate counsel statesman and former General Electric Sr. Vice President and General Counsel Ben Heineman. Heineman, who is currently a senior fellow of the Program on Corporate Governance at the Harvard Law School, led a discussion about the tension between being a partner to the CEO and guardian of the corporation, and tackled tough questions like “How does a GC act as guardian with disinterested or hostile business leaders on issues such as ethics, risk, public policy, citizenship and governance?”
- Showcasing our own smarts Did you know that there are more than 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston area? There were a lot of smart people in the vicinity, and concentrated in the Hynes Center, which included the highly-educated corporate counsel at the conference who had access to more than 100 CLE sessions across 11 discipline tracks, including Law Department Management, Litigation & Disputes, Compliance and Ethics, and Global Legal Issues. Thomson Reuters showcased its own smarts and thought-leadership at this year’s conference, with two sponsored sessions: Structuring an Ethical Supply Chain, presented by Thomson Reuters Risk Management Solutions; and Avoiding the Top Nine Legal Mistakes Start-ups Make: Resources for Getting the Best Start Possible, presented by Practical Law.
- The Game Show vs. Socratic Method and PPT While the information and war stories are highly-informative (especially because reality is often always stranger than fiction), those sessions that took a different approach to delivering their CLEs were a welcome break to all the slideshows and talking panel heads. Who stood out? “Legal Jeopardy: Whose Risk Is It Anyway?,” a Family Feud-like session that tested knowledge of potential cyber-risks and disclosed horror stories about people who bypass, ignore or blatantly run roughshod over IT security policies and procedures; and “Name That Employment Issue,” an interactive session that explored key concepts in employment law such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and had game-show participants spotting issues in employment agreements, terminations and severance hypotheticals, and employment manuals and policies.
- Power Poses and Soft Skills In the 2015 ACC Chief Legal Officer Survey, more than half of the CLOs said that executive presence, communication and listening are among the most important skills for in-house counsel to possess. While all the CLE panels included legal subject matter experts in their field, interestingly almost all of the panels touched on these “soft skills” necessary for a corporate counsel to be effective and flourish within their organizations. More so, the importance of not only knowing the law, but the company’s businesses and culture also was stressed. Body language and power poses were the focus of the standing-room only keynote presentation on Monday afternoon, where Amy Cuddy, associate professor, Harvard Business School, shared how non-verbal behavior affects those around you from the courtroom to the boardroom. Amy’s TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” is the second most viewed TED talk of all time. Needless to say, corporate counsel around the globe are striking their power poses driven by Amy’s good advice.
- Go West, Young (Wo)Man. Disappointed that you weren’t able to join us in Boston? Or, you had that much fun and learned so much this year, that you have already marked the calendar for next October? We’re making our plans now, and are excited for the 2016 ACC annual meeting in San Francisco. California, here we come! See you next year.