The New Chair At ACC: Continuing The Tradition While Blazing New Paths

Monday, January 3, 2011 - 01:00

Editor: Congratulations on your new position as the incoming Chair of the Board of Directors at ACC. Can you tell our readers something about your background?

Gonzalez-Pita: I started practicing law in 1977 in Miami and was in private practice there for about 22 years. For 10 of those years, I was with my last firm, White & Case, where I was an executive partner in charge of both the privatization practice group and the Latin American practice group. From there I went to Bell South as an in-house counsel and have been a corporate counsel for almost 12 years now. I have been very privileged to have served as the general counsel for a number of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Like most general counsels, there are very few days when something new and unusual doesn't cross my desk. That is one of the great things about being in-house. You have such a wide variety of matters that come to your attention.

Editor: What do you plan to emphasize this year?

Gonzalez-Pita: There are two issues that I would like to emphasize in the coming year. They are generational diversity and social networking. There currently exists a communication gulf between the more senior and the younger generations. There are many lawyers like me who have been practicing for more than 30 years who are now in senior positions in large corporations. We need to understand how younger lawyers perceive both legal and non-legal issues and how they deal with them - everything from work-life balance to how they communicate. This is very important for all generations of in-house lawyers if we want to have effective internal legal departments staffed with the best lawyers. The other issue, which is interrelated with the first issue, is social media. How do we, as in-house lawyers, deal with everything from Twitter to Facebook to Linked-In? There are an untold number of websites and applications. How can we use them as tools? How can we use them to connect with other lawyers and with our business clients?

Editor: Are there any long-term goals of your predecessors that you will continue to address?

Gonzalez-Pita: Actually, there is more than one. ACC has had some wonderful long-term, major initiatives that have spanned the terms of several board chairs. I have been on the board about six years now, so I am fortunate to be able to hit the deck running on these matters.

The protection of the attorney-client privilege always has been one of the defining characteristics of this organization. We are very active trying to protect that privilege as much as possible, which has been subject to quite a number of legal challenges over the past decade.

A second area is multi-jurisdictional practice, which is the ability of in-house lawyers to move from one jurisdiction to another. We are fortunate to have had great success in this area. Today almost two-thirds of the states allow in-house lawyers to be able to work for a company in a jurisdiction where they haven't been admitted. Now, they can be admitted solely for the purpose of representing the corporation that employs them. That has made an enormous difference in our ability to move around the country and practice law.

International expansion is also an area that we are addressing. We have chapters in the U.S., Europe, Israel and Canada. In addition, last month a new chapter in Argentina was established, which is our first chapter in Latin America. Given the international reach of many of our members' corporations, having international chapters gives our domestic members a source of international information from the folks who practice in those countries.

We also have the ACC Value Challenge initiative to try to ensure that the law firms move away from the billable hour and more toward providing value to law firms. This is a very exciting initiative that we started about two years ago. And, of course, ACC always has had and will continue to have a commitment to corporate pro bono activities.

Editor: What role is ACC playing in addressing the challenges of eDiscovery?

Gonzalez-Pita: There are committees within ACC that constantly are monitoring that issue. As an organization, we have not taken a definitive position on eDiscovery, but we carefully monitor what is going on there. We also have a fair number of ACC alliance partners and legal vendors in the eDiscovery field, so we remain up to speed on the topic.

Editor: What sets ACC apart from other legal member organizations?

Gonzalez-Pita: First, and most importantly, is our scale. Our membership consists of over 26,000 in-house lawyers in more than 75 countries. This critical mass allows us to be very effective in providing value to our members. We are probably the most comprehensive source of information, of networking, of providing value, and of providing advocacy in areas that are important to in-house lawyers than any other organization. There are other organizations that also provide value to their members, but they are not nearly as large or provide anywhere near as comprehensive a value proposition as ACC does. We continually address how we deliver value to our members. They have various expectations about what they want to receive from ACC, and we are very mindful as an organization and as a board that we need to stay relevant to our members and continue to be able to provide exceptional value in our products and services.

Editor: How can membership in ACC help develop the career of in-house counsel?

Gonzalez-Pita: Our members appreciate the scope and the depth of the resources that ACC offers. One of our key value propositions is the opportunity to develop friendships and connections with lawyers, be they locally, nationally, or globally. It is invaluable to be able to call on other in-house attorneys and ask them how they are dealing with a certain issue.

On the national level, consider our wide variety of educational programs. First and foremost is our annual meeting - the largest gathering of in-house counsel where our members can network, earn CLE credits and participate in committee and chapter meetings. Our 2010 Annual Meeting drew more than 2,500 attendees at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. More than 1,600 in-house counsel representing 30 countries gathered for four days in October to discuss issues relating to business development, compliance, ethics, legal department and law firm management, technology and the role and responsibilities of in-house counsel. This year's theme was "Be the Solution" and provided corporate counsel with useful, business-oriented sessions to help them manage their law departments at their companies. Plans and sessions are already in the works for our 2011 annual meeting in Denver next October.

In addition to the ACC annual meeting, there are other specialized educational opportunities such as ACC Corporate Counsel University, geared to new in-house attorneys. We like to ensure that when you move in-house, the transition is as smooth as possible. Obviously, being in-house is very different from working at a firm. We really try to get folks up to snuff. This two-day program (to be held May 15-17, 2010 in New Orleans) is a fantastic opportunity for attorneys to sharpen their in-house skills and learn more about their new environment. A lot of GCs and CLOs like having that professional development tool available for law firm lawyers when they move in-house.

There is also our mini MBA program that we co-sponsor with Boston University (March 21-23, Boston) as well as chief legal officer exchanges.

We also have an active advocacy program throughout many substantive areas, and we file amicus briefs in many cases. We typically will team up with other organizations that have similar interests on topics that are important to us as lawyers that also may be important to other organizations. For resources and tools, we have an extensive amount of material and terrific legal resources online at www.acc.com. In addition to our website, we have recently launched a series of community platforms exclusively for ACC members that enable them to have discussions online and share resources with their in-house peers. Member interaction can be very informative, and we strive to help our committees, chapters, and other like-minded groups talk to and benefit from each other's experiences as in-house counsel.

Finally, I also have to mention the award-winning ACC Docket magazine that goes to all members. It continues to provide in-depth articles, case studies, and tips for members in the U.S. and around the world with its European Briefings, Canadian Briefings, Asian Briefings, and Latin American Briefings. Not only do our members receive the print edition of the Docket each month, but they also can access the Docket online via the Digital Docket and most recently on their iPads and iPhones through the Docket's new mobile app. All of these editions are free to ACC members, a great membership benefit.

Editor: Tell us about the activities of some of your local chapters.

Gonzalez-Pita: In addition to the offerings provided through our headquarters, ACC has chapters throughout the country that offer outstanding seminars, roundtables and networking opportunities. Chapters hold a multitude of events, so there is no lack of opportunities to assist our members in whatever it is that they would like to do. In fact, many local chapters have substantive law-related committees that complement the national committees. There are unlimited opportunities for members to become involved on a local level within their chapter.

I am in the Southern California area, and my local chapter is ACC SoCal. There are at least one or two programs each week that are made available to members on everything from eDiscovery to employment law to transactional issues to compliance. So the level of resources that we provide to our members on the local level is quite extensive as well.

Editor: What are some of your more recent initiatives?

Gonzalez-Pita: The ACC Value Challenge Legal Services Management 3.0 program is very active. We are very involved in looking at new ways to examine the client-firm relationship, especially moving away from the billable hour. Beyond just talking about it, we are now providing professional development courses, primers and case studies on outside counsel management. We continue to enhance and enrich our ACC Value Index that enables in-house counsel to share evaluations of their law firms. And, in conjunction with law firms, be it through the chapters or nationally, we teach our members how to manage the details and processes of value billing. We are also very involved in the compliance area where many of our members work, and we have launched a new Compliance Portal to help them help their companies with reporting. We are also working with like-minded groups to see where the Dodd-Frank legislation will take us and how the compliance reporting at our member companies may be affected.