The 11th annual SuperConference got underway Monday morning with a keynote speech featuring Daniel Meltzer, story professor of law and vice dean for planning at Harvard Law School and former White House deputy counsel.
Having served in the White House counsel’s office during the first half of the Obama administration, Meltzer provided an overview of the office’s responsibilities and challenges.
“The White House counsel’s office sits at the intersection of politics, policy and law,” he said.
The duties of the office include advising on presidential powers; advising on the selection of federal judges; vetting executive nominees; ensuring ethical behavior among White House staff members; handling controversies with legal ramifications; and other legal issues, such as immigration and the detaining of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
Working on such serious, fast-paced matters often left Meltzer and his team stretched and exhausted, just as many in-house counsel feel within their own companies.
The keynote panel, “Managing Up—Ways on Managing the Board, CEO & CFO,” echoed Meltzer’s advice about effectively working with high-level decision makers.
“You have to have a good relationship with the CEO and the board,” said panel moderator Carrie Hightman, EVP and CLO of NiSource Inc. She added that it’s important for in-house lawyers to be concise and practical in their advice and interaction with board members.
Karen Ripley, CLO of MillerCoors, noted that board members’ time is precious. “Dial into the needs and wants of your directors,” she said.
Marc Firestone, EVP of corporate and legal affairs and general counsel of Kraft Foods Inc., says board members will expect precise, meaningful answers to complicated questions. “You have to crystallize and formalize the way information is communicated,” he said.