Texas - Corporate Counsel Bringing Quality And Diverse Programs To The Texas In-House Legal Community

Thursday, September 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Michael Clark, General Counsel, Steves & Sons Inc., and President, South/Central Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC); Christopher Ducanes, Vice President and General Counsel, HEALTHvision, Inc., and President, ACC's Dallas-Ft. Worth Chapter; Robert Johnson, Assistant Chief Attorney, ExxonMobil Corporation and President, ACC's Houston Chapter, and Michael J.Powell, Chief Legal Officer, Corporate Formalities, Inc. and President, ACC's Austin Chapter.

Editor: What attracts businesses and the legal community to your area?

Clark: While being the eighth largest city in the U.S., San Antonio enjoys a relaxed family oriented atmosphere. Home to the world champion Spurs basketball team and a popular tourist destination, San Antonio offers affordable housing and is rich in culture. The nearby "Texas Hill Country" offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

San Antonio is the corporate headquarters for such businesses as USAA, SBC and KCI, just to name a few. Toyota Corporation is opening a Truck/SUV manufacturing plant here. Quality and affordable labor attracts many businesses to San Antonio. The practice of law is professional and friendly here. The city has any and all legal resources a corporation should need with many major law firms having offices here. Bexar County's judicial system is the most efficient in Texas.

Ducanes: The Metroplex's broad based economy offers numerous employment opportunities. Nineteen Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here, as well as 13 privately-held companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenues. With a cost of living that ranks at the sixth lowest among the country's major metropolitan areas, housing costs near or below the national average and no personal or corporate income tax, Texas is a very attractive place for individuals to live and for companies to do business. The Metroplex's central location enables every major continental destination to be reached within four hours. One of the busiest airports in the world, the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, is here, as well as one of the most successful airlines, Southwest Airlines, based out of Love Field.

Johnson: You can have a very fulfilling personal and professional life in Houston. The fourth largest city in the country, Houston has affordable housing, good schools, excellent restaurants and cultural and recreational opportunities, and world-class sports teams and venues. Summer can be a little steamy, but the other three seasons are great!

While rightfully known as the energy capital of the U.S., with major companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Anadarko, Halliburton, and ConocoPhilips, just to name a few, either being headquartered or having major offices here, Houston has a wide range of other companies and organizations with substantial corporate counsel staffs. Companies such as Continental Airlines, HP, and the Texas Medical Center all help to bring a very broad perspective to the corporate practice of law. And, we are home to a number of world-class law firms as well.

Powell: Several Fortune 500 companies and regional offices are here because of the workforce, education system and quality of life. Austin is home to the University of Texas, the nation's largest public university and consistently ranks in the top five places to live in the country. Austin is also home to major players in the global economy and a hot bed of wireless technology advances with companies like Dell, AMD and Freescale Semiconductors headquartered here. Austin is simply a great place to live and work.

Editor: Please tell us about your chapter.

Johnson: Our 600 members represent more than 200 companies in the Houston metropolitan area, which stretches over 8,700 square miles. We host at least one CLE and/or professional development program a month, usually scheduled at lunch, but with a growing number of breakfast and even half-day programs. At a cost of $20 for members, it's hard to find a better CLE value. We also hold several networking and social events, including a recent event at an Astros game that was sponsored by Jackson Walker LLP and LexisNexis.

Our annual golf/spa event raises money to fund scholarships for minority law students at area law schools and our community outreach activities. We're very proud of our achievements this year and are grateful to our sponsors for helping us raise $36,000 for scholarships and an additional $12,000 for community outreach and pro bono support.

Clark: Our chapter is a leading source of information and networking opportunities for in-house counsel in San Antonio and the surrounding areas. Our 130 members represent 56 companies here. Our monthly CLE luncheons are typically approved for one hour of CLE credit. The cost to attend is $10.00 for members and $18.00 for non-members. No other professional organization in San Antonio offers better CLE programs to in-house counsel at a more affordable price.

Powell: Serving the Austin and Round Rock areas, our chapter started just a year ago and has grown from 80 to 130 members in that short time. Our growth has been possible because of the remarkable commitment of our board and sponsors working together to provide relevant legal education and networking opportunities.

Ducanes: Our 375 members represent all sizes and types of companies in the Metroplex from small private companies to large private and public corporations. I attribute our active membership to our dedicated board of directors that is focused on bringing quality and diverse programs to appeal to the different interests of our membership base.

Editor: What CLE programs do you offer?

Powell: Our inaugural event featured a panel discussion by four general counsel from the largest employers in Austin, which was followed by a wine tasting. Panelists included John Torres of Freescale Semiconductor, Lawrence Tu of Dell, Harry Wolin of AMD, and Mike Godfrey formerly of the University of Texas. They discussed their perspectives and thoughts on challenges that in-house legal departments face today. In April we hosted an all day CLE event. The well-attended event included speakers on a wide variety of topics, including speakers on disaster planning, employment law, and intellectual property rights. Our keynote speaker, Admiral Bobby R. Inman, USN (Ret.), provided an exceptional update on international affairs.

Clark: This year we have offered such programs as "Background Checks: Are You Hiring Pro's or Con's?" and "Due Diligence: It's Not the Research Our Dads Used to Do." We also offer one or two social events per year. Our March event included a two-hour panel presentation on the topic of e-discovery and a cocktail party at no charge to members.

Johnson: We offer CLE as part of our golf/spa event. This past year's "Ethics Jeopardy" was a unique and fun way to get attendees to interact and really participate in the program. I'd have to say another really successful program was a series of panel presentations with area general counsel on how to manage your career - do's and don'ts and practical advice on how they got where they are today. Programs that encourage attendees to participate and share learning and experiences are the most enjoyable and successful.

Ducanes: Our March program on Understanding Financial Statement Fraud was presented by Jeffery Harfinest who addressed basic balance sheet reserve abuses, expense deferral schemes, manipulating revenue recognition, exploiting acquisition accounting, abusing structured finance transactions, merger hold-backs, and related party issues. The warning signs of financial statement fraud were discussed, as well as a glimpse into the future of reporting abuses.

Our May CLE program provided insight on how in-house counsel can successfully manage, understand and take advantage of the mediation process presented by John DeGroote, the national litigation manager for BearingPoint.

Editor: What other programs do you offer?

Ducanes: Each year our social committee organizes two major social events. This spring, we watched a Texas Rangers game from side-by-side luxury suites. Past events included a seated dinner at the Nasher Sculpture Museum and a cocktail reception at the Trammel Crowe Asian Art Exhibit. The happy hour events scheduled by our membership committee throughout the year provide our members an opportunity to gather, socialize and network. Our board's pro bono/diversity committee identifies and seeks out pro bono and diversity services and events for our members.

In September, we will be gathering members for our Second Annual Golf and Spa event at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas. The morning starts with two hours of Ethics CLE followed by golf and spa events in the afternoon.

We also offer an Annual In-House Symposium, which is an all-day CLE event in May. This year, we covered topics such as data and privacy concerns, updates on mergers and acquisitions, ethics regarding in-house corporate lawyer concerns, issues concerning document retention, and developing and implementing corporate compliance programs.

Johnson: Our Board of Directors is always coming up with new ways to engage and serve our members, and the support of our sponsors is key to our ability to offer our members real value for their membership. In addition to our monthly CLE programs, we're hosting programs with a professional development flavor. Our August program featured a national expert on leadership, Rob Sherman. We've just finished a series of programs on effective legal writing, and we are planning more of those sorts of programs for the fall. We encourage our members to get active in community service and pro bono activities by working with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program to sponsor several of their community service clinics. We've got something to offer all our members, whether they are in a large law department or the only lawyer for their company.

Clark: Many in-house attorneys rely exclusively on our Annual Ethics Conference to fulfill their yearly requirement for education in legal ethics. We have come up with something completely new and fun for our 8th Annual Ethics Conference. We will be bringing in Attorney/Ethicist, Jack Marshall, of ProEthics, Ltd., nationally renowned ethics training and consulting firm. Jack will be joined by rocker, Mike Messer, to put on a program entitled " Ethics Rock!" Jack and Mike will be telling tales of broken confidences, corporate misconduct, conflicts of interest and questionable trial tactics - all to entertaining parodies of rock classics from the 60's & 70's. On November 3, this year's half-day conference will provide a great way to fulfill all of our required ethics credits in one entertaining session.

Powell: Besides the usual CLE our chapter is working with our local business journal to recognize the outstanding in-house counsel with an awards event and recognition in a special edition of the Austin Business Journal. In September, in addition to an event on "New Duties Regarding Data Security," our members are volunteering at the Capital Area Food Bank.

For More Information

Austin: Visit http://www.acca.com/chapters/aust.php or contact me at mike@corprecord.com.

Dallas/Ft. Worth: Visit http://www.acca.com/chapters/dallas.php or contact me at cducanes@healthvision.com.

Houston: Visit http://www.acca.com/chapters/houst.php or call Lori Wilkins at (713) 839-0808 or lori@amchouston.com.

South/Central: Visit http://www.acca.com/chapters/sanant.php or contact Amber Clark at (830) 336-2049 or accasouthcentral@yahoo.com.