Taking In-House Counsel To The Next Level Of Leadership

Thursday, December 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Barry Nagler, Chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel and Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Hasbro, Inc.

Editor: It must be rather neat to be the general counsel of a successful toy company. Please give an overview of the company's culture and the types of issues you help it to address.

Nagler: Probably the best illustration of Hasbro's culture is its corporate motto, which is to "Make The World Smile." The company is all about fun and innovation. We are very much a fashion company, identifying fast moving trends and ideas that appeal to kids, and bringing the resulting products to market in creative and exciting ways. This speed to market brings unique challenges for the Legal Department, specifically in terms of how we can support the business while still exercising appropriate care and legal review. Over time, we have learned how to become very nimble and efficient, and leverage our knowledge of the industry to help drive better legal and business results. Hasbro is also, at its core, an intellectual property company, focused on how best to develop and exploit its IP. By necessity, the legal team plays a key role in this effort, and because we are so integral to the company's long-term business success, the satisfaction of the professionals in the department is very high. Finally, Hasbro has a long-standing commitment to social responsibility and "doing the right thing," which creates a culture in which lawyers are valued and can make meaningful contributions.

Editor: How does the Association of Corporate Counsel help you to meet the challenges of your day-to-day practice?

Nagler: Unlike other bar associations, ACC is focused exclusively on the needs of in-house counsel and provides education and resources that help me, and my department, do our job. I can refer to ACC's Virtual Library to get everything from sample forms and policies to in-depth reports on topics that matter to in-house counsel such as records retention and corporate compliance.

ACC has also created a series of reports called Leading Practice Profiles, that detail how "best-in-class" law departments are dealing with a wide range of issues facing in-house counsel, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, attorney-client privilege, employee motivation and retention, and director training, just to name a few. These allow me to benchmark my own approach and see if there are ways to improve it. Also, ACC's in-person educational programs - whether at our Annual Meeting or at the local chapter level - are specifically tailored to the unique needs of in-house practitioners.

One of the biggest benefits I get from ACC is the ability to interact with my peers around the world. Through local chapter events, issue-based committees and educational conferences I have developed a large network of colleagues whom I can turn to for advice.

Editor: Congratulations on your new role as ACC's Chairman. What attracted you to serving in this role?

Nagler: ACC works because it is in-house counsel helping each other. It is a volunteer-driven organization. Given the benefits that I have enjoyed as a member, it seems only right to give back to the association.

Editor: What goals would you like to accomplish during your term as ACC's Chairman?

Nagler: The role of in-house counsel and legal departments is getting more complicated and more challenging. The government is making increased demands, and our companies require more sophisticated services, often with tighter budgets. I want to ensure that ACC is helping prepare its members so that they can anticipate and act, rather than react. As chairman, I want to focus on taking our in-house counsel members to the next level as leaders - leaders in their companies, leaders in their industries, and leaders in the profession, so that we can meet these challenges and succeed.

Editor: You encourage the lawyers at Hasbro to serve as speakers at ACC's CLE events and otherwise share their expertise with other ACC members. What benefits do they get back from their participation in ACC?

Nagler: ACC is built on the concept of in-house counsel helping in-house counsel. If members of my team have knowledge in a particular area, speaking at an ACC function provides them with an opportunity to help their peers and be recognized for their hard work, and it showcases our company's best practices. The process of preparing for these presentations also helps them to build and reinforce their own expertise. This kind of sharing is invaluable to the in-house counsel community, and the benefits go both ways. When we attend events led by other experienced in-house counsel, we learn about their best practices and make valuable contacts.

Editor: Your contributions to ACC included chairing the board's Advocacy Committee. What advocacy efforts is ACC currently pursuing?

Nagler: As the leading voice for the in-house legal profession, ACC has made tremendous progress in helping to overcome artificial and antiquated barriers to multi-jurisdictional practice. However, there are still a few states which have yet to see the light, and we are continuing our initiatives in this area. In addition, the attorney-client privilege is increasingly coming under attack, both here and in Europe, and ACC has become a leading voice on the importance of the privilege and the need to protect it in the corporate setting. As a result of our research and efforts to publicize the issue, the Justice Department Sentencing Commission has shown a willingness to work with us to improve the situation. We also have been, and will continue to be, active on other issues of concern to in-house counsel, such as certain potentially problematic provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Patriot Act.

Editor: How is technology helping ACC to serve its members?

Nagler: With a growing membership around the world, ACC relies on technology to deliver services to members. We are focused on continually improving how we do this. We offer webcasts on a variety of topics, provide our chapters and committees with innovative ways to communicate to their members, and have recently launched an RSS feed for our website. We are also working to make ACC resources even easier to find online through a reorganization of our website. The revamped website now carries an unbelievable amount of content specifically designed for in-house practitioners, and I would recommend that your readers take a few minutes to check it out.

Editor: Please give an example of ACC's diversity initiatives.

Nagler: ACC, in partnership with Street Law, formed the Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, which is designed to increase diversity in the legal profession by pairing in-house counsel with students in local, diverse high schools in order to encourage promising students of color to pursue careers in law. By developing relationships between students and experienced legal professionals, the program provides students with real-world knowledge about legal education and careers, offers visible, positive, diverse role models in the legal profession, and provides a respect for and trust in the legal system.

This is just one example of how ACC has made diversity a core value of the organization. This commitment can also be seen in the diversity of ACC's board, staff and membership.

Editor: How is ACC helping the in-house legal community to extend pro bono services?

Nagler: ACC has always promoted the benefits of pro bono service to our membership. We have a long-standing relationship with Corporate Pro Bono, which provides technical assistance, education and resources that help in-house counsel and their departments to offer pro bono service.

Our most recent effort was to create the ACC Disaster Relief Fellowship in conjunction with Corporate Pro Bono and Equal Justice Works. The program will put a fully funded public interest lawyer on the ground in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, who will assist local service organizations.

Editor: Where can our readers learn more about ACC?

Nagler: The easiest way to learn more about ACC is to visit our website at www.acca.com. I urge those of your readers who are not yet members of ACC to check us out. The life of an in-house lawyer today is more frenetic than ever before, with increasing demands and limited resources to meet them. Given these challenges, the practical tools and real world solutions available through ACC are truly indispensable.