Was it the lure of a magical kingdom situated on 30,000 acres of developed swamp land in central Florida? Or perhaps the child-like glee to be experienced upon seeing those famous mouse ears? For more than 1,600 in-house counsel from around the globe, the main attraction was the Association of Corporate Counsel Annual Meeting held at the Orlando World Marriott from Sept. 30-Oct. 3. The ACC’s Annual Meeting is the world’s largest gathering of the in-house counsel community. Each year, in-house counsel gather together to network with peers, share best practices and learn more about latest developments affecting the corporate counsel profession. But just in case you missed it, here’s my top things heard, said and observed over the three-day gathering:

11. Happy Anniversary, ACC!  This conference marked the 30th anniversary of the ACC’s formation. Beginning in 1982, a small group of general counsel met in the Dallas Fort Worth airport to discuss a bar association exclusively for in-house counsel forming the ACC, to today where there were crowds of lawyers toasting each other amidst three decades of timelines and milestones that encircled the ACC’s 30th Anniversary Lounge.

10. “It’s a small world after all”- Part 1. As if the anniversary wasn’t enough reason to celebrate, the ACC also recognized the achievement of another milestone: its membership surpassing 30,000 members, with corporate counsel from more than 75 countries. The conference sessions alike reflected the membership’s global perspective, with international topics like “Post-Merger Integration of American and European Companies”, “Practical Considerations for Establishing Successful Businesses in China” and “Crossing the Cultural Divide: Succeeding in International Business Negotiations.” Fun fact: the actual 30,000th member of the ACC is a female in-house lawyer hailing from France. Tres magnifique!

9. New to the club.  Monday morning featured a session dedicated entirely to those new to the in-house community. The session, entitled “Welcome to Rookie Camp” covered 10 items every new corporate counsel should know, such as how to avoid “lawyer-shopping” by your internal clients and why “just saying no” doesn’t work in the corporate context. Want more advice for those “New To In-House”? Check out the pearls of wisdom in my recently published ACC article “What I Know Now that I Wish I Knew Then.”

8. The twists and turns of Lauren Stevens’ wild ride and adventure.  Addressing a packed ballroom on Monday afternoon, Lauren Stevens, the former associate general counsel at GlaxoSmithKline, recounted her harrowing experience of being accused by the U.S. Department of Justice, and later acquitted, of allegedly obstructing a U.S. Food and Drug Administration inquiry into the company’s promotion of the anti-depression drug, Wellbutrin. Her experience begged the question: Are prosecutors and regulators targeting in-house lawyers? Amar Sarwal, the ACC’s chief legal strategist who interviewed Stevens, warned, “The government, regulators, perhaps even opposing counsel, have a target on your back.” For those corporate counsel performing their job description but concerned about zealous prosecutors, Stevens advised her peers, “That is what you do—go back and defend your client zealously and don’t back away because you are afraid of my experience.” To learn more, go to West LegalEdcenter to listen to the recording of Stevens’ interview.

7. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest legal department of them all? Clearly, one legal department does not reign supreme, but according to the ACC, there are at least 12 that deserved special recognition this year.The luncheon provided an opportunity to hear from the inaugural class of ACC Value Champions, each of whom has implemented successful programs to reduce outside counsel spending, achieve near certain spending predictability and/or improve legal outcomes for their companies. For those wanting to emulate these innovative champions, the ACC provided an entire track of sessions dedicated to driving change in legal departments, with discussion topics ranging from pro bono programs to diversity initiatives to legal project management techniques.

6. Happiest place on Earth. After the sessions ended each evening, happy hour was the name of the game in the Exhibit Hall, where there was no shortage of cocktails, food and other delights for the attendees to enjoy. But the happiest place? My bet was Monday and Tuesday evenings at the Thomson Reuters’ booth, where hundreds of corporate counsel gathered to enjoy some champagne in blinking orange flutes and vie for an opportunity to spin the 6-foot-tall Thomson Reuters prize wheel.

5. Best. Advice. Ever. In a session dedicated to working with internal clients, the panel recommended specialized email training, with practical tips like “do not email when angry” and “do not use inside jokes or nick names.” But the best advice was the list of “red flags” to avoid when drafting emails, including: “I really shouldn’t put this in writing” or “I could get in trouble for telling you this, but…” My personal favorite: “DELETE THIS EMAIL IMMEDIATELY.” This session should have been titled: How to Avoid Creating Ammunition for the Opposing Party.

4. “It’s a small world after all”- Part 2. The erosion of attorney-client privilege between in-house lawyers and their internal business clients was another hot topic in Orlando. A popular ethics session discussed the growing lack of privilege protection around the globe for in-house counsel. The good news: many countries outside the U.S. have some form of attorney-client privilege. The bad news: few countries outside the U.S. extend this privilege to corporate counsel. U.S. attorneys who are accustomed to American evidentiary rules that typically shield corporate lawyer communications from disclosure must exercise greater discretion when working in international arenas.

3. LOL! (in-house style). Who knew that contract drafting could be so popular? The standing–room-only crowd of corporate counsel seeking practical drafting and negotiation advice. The session dissected substantive contract provisions such as warranties, covenants, representations, indemnities and dispute resolution. In this room, “LOL” stood for “limitation of liability”—which is, for this crowd, no laughing matter. (Note: this joke was received with robust laughter from the session attendees. No joke.)

2. Souvenirs and other tokens to bring home. Throughout the conference, there was no shortage of Thomson Reuters thought-leaders delivering leading practices for legal departments to adopt and implement upon their return home, including:

  •   -“Are We Great of Just So-So? Finding Benchmarks Necessary to Assess the Performance of Your Law Department”, Rob Thomas, vice president, Market Development Group, Thomson Reuters
  •   – “Third Party Compliance”, Natasha Wyss, senior vice president, Global Business Compliance, Thomson Reuters
  •   – “A Play-by-Play Guide to Creating a Contracts Playbook”, Karla Bookman, vice president, Corporate and Compliance Solutions, Pangea3
  •   – “The Flat Work and the Future of Document Review”, Greg McPolin, managing director, Pangea3 and Corporate Counsel, Litigation
  •   – “Tax Considerations in M&A Transactions”, Priscilla Hughes, senior vice president & general counsel, Americas, Thomson Reuters

1. Tomorrowland? What lies ahead for the ACC and the corporate counsel community? Evident to all the attendees was the growing influence of corporate counsel and in-house legal departments within the entire legal profession. But what’s in store for the next decade or three? Well, we’ll know what’s ahead for the next year, at least—see you at the 2013 ACC Conference in Los Angeles next year. California, here we come!

Did you bring home any other souvenirs or other key takeaways home from the ACC conference?

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