The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is a global bar association, promoting the professional interests of in-house counsel through education and advocacy. Via local chapters, the ACC offers its members resources for continuing legal education (CLE) credits and networking. The New York City chapter (previously called Greater New York) is led by DHI Group General Counsel Brian Campbell, who shares highlights from a recent event here, along with the benefits he has enjoyed through his participation in the chapter. His remarks have been edited for length and style.
MCC: This is your fourth year as a board member of the New York City chapter of the ACC, and your first as president. Tell our readers about the chapter. What are you hoping to deliver to your members?
Campbell: Our New York City chapter is one of the ACC’s largest at nearly 1,800 members. We serve the five boroughs of New York City, as well as Long Island. The board is made up of in-house lawyers, who are all engaged in and dedicated to fulfilling our chapter’s mission. Our programs and events are geared toward in-house counsel, and although law firms and service providers sponsor us, our goal is to provide members with opportunities to learn about what’s going on in the industry and to educate themselves on issues that come up in their day-to-day practice or in their own career growth and development, all in an environment in which they’re not subjected to a sales pitch. We also encourage engagement among members and want to bring them together to help one another advance their careers.
We regularly poll our membership via surveys and informal conversation to see what is piquing their interest, and through that we’ve enhanced our program offerings. We’re always coming up with new and creative initiatives to get our members what they need. We emphasize over and over that for less than $400 a year for an individual membership, in-house counsel can get all of their required CLE credits, without being charged any additional fees. They can also take advantage of social and networking opportunities with other in-house counsel.
And of course, there’s the ACC annual meeting, where for an additional fee in-house counsel can obtain all of their CLE credits in only a few days. On top of that, they can meet members from other chapters around the world and interact with their peers as well as top-level practitioners. For example, at the 2015 annual meeting in Boston, Ben Heineman, the former general counsel at General Electric, addressed other chief legal officers (CLOs). There were around a hundred CLOs in the room. Ben spoke to us and then stayed around to answer questions, and it was really a fantastic event – one of the highlights of my years practicing in-house. That’s something you don’t otherwise see outside of ACC, someone of the caliber of Ben Heineman connecting with in-house counsel on a personal level.
Also, ACC as a global organization has continued to expand and grow worldwide, with new chapters as far afield as Australia. ACC global also hosts conference calls and webinars and distributes literature and other resources.
MCC: What are some of the benefits of taking on a leadership role?
Campbell: The biggest benefit of taking on a leadership role in an ACC chapter (like ACC-NYC) is the ongoing interaction with other similarly situated in-house counsel. I’ve been an ACC member for just over 20 years. Back when I was in the large law firm world, everyone rose through the ranks in lockstep with people who came out of law school in the same year, and I could walk down the hall and talk to an expert or specialist about almost any legal issue. When I made the move into the in-house environment 21 years ago, I was part of a small law department, and I missed having the ability to engage on a regular basis with peers who had subject matter expertise and similar experiences. ACC’s motto is “by in-house counsel, for in-house counsel” and, after starting out as an ACC member and then growing into a leadership role, I have been able to make connections with other similarly situated in-house counsel and share experiences and advice with them.
The leadership opportunities within an ACC chapter are diverse and plentiful. There are positions available within one of our many practice or affinity groups as well as opportunities at the board level. All that is needed is a willingness to get involved. For example, we have an Intellectual Property Practice Group. You could serve as a chair or assist as a co-chair in that group, become involved in running an event, or just continue to attend events and get to know people who are specialists in that area. It gives somebody who might be the sole intellectual property practitioner in their company the chance to meet others and talk about issues that they face. You can participate as much as you want, wherever you want, without having to overcommit or potentially interfere with doing your job. We understand that our members have demanding in-house jobs, but we encourage them to get more involved to really immerse themselves in what the chapter has to offer.
MCC: ACC New York City recently hosted an event called In-House Counsel Toolkit. What was the organization’s goal in designing this program? How did you develop the topics?
Campbell: As I mentioned, we reach out on a regular basis to our membership to gauge their current interests or timely topics. The concept for In-House Counsel Toolkit was to give everybody a little something that they would need on a regular basis in their in-house counsel jobs. We lined up subjects that we knew had broad appeal in plenary sessions and targeted more specific topics into optional tracks, so our members could choose what they wanted to attend. More than a hundred members participated at some level in our all-day event, and we provided them with the option to obtain a specialized focus with some of our tracks.
MCC: One of the sessions was Defensible Deletion to Downsize Your Data. What were some of its key takeaways?
Campbell: The focus of our Defensible Deletion session was to provide practical advice on records retention, which is one of those issues that any in-house practitioner will tell you is challenging to explain to businesspeople and implement across an organization. Records retention issues get more complicated the more technology that employees have and the more people become used to operating independently, whether remotely, from home offices or via communication channels other than company email.
A new sponsor of ours, Jordan Lawrence, presented this program and gave a lot of practical insight, addressing a number of the pain points that consistently come up for our members. It started people thinking about a number of issues that, perhaps, weren’t addressed in records retention programs that may have been put in place a number of years ago. The technology has evolved so significantly that practitioners have to think about how to address new developments, whether it is social media postings, instant messaging or other electronic footprints that people can leave but might not otherwise be captured within the internal corporate systems. Once you are aware of it and acknowledge it, you need to come up with ways to address it.
MCC: Copyright attorney and professional jazz pianist and composer Jonny King discussed the troublesome application of copyright law to jazz. Can you give us some highlights from that program?
Campbell: This was a unique CLE event that addressed, in an informal and fun environment, the issues that come up under copyright law. As you mentioned, Jonny King is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, who is also an attorney who heads up the firm of our Intellectual Property Practice Group sponsor Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman. With the members of his all-star band, Jonny took us through a couple of situations, including bars of songs, so we’d understand the challenges that come into play from a copyright law perspective when a jazz musician is writing or playing at a club or in a recording session.
Jonny and his band demonstrated many ways in which jazz falls outside the legal framework that applies to other types of creative works. He noted that there are scenarios in which, for example, a musician might make variations to a generally accepted Cole Porter tune. He also highlighted how some jazz musicians, like Charlie Parker, made a career out of changing up their songs and continually going off-script, noting that on the jazz front there tend to be more variations than similarities and each iteration can have different copyright implications. Having various members in the band perform different pieces and iterations live to demonstrate the variations and illustrate the copyright issues was absolutely marvelous.
MCC: What other sessions would readers appreciate?
Campbell: There were a host of opportunities to network, and we never want to underemphasize the value of sitting at the same table with fellow in-house counsel. We had, for example, one session in which the panel comprised operating officers from law firms and key in-house legal personnel on the operations side who work with those law firms. The perspective of that panel was how do you, as in-house counsel, think about retaining a law firm, what goes into that decision, and what should you be talking about from the onset as you start a conversation with a firm and move toward possibly retaining them.
Again, it’s information that you can’t really get elsewhere. We bring together the firms in front of an audience with people who, at some time or another, have had to deal with retaining outside counsel, have had billing challenges arise after having retained outside counsel, or are coming to a point where potentially they’ll need to make that decision on behalf of their organization and want to get themselves ready. We’re not aware of any other bar associations or groups providing this insight.
We also had a well-received game-show-style ethics event – in-house counsel are always trying to make sure that they satisfy their ethics CLE requirements – hosted by the Pillsbury law firm and with Nancy Axilrod, who was just recently promoted to general counsel at Coach, as the in-house practitioner on the panel. Another component, hosted by our sponsor Navigant, addressed analyzing financial reporting. That’s always a staple. Although you may not have to deal with it intimately in a law firm environment, our in-house counsel members note that it is a critical skill in a results-oriented world, and they consistently ask for programming like this to help them out. We also had a timely panel presentation addressing LGBT rights in the workplace, which was put on by Kelley Drye. Like I mentioned, we work hard to present practical and timely advice to our members and present panels that typically have one or more in-house practitioners who can share their experience and perspective.
MCC: Is there anything else about the New York City chapter of ACC you’d like to share with our readers?
Campbell: We’re always encouraging in-house counsel to reach out to us. If they’ve never been exposed to ACC or our local NYC chapter, we’d love them to take advantage of our offerings. Our practice groups provide practical experience and advice in particular subject matters. We also have strong groups that address diversity issues and women’s issues and, earlier this year, we launched a new All Abilities Legal Resource Group. We had a fantastic panel that included disability advocate and White House Champion of Change Haben Girma, as well as Victor Calise, the commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. We have a full slate of programming and events scheduled for the remainder of the year. My fellow board members and I are looking forward to continuing to engage with our chapter membership, and we encourage member and nonmember in-house counsel alike to get involved with a local chapter like ACC-NYC.
Published July 1, 2016.