There are dozens of events throughout the year around the country offering inside counsel opportunities for continuing legal education (CLE), broad based networking and dialogue with service provider sponsors. All of these conferences, seminars and luncheons have merit, but at the general counsel level they can be frustrating. General counsel at non-exclusive events are kind of like rock stars. Except, instead of seeking autographs, attendees who meet a general counsel are often seeking job interviews or sales-related introductions.
Many general counsel crave peer-level networking. They want private opinions on how to handle sensitive situations, and they do seek recommendations on best practices and outside services. Mainly, though, I think general counsel simply enjoy each other’s company, as only their peers can truly empathize with the pressures and responsibilities of the role. No doubt each general counsel has his or her small group of peer-level friends for informal conversation. But to meet and get to know a broader base of peers, well, that’s where a connector comes in handy.
I wish to thank Jon Resnick and Carol Sabransky at Huron Legal (a division of Huron Consulting Group), for an inside look at the art of creating a successful private event that connects general counsel.
To even attempt an invitation only, GC-only event requires a huge amount of credibility as the starting point. To that end, Carol Sabransky has helped general counsel through challenging issues for years, and the firm’s leader, Shahzad Bashir, serves on the national board of directors of The General Counsel Forum. A Connector must have already gained sufficient imprimatur so that his or her email will be read, or a call will be taken. Carol, Shahzad and Jon are quintessential Connectors, the kind of influential experts who Malcolm Gladwell had in mind when he coined that term in his groundbreaking book, “The Tipping Point.”
But access is not enough. A Connector must rally around a topic or create a purpose that is meaningful and merits the time of a general counsel. For this particular event, Carol chose to celebrate the appointments of two first-time general counsel and the high profile move of another to a Fortune 100 company. No agendas, hidden or otherwise. It was an opportunity to welcome new peers to an exclusive community and go about the “business” of talking with each other, unfettered by too many non-peers.
Finally, a great Connector gets out of the way at his or her own event and plays the gracious host. I don’t recall anyone promoting Huron Legal services at this celebration. The hosts understood that less is more in such a context and, although I felt like
the proverbial kid in a candy store with about two dozen general counsel in the same room, I get it and behaved accordingly. By the way, I’m choosing not to name drop guests here, and not because Huron Legal asked me to refrain (they had no editorial input into this column). It’s because, candidly, I aspire to the role of a high-level Connector myself. I respect the nature of invitation-only events and want general counsel to know that I don’t write about private conversations. I am not a reporter. I am a consultant, and InsideCounsel always provides the bio information on its columnists so that our perspectives are clear.
The Connector serves a valuable purpose. I’m familiar with several small and informal collections of general counsel who meet on occasion, often over lunch. But those conversations are limited to a small number of people who already know each other. When a Connector creates an event that rallies a critical mass of “yes” RSVP replies, the result is a dynamic and energized room of general counsel who seem really happy to make new friends and help new peers. That is the art of networking in its highest form.