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Leading in-house women embrace business skills to match legal acumen

The attendees at the Project 5/165 workshop in Chicago learned how to increase their business-side knowledge

Back row (L to R): Colleen Batcheler (GC, ConAgra), Rebecca Bortolotti (Chief Counsel, ConAgra), Christine Edwards (Partner, Winston & Strawn); Front Row (L to R): Audrey Rubin (COO, Aon), Anne Murphy (GC, Rush University Medical Center)

What is the key concern on the mind of top female in-house legal leaders? According to attendees at the Project 5/165 workshop in Chicago, it’s all about advancing business skills to complement preexisting legal skills.

InsideCounsel’s Project 5/165, which seeks to promote the placement of women as Fortune 500 general counsel, 25 senior-level in-house women lawyers converged on Winston & Strawn’s offices in Chicago to hear from senior executives at other companies and network with female legal professionals in the area. Among the topics discussed were preparing to become general counsel, connecting with members of the board, and teaming up with the company’s CFO.

In a breakout session at the end of the meeting, however, many of the attendees were still buzzing about the “Financial Acumen for Lawyers: Best Practices from a Financial Perspective for In-House Counsel” panel, which displayed the necessity of understanding a company’s financials for in-house counsel.

Speaking on the take-away from the day’s panels, Sara Horvath, senior counsel at Whirlpool, mentioned the necessity of honing business skills early on at a company. That way, she said, in-house counsel can make themselves more of an asset to the lines of business they are supporting.

The easiest way to do that, remarked Nancy Crawford, assistant GC of Mutual of Omaha, is to take a company’s financial statements and absorb them intimately. Jeanette Nelson, vice president and deputy general counsel of West Corporation, echoed those statements, reiterating a point from the panel that taking a look at a business’s financials helps in-house counsel learn the overall strength of the company and assists the counsel in deciding the next steps to take.

Learning the business side of the company in addition to the legal side reinforces one of the overall themes from the workshop — stepping out of your comfort zone. If in-house counsel are able to do this, Melanie McIntire of ConAgra Foods said, then they should be able to raise their profile throughout the company with the increased skills that they have undertaken.

The Chicago Project 5/165 is one of eight invitation-only workshops that will be held throughout the country. The next will take place in New York on May 7, with additional workshops occurring in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Miami throughout 2014.

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Assistant Editor

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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