Pennsylvania/New Jersey - Organizations Strengthening The Professional Environment For In-House Counsel In New Jersey

Friday, July 1, 2005 - 00:00

Jairo G. Cano, intern and law student at Seton Hall University School of Law, interviews Arthur H. Saiewitz, Corporate Counsel, Lucent Technologies Inc. and President, New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association (NJCCA).

Editor: What are a few highlights of your term as president of NJCCA?

Saiewitz: We've had a good two years. I've really enjoyed working on behalf of the members of NJCCA with our board and executive director. We have seen good growth in our membership. When I began my term, we had about 800 members and now have over 900 members. We have expanded our CLE offerings and the other services we offer. For example, we now run or co-sponsor multiple full-day conferences that have been very well received. We have also extended our collaborations with organizations such as New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE) and the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA). Finally, we have helped our members in dealing with the new Limited License for In-House Counsel in New Jersey, which has been an important event during my term.

We are reviewing our plans for the future. I hope we cross the 1,000 member line during my term or shortly after Kristi Vaiden becomes president at our annual dinner in November. I want to make sure that we are giving our members the services that they need and that we are well organized for such a large group. We will also closely monitor the licensing program that the state imposed and hope to present our views as part of the New Jersey Supreme Court's triennial review of that process.

Editor: Please give an update on the NJ Supreme Court's limited license rule for in-house attorneys.

Saiewitz: The rule took effect January 1, 2004. Prior to this date, an attorney licensed in another state providing services as an in-house counsel in New Jersey was not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law based upon Opinion 14 of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee. The New Jersey Supreme Court charged an Ad Hoc Committee on Bar Admissions to consider various changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, including changes addressing in-house counsel. The Court ultimately adopted a revised rule similar to the status quo in New Jersey, but the Court added a registration program.

The Board of Bar Examiners issued a notice in December 2003 setting forth its implementation of the registration rule. We maintain that the implementation required licensees to provide more information than contemplated by the rule. The Board also charged a significant fee for the limited license, higher than the fee for a plenary applicant. We expressed our opinion to the Supreme Court on that matter and raised other issues with the Board of Bar Examiners. The Court and Board responded to our inquiries but ultimately maintained their positions.

We understand the Board of Bar Examiners received approximately 1,200 applications. Receiving more than expected, the Board announced that it has contracted with the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to conduct the background checks for in-house licensees. This creates a new question whether the NCBE will do a vetting different in kind from that done upon plenary applicants. It will be ironic if lawyers who are already members of other state bars in good standing have to go through a deeper vetting than new applicants who have not been vetted elsewhere.

All of those applications were due by March 31, 2004, and we understand there have been few licenses issued to date. Those who have a pending application should check in from time-to-time on the Board of Bar Examiners website, www.njbarexams.org, for news about this process. We also understand that it may be possible to check an individual's status. We are looking into that and will continue to share information with our members. A big part of our effort has been to disseminate information to the membership that might otherwise be missed. We believe the information is a benefit not only to the limited license applicants but also to plenary license holders who need to make sure their colleagues are not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

The major impact on in-house counsel is obviously the cost, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars for larger legal departments. This includes not only the basic fee but also the costs involved in obtaining supporting records. Lawyers who are members of multiple state bars must get information from each of those states, which may take a significant amount of time and money.

To be clear, there has been confusion among some in-house counsel who thought ACC or NJCCA championed these rules changes or the registration procedure. While ACC has long championed updating the ethics rules to reflect the modern commercial realities of multijurisdictional practice, it has always pointed to the pre-amendment situation in New Jersey as a model. The Court decided to change its approach to one requiring registration based on a provision recommended by ACC and the ABA. The hardship here has been in implementation by the Board of Bar Examiners, and NJCCA was not party to that. We believed, and still believe, the procedure is unnecessary and unduly burdensome in time and cost considering the goal of the rule and the nature of these attorneys as lawyers in good standing in other states, verification of which would of course be reasonable.

NJCCA has devoted a fair amount of time corresponding with the Court, the Board of Bar Examiners and our members on this matter. We have also provided input at the invitation of the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism to the development of the Court mandated ethics course for limited license applicants.

Editor: Please elaborate on your earlier comment on NJCCA's collaboration with the New Jersey State Bar Association.

Saiewitz: NJCCA looks for opportunities to work with other bar associations in New Jersey. We are pleased to have been recognized for several years as a specialty bar working with the NJSBA and have participated in the NJSBA's General Council in October for the last few years. Recently, NJSBA proposed a by-law change, which is being put out for re-vote, to allow the new limited license holders to join NJSBA as full members. We want to create opportunities for our members where the two organizations complement each other. For example, NJCCA's current discount only applies to those events we cosponsor. NJSBA offers other programs that ACC and NJCCA do not offer. This may be a way for in-house lawyers to participate in the broader legal community in New Jersey. There are people who enjoy bar association activity or who may want to feel more a part of the local legal community. Our goal is not to force people to do things but to make opportunities available.

Editor: Please tell our readers about NJCCA's full-day programs.

Saiewitz: On January 27, we co-sponsored with the law firm of Sills Cummis Epstein & Gross and the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche a program on corporate governance and compliance. Sarbanes-Oxley and compliance generally continue to be top issues for in-house counsel. We had a stellar lineup of speakers including professors, representatives from the SEC, the PCAOB and NYSE, various practitioners, and the U.S. Attorney from the Western District of Pennsylvania who is actively involved in Department of Justice activities in this area. It was well attended and a tremendous success all around.

On May 12, we hosted our first "legal express" program. Most of our seminars are two to three hours of presentations on a given topic. One of our board members, Joseph Aronds, Assistant General Counsel of Hartz Mountain Industries, described a format where a series of speakers covered multiple topics in 20-minute segments. Two other board members, Valerie Camara, counsel at Merck, and Lucinda Long, general counsel of Valley National Bank, had seen similar programs and were enthusiastic about creating one for NJCCA.

Blocks of time covered significant areas such as litigation or labor and employment. Within each block, each speaker had 20 minutes to focus on major developments on a given sub-topic. For example, within a block regarding litigation, one speaker addressed product liability law. The discussions did not go as deeply as traditional CLE courses, but this format fits well into the general practice of most in-house counsel who have to be able to recognize various issues and determine when to explore them further. The format also allows you to learn about different areas of the law without having to worry about budgeting your time. I attended a segment in an area of law where I do not practice and that does not affect my company. Twenty minutes on the topic was interesting, but I would not have attended a longer presentation. And most interesting, lawyers could get their points across in a short time when they had to meet a deadline!

Editor: Why would you encourage in-house counsel to attend NJCCA's September 22 Third Annual Conference?

Saiewitz: NJCCA programs are designed with the in-house counsel in mind. At this conference we will go more in depth with longer panel discussions on topics on simultaneous tracks. An ethics component will focus on ethics and the in-house counsel. We usually average about 100 attendees, so it will be an excellent networking opportunity and a chance to meet colleagues who may face similar issues. It is a good value when you look at the price of our seminars, the information you will walk away with, the materials we provide and the contacts you can make.

In-house counsel should also take a look at ACC's annual meeting, which is in Washington this year. That is an excellent set of CLE programs.

I'd also like to encourage in-house counsel to attend our annual dinner in November. It's another great venue for making connections that can be invaluable in your practice.

Editor: Why should in-house counsel consider joining NJCCA?

Saiewitz: ACC and NJCCA can help in-house counsel to excel in their jobs. The resources available at www.acca.com and the ACC Docketare great. Time and again new members tell me that they did not realize how much value there is in just those two things. Even better, if you join ACC, you also get the chapter membership in NJCCA. Our chapters are not just local representatives of the national office. We run as an independent organization, so you really get two bar associations for the price of one.

Editor: Where can our readers learn more about NJCCA?

Saiewitz: Both members and non-members can learn about our events and benefits of membership by calling our Executive Director, Barbara Walder at (973) 927-5622, or they can visit www.acca.com. On the website they can explore the benefits of ACC and view our chapter homepage.

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