The 11th annual SuperConference

Reports from the premier conference for the in-house bar.

Read news stories, and view slideshows and watch videos from SuperConference 2011.

Every year at SuperConference, the pages of InsideCounsel come to life. Our goal is to provide business insights for law department leaders, true to the InsideCounsel mission, and we make good on that goal. This year—our 11th SuperConference—was no different.

Hundreds of attendees filed into the Fairmont Chicago on May 23 and 24 for two days of substantive, educational information designed with their legal departments’ needs in mind. Each day opened as a general session with a keynote speaker followed by a keynote panel (see “Real Responsibilities”), and was immediately followed by various breakout sessions and networking opportunities. This year, breakout tracks included Ethics & Compliance, Law Department Management, Professional Development, Litigation Management and Substantive Issues. The program also included, for the first time, In-House Young Professionals, which was specifically focused on new in-house lawyers.

On the following pages, InsideCounsel shares some of the highlights from this year’s SuperConference. Also, be sure to visit InsideCounsel.com for more coverage of the event.

Social Media: Networking Nighmares

Two SuperConference breakout sessions addressed a growing concern among in-house lawyers: social media. With nearly every employee joining Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the opportunity for misconduct and corporate harm grows.

“Social media communications have surpassed e-mail,” noted Paul Starkman, chair of the labor and employment law practice group at Arnstein & Lehr during the session “Texts & Tweets – No Longer Casual Communication.”

“If a form of social media exists, it causes a potential problem for a corporation,” said Mark Herrmann, VP and chief counsel of litigation at AON.

 It is important for companies to develop a clear social media policy to delineate what is appropriate online conduct. Herrmann suggested GCs look to SociaMediaGovernance.com, a website that lists various corporations’ social media policies, for guidance.

When an employee does violate a company’s social media rules, a formal written policy will help guide management through proper, defensible disciplinary action. “Identify in advance the people that are going to be in the inner circle and responding to this sort of issue,” said Chad Hummel, chair of the litigation division at Manatt Phelps & Phillips.

During “Social Media and the Employee,” panelists elaborated on training employees on social media policies and enforcing compliance throughout the company. “Two or three years ago, this wouldn’t have been a topic at this conference,” noted Rich Meneghello, regional managing partner at Fisher & Phillips.

Karen Klein, general counsel at Kayak.com, reminded in-house counsel that they can’t realistically be in control of all of their employees’ online activities. “It’s more realistic to train people [on a social media policy] than for legal to serve as the gatekeeper for every post coming out,” she said. GCs must create a reasonable policy and educate employees about the rules in a relatable way.

As for corporate social media accounts, Alfred Coleman, director and senior corporate counsel at RSM McGladrey Inc., reminded session attendees that they have a duty to ensure all communications on behalf of the company are accurate and respectful. “We need to be transparent in our posts,” he said.

Venkat Balasubramani, principal at Focal PLLC, said the worst mistake management can make is taking a hands-off approach to online corporate profiles. “Letting your intern ‘deal with’ your social media accounts is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Law Department Management: Promoting Advocacy

There is no question that the struggling economy has wreaked havoc on everyone. Since 2008—and for some, even before—in-house lawyers have been challenged to keep their departments running as efficiently as possible with reduced resources.

But from these challenges has come the opportunity for senior in-house counsel to be better advocates for their departments. In the SuperConference breakout session, “Becoming a Better Advocate for Your Stretched Legal Department,” two GCs discussed the best practices they incorporate within their departments.

Janice Block, EVP, GC and chief compliance officer of Kaplan Higher Education, and Alan Tse, EVP and GC of Churchill Downs, agreed that integrating your law department within the business is crucial.

“When the in-house lawyers get involved in the business, it allows them to become better partners to the business people,” Tse explained. “You’re putting yourself in their shoes.”

Block added that inviting yourself to meetings, particularly those that may not have a legal matter on the agenda, does more than just help you learn more about your business.

“It will allow you to build influence and maintain relationships with key business people,” she said.

Other topics the panelists discussed included solving interdepartmental challenges while becoming a better partner, challenging legal staff with professional development and showing your department’s value.

While the panelists offered excellent insight to attendees on the many ways to become a better advocate for their departments, the discussion kept going back to in-house lawyers truly becoming a part of the business.

Diversity: What Women Want

In today’s legal department, achieving diversity has to be about more than skin color. Assembling a diverse legal team means pulling lawyers from all backgrounds, races, nationalities, sexual orientations and genders. The most recent results from the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s annual survey of women general counsel shows that 18.8 percent of the top legal officers are women. Despite significant gains thanks to diversity efforts, however, gender equity in the legal profession still has far to go.

This year’s SuperConference diversity session, “Diversity – Ways to Attract and Retain Women General Counsel,” featured a panel of successful women who spoke from personal experience about the challenges women in law face.

When attracting and retaining top women lawyers is the goal, it’s vital to know what women want professionally. And what do they want? According to a study conducted by Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting diversity in corporate legal departments, women want to feel valued, to be well-compensated, to receive challenging work assignments, to enjoy flexible work arrangements and to have upward mobility, in that order. CCWC founder and CEO Laurie Robinson, who also is SVP and assistant general counsel at CBS Corp., urged employers to keep in mind these five top components of job satisfaction among women.

Indeed, actively keeping women in mind is one of the biggest hurdles employers face in promoting gender diversity in the workplace, the panelists suggested. While the majority of people have overcome conscious biases, explained Nextions President Arin Reeves, even employers—particularly men—who want to promote women may find themselves acting on biases they don’t realize exist.

“When people want a specific characteristic, they see that characteristic in themselves and look for people who remind them of that,” Reeves explained. “If it’s a man looking for someone with ‘fire in the belly,’ he doesn’t know what ‘fire in the belly’ looks like in a woman.”

The panelists urged young women looking to move up the in-house ladder to seek out mentors and not to be intimidated by traditionally “male” networking opportunities, such as golf.

“Women are often concerned about ‘bothering’ someone, whereas men are more willing to be advocates for their careers,” said Kelly McNamara Corley, EVP, general counsel and secretary for Discover Financial Services. “Remember, you’re not bothering them, but be smart and strategic.”

Keynote Speakers: Real Responsibilities

This year’s SuperConference keynote speakers discussed how they successfully balance responsibilities in their organizations.  

The opening keynote on May 23 featured former White House deputy counsel Daniel Meltzer, now story professor of law and vice dean for planning at Harvard Law School. As deputy counsel during the first half of the Obama administration, Meltzer advised White House staff on significant issues including the Gulf oil spill, immigration matters, health care reform and legal concerns surrounding Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Meltzer noted that it was a challenge to reason with individuals who held strong political views. Nonetheless, “lawyers shouldn’t be shy to offer advice about what’s wrong,” he said.

The keynote panel “Managing Up—Ways on Managing the Board, CEO & CFO” discussed how to effectively work with high-level decision makers. Carrie Hightman, EVP and CLO of NiSource Inc., said GCs must remember that directors’ time is precious. “Be crisp in your presentation,” she said.

Karen Ripley, CLO of MillerCoors, noted that while GCs have a duty to guide executives, they must not lose sight of their main responsibilities. “What hats are you wearing, and what duties do you have?” she asked.

In-house lawyers also must keep clear heads during crises. “Ensure that how you handle the situation doesn’t become the new or bigger issue,” said Marc Firestone, EVP of corporate and legal affairs and general counsel of Kraft Foods Inc.

The ethical awareness theme continued in the May 24 keynote panel “Corporate Governance.”

“One of the biggest challenges I ever had as GC was how I communicated my role as conscience of the company to my business colleagues,” said Anastasia Kelly, a partner in DLA Piper’s white collar and corporate crime investigations practice.

A.B. Cruz III, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., agreed. “It’s about making the tough, right decision instead of the easy, wrong decision.”

Mary Ann Hynes, SVP, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer of Corn Products International Inc., said GCs must set an ethical tone in order to defend the company’s reputation. “You have to be looking out for what’s happening not just today, but what’s going to happen so that your company is well protected,” she said.

The final keynote panel, “Judicial Roundtable on e-Discovery,” discussed GCs’ evolving role in e-discovery.

Judge Peter Flynn of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., Chancery Division, said GCs must work with their IT teams all the way to litigation. “I insist that lawyers bring their IT people to court to get some real answers,” he said.

Cooperating with opposing counsel with respect to preservation decisions also is critical. “The judge can encourage parties to sit down at a meet-and-confer and discuss their true needs,” said Judge Nan Nolan of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Judge David Waxse of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas suggested that companies can further cut e-discovery costs if they “get an agreement on what technology both sides will use and share the cost.” “

The cost of noncooperation is immense,” noted Judge James Francis of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Contributing Author

Ashley Post

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Cathleen Flahardy

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Kayleigh Roberts

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