Community First: A specialized networking organization provides in-house counsel with opportunities to thrive

Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 16:14

In The House is a private networking community for in-house legal professionals founded by Chris Colvin, a partner with Eaton & Van Winkle, LLP. This fast-growing network boasts over 23,000 members, hosts networking events for members, and is launching a revamped website (www.inthehouse.org) and private online community for in-house counsel this spring. His remarks have been edited for length and style.

MCC: Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

Colvin: I sometimes joke that I’m a rocket scientist turned lawyer because I was an aerospace engineering major at Princeton, then went on to work for IBM, where I designed certain portions of the U.S. air traffic control system. Then I went back to law school to become an intellectual property lawyer. For the last 20 years, I’ve been a practicing IP and commercial litigation attorney at a variety of different firms and have also held in-house positions, from solo GC at several startup companies to an in-house IP litigation position at a Fortune 500 company.

MCC: What inspired you to create In The House, and how has the community responded to the organization?

Colvin: It essentially arose out of a career-long passion for professional networking. Going back to my days at IBM, I was always eager to get to know my colleagues, both within and outside of my organization, so periodically, I would try to get friends and other contacts together for monthly breakfasts, lunches, etc. When the social media revolution happened, I saw an opportunity to continue to create networking gatherings but do it in a more scalable and reliable way.

In parallel with that, I eventually became a partner at an Am Law 100 firm, and I found that networking was a great way to develop business as well. So as much as possible, I would network with in-house counsel. Once I started developing a decent-size client base, I began introducing my clients to other in-house counsel I knew, just as a way of encouraging them to network. What I discovered in that process was that there were relatively few opportunities for in-house counsel to get together in a casual environment to meet their fellow in-house counsel at other companies. That’s what led to the genesis of what today is In The House.

MCC: What types of events do you host?

Colvin: Typically, we have hosted monthly breakfasts and cocktails and quarterly general counsel dinners. We have also experimented with a variety of other types of events, like golf outings to PGA courses and skyboxes at professional sports games. I think in just about every case, those have gone well and have shown that there’s a real need within the in-house counsel community for these types of occasions on top of the traditional networking events that we’ve hosted.

MCC: What kind of feedback are you getting from members? What rings true with them about the group and their experiences coming to the events?

Colvin: One of the most gratifying aspects of In The House has been that perhaps the most frequent comment has been, “Thank you for putting together this community where it’s so easy for me to find other in-house counsel.”

Our management team has adopted the mantra of “Community first” for ourselves, meaning that every move we make as an organization should place the interests and careers of our members first and foremost – if our members succeed as in-house professionals, we succeed as an organization.

We are fortunate that we have fantastic sponsors to support our events. They realize that our members are primarily general counsel and other high-ranking executives from law departments who are interested in networking with other in-house counsel and executive-level business people from other organizations. Our sponsors are also companies who believe in supporting the in-house counsel community and can provide real value to our members in terms of relationships and tools to help in-house counsel serve their companies more effectively and, ultimately, to be seen as a vital strategic resource to their companies.

MCC: What do you see coming down the pike for In The House?

Colvin: In the next few weeks, we will be launching a new website, which will reflect our new branding. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to bring in a professional management team with an aggregate of over 100 years of experience in legal technology, legal events and legal media, so that move is helping us to really develop our platform and our services in a way that I couldn’t do in the early days of our organization, just as a lawyer sitting around a conference table at my law firm.

We are launching an online networking community that will essentially be a mirror image of the networking events that we’ve done over the last few years. Members will be able to exchange professional expertise, recommendations for outside counsel and other service providers, exchange leads on new job opportunities, and more. There’s a blogging platform where they’ll be able to blog about items of interest and start conversations about hot topics within the in-house counsel community. We’re taking what started largely as an events program in our early days, and we’re putting that online so that folks who either have less time to attend our events, or perhaps are in a more remote location where we haven’t yet reached them with our events, will be able to participate actively within our community.

In the long term, our mission is to work within our in-house community and provide our members with the tools, relationships and information that they need to thrive in their careers. The power of in-house counsel is increasing as the importance of their function increases. In order to succeed as an in-house counsel, it’s increasingly important to be at the cutting edge, in terms of knowing what technologies are available to help make law departments more efficient, what outside service providers are available beyond the law firms that have traditionally served in-house counsel and what outside providers can supplement services that law departments have traditionally gotten from law firms.

We are laser-focused on career development for in-house counsel, so we’re not holding ourselves out as a general-purpose bar association that does all of the things that a traditional bar association does, but instead we’re really focused on career opportunities for in-house counsel, meaning that we want to help them both be the very best they can be in their current job and also map out a long-term trajectory in their careers so that they can continue that success.

MCC: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Colvin: As we grow and expand our offerings, we don’t want to lose that element of fun that has been a key component of In The House since day one. I’ve always been someone who believes in mixing business and pleasure. We want our events, and we want our community, to continue to have that sense of fun and spontaneity, and that’s really important to us. Starting with our name, we want to have a little bit of fun in our legal careers, and we think that it is really important to enjoy your job and to enjoy engaging with fellow attorneys and other in-house legal professionals.

I attribute our success so far to the fact that we constantly get feedback, both solicited and unsolicited, from our members. I think they’re comfortable approaching me or approaching others in our management and telling us what they want from the organization. I think there is a real sense of ownership within this community – that we are a community by in-house counsel, for in-house counsel. We plan to continue to help our members make our community what they want it to be, now and for years to come. If we can do that, if we can achieve that goal of putting the “Community first” in everything we do, I hope and believe we’ll continue to enjoy the growth that we’ve enjoyed thus far.