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Why connecting is important for inside counsel

The InsideCounsel magazine was redesigned to engage you in those conversations.

I graduated from law school in 1981. Although we didn’t have email, fax machines or the Internet, we did have robust and meaningful conversations about ideas and projects that we were passionate about. We spent more talking (and debating) and created a connection amongst the two or three different groups that were important to us.

Everybody agrees that the advent of technology has compressed the time for decision-making and invaded our personal space in ways that were unthinkable 20 years ago. However, the biggest loss has been the fact that we seem to have lost the opportunity to stay connected to ideas, people and groups that contribute to our sense of self. When was the last time that you have a conversation that ended on terms of your own choosing (instead of being interrupted by an email or some type of special alert on your smartphone)?

Technology is here to stay. I get that. However, we don’t have to be enslaved by it.

This is the first issue of the redesign of InsideCounsel magazine. Before we decided on the graphics and the architecture of the magazine, we had to answer a fundamental question, “What is the experience that we want to create for our readers?” My answer: “Five cool rooms, 15 cool people.” More specifically, we want the magazine to capture the kinds of ideas that inspire you to engage your peers in meaningful (and even fun) conversations. More importantly, you will find that the ideas that are captured in the magazine will pour over into our website, our regional workshops and our national conferences.

In the last six months, we have talked with 20 members of publicly traded boards, eight CFOs of Fortune 500 companies and eight external auditors of those companies. The question that we asked them is, what are the tensions and conflicts in the boardroom that are most difficult for the general counsel? Their responses have been clear and resounding: 1) that the most effective general counsel adroitly balance their fiduciary responsibilities to the CEO and senior management by engaging each board member to ascertain their specific informational needs; and 2) they told us that general counsel need to do a better job developing their successors.

Heidi Miller, former president of J.P. Morgan and a current member of the board of directors of General Mills, framed the challenge perfectly when she stated, “any lawyer can help discern between a violation that may be jay walking or murder. My ideal general counsel will be invited to product development meetings to guide the conversation from the inception until the time that we go the marketplace. It is very easy for a general counsel to say that my lawyers are business partners to their clients.” The question for general counsel is: what resources are you devoting to their professional development and training?

Consequently, we intend to drive that conversation by convening an advisory group to develop curriculum for deputy general counsel. In addition, we will pilot the effectiveness of that curriculum at the Mary Ann Hynes Leadership Institute that will be held in Dallas (March 11-12, 2014). Finally, we will launch a series of regional one-day symposiums that will focus on “Financial Acumen for Lawyers.”

Over the last 20 years, I have had 400-plus conversations with more than 250 general counsel in Fortune 500 companies. Erin Harrison, InsideCounsel's newly minted editor-in-chief, and the IC editorial team have conversations with in-house counsel on a daily basis. This magazine was redesigned to engage you in those conversations. The conversations start with the magazine and will be supplemented by webinars and face-to-face events such as SuperConference.

We want to start the conversation. If you want to join, email me atljohnson@insidecounsel.com or call (312) 846-4607 and by all means connect.

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