Building On A Tradition Of Outstanding Service To The Texas In-House Legal Community

Friday, September 1, 2006 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Donald Butler, Senior Counsel, Seneca Resources Corporation, and President of the Houston Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC); Lee Cusenbary, General Counsel, Mission Pharmacal Company, and President, ACC's South/Central Chapter; Liz Lowenstein, Senior Counsel, Dell, Inc. and President, ACC's Austin Chapter; and Jane Perelman, Associate General Counsel/Senior Director, Zale Corporation and President, ACC's Dallas-Ft. Worth Chapter.

Editor: Why is this a great time to be an ACC member?

Butler: The organization has progressed to the point where the types of services it offers its members are unbeatable for the cost. Its many InfoPaks, terrific Docket articles and wide array of sample forms are just a few examples of its deep reservoir of valuable resources that are available online to ACC members. The cost-benefit ratio is quite high in terms of the cost of ACC membership compared with the benefits. And, ACC is working quite hard to keep it that way.

Cusenbary: An increasing number of corporations in the U.S. are bringing their favorite attorneys in-house. As this number has risen, ACC has taken on an increasingly important role in helping in-house attorneys communicate with one another, network, exchange information and grow professionally with CLE and ethics courses designed to address the needs of in-house attorneys. As the number of ACC members grows, so do the diversity and knowledge base of the membership, making it a great time to be an ACC member.

Lowenstein: The Austin Chapter has doubled its membership since it was founded in 2004, and it provides its members networking opportunities and access to both large and small legal departments. We also offer comprehensive CLE programming that is unique to meeting the needs of in-house counsel. In addition, we provide members pro bono opportunities and the ability to participate in events that recognize their colleagues in the local area.

ACC is an international organization and offers a number of other tools and resources specifically to assist in-house counsel. Some of the benefits include an online job referral service for both employers and job seekers, CLE opportunities, a service that allows you to network with peers and in-house volunteers who provide advice about legal issues, and InfoPAKS, which are informational packages that include articles, sample forms and policies, and case law on conflicts and waivers, records retention, outside counsel management, technology and much more.

Perelman: Look at all the benefits - from low-cost but high-interest CLE programs, exciting and enjoyable social events and networking events to exposure to pro bono and community oriented programs. The DFW Chapter partnered with the Dallas Bar Association, the Dallas Business Journal and first-class law firms and associations in bringing our membership new programs and activities. The DFW Chapter also partnered with other Texas chapters in providing members in the state local and statewide salary information through the In-house Salary Survey. In addition, members obtain incredible value through national ACC's resources including ACC's library and job-line for those seeking new opportunities.

Editor: How does your chapter help to ensure that in-house counsel's voices are heard on such issues of common professional concern as the preservation of attorney-client privilege?

Cusenbary: The South/Central Texas Chapter uses its monthly luncheon meetings to announce such issues. We have also included information about both national ACC and the local Texas chapters' work in our quarterly newsletter, with contact information to provide an avenue for input or participation.

Lowenstein: Advocacy is an important part of the services that ACC provides its membership. Corporate responsibility issues of privilege affect in-house counsel's ability to provide effective guidance to their corporate employers.

Members can obtain additional information, raise issues and submit comments through the ACC national organization as well as through the chapter. For instance, in June, ACC on behalf of its members filed comments on Proposed Rule 502 concerning limited waiver protections for organizational entities against third-party discovery of attorney-client privilege and work product protected documents and communications with the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

In May, ACC, the Bond Market Association, the Securities Industry Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief on behalf of defendants from KPMG who had raised concerns about the Justice Department's efforts to thwart the advancement of legal fees from companies for their executives and employees.

Recent chapter discussion topics included "Unexpected Liability: New Duties Regarding Data Security Probably Apply to You"; "Inadvertent Conflicts of Interest"; and "Lawyers as Whistleblowers."

Perelman: Through our various partnerships, we communicate to our members about timely and hot topics in order to educate in-house counsel and to provide notice and knowledge of hot issues. We offer numerous ethics presentations including the "Ethical Leadership for Corporate Counsel" presentation by former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the presentation "The Auditor/Lawyer Tango: Dancing in the Dark" by Jones Day and KPMG.

Editor: What are a few of your upcoming CLE programs that in-house counsel should not miss?

Butler: Every year we host a seminar related to managing your career. We hope next year to add a program targeted particularly for counsel new to in-house positions as well as programs targeting general counsel. In addition, we host compliance programs and other forms of CLE. We also instituted four half-day seminars, which focused this year on litigation, employment, patent and international law. While each program is not necessarily of interest to everyone in our chapter, the series is attractive to a broad number of our membership interested in programs targeted specifically to their areas of expertise.

Our programs feature in-house counsel as much as possible. This past year we involved many of our members in planning the programs rather than having the law firms plan the programs for us. We have outside law firms at each of our chapter meetings and speaking at our seminars in one of the three- or four-hour speaking slots as part of their sponsorship of our annual golf tournament and spa event.

We currently have one title sponsor, Jackson Walker LLP, along with eight platinum and eleven gold sponsors.

Cusenbary: On September 6, we will try to keep current with technology with Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld LLP's presentation, "Employee Blogs and Related Internet Issues." On October 4, Department of Justice prosecutor Karen Sharp and attorney Keith Kaiser of Cox Smith Matthews Incorporated will present a CLE presentation on antitrust issues and prosecutions. Don't miss ACC's musical ethics conference on November 2 with parodies of songs you know and some ethics issues you may not.

Lowenstein: The Austin Chapter is excited about our CLE conference scheduled in October. The event was very successful last year with Admiral Bobby Inman as our featured speaker. Another interesting program is expected this year.

A General Counsel Roundtable/ Sponsor Appreciation Event is scheduled in December. A lunch CLE is scheduled in September, and a social event is scheduled in November.

Perelman: The DFW Chapter has offered outstanding CLE programs this year including our In-House Corporate Symposium in May including a mini-MBA session. We offered members a variety of topics with sessions offered by nationally and internationally recognized speakers. The most exciting and quite frankly enjoyable CLE coming up is our chapter's always sold-out Golf and Spa Event and CLE at the Four Seasons Resort on September 8. In addition, we have the upcoming CLE luncheon "Crisis Management - When the Unexpected Happens."

Editor: What other programs do you offer?

Butler: Our primary fundraising event is our golf tournament and spa event, which raises almost $100,000 after expenses. We have 30 teams with 4 or 5 golfers per team and 60 in the spa, which adds up to about 200 participants. Held the first or second Tuesday of March of every year, the event is completely free to ACC members. The event gives our members a chance to network. The golf and spa portion of the day is preceded by a two-hour seminar that provides ethics credit and is followed by a reception.

Cusenbary: The South/Central Texas Chapter has spread its wings this year with a Pro Bono Committee, which provided free legal services recently through the Community Justice Clinic in San Antonio. We also organize roundtable discussions by industry - such as financial, healthcare, energy and small law departments - to facilitate the open exchange of legal and law department management information.

Our annual musical ethics conference is fun and helpful, with a musical presentation of ethics facts in parodies of well-known songs and energetic discussions of possible answers. Laughs are a given.

Our chapter also has networking social events, which are free to members, at new and interesting restaurants around San Antonio. It is important for the membership to become acquainted, exchange information and communicate about their law departments. It's also an enjoyable time since everyone in attendance has the in-house law practice experience in common.

Lowenstein: Last month, we supported the 2006 Best of Business Attorneys and Corporate Counsel awards . In April, we held our first golf and spa event at Barton Creek. The event was very successful, and we hope to offer it next year as well.

Perelman: The DFW Chapter has been involved in a variety of other programs: (A) We awarded $12,000 to fund scholarships to 6 law students - 3 from SMU-Dallas and 3 from Texas Wesleyan-Fort Worth - through our chapter's Larry Margolies Pro Bono Fellowship Program to promote non-profit legal work; (B) We partnered with the Sunbelt Minority Job Fair and arranged for the Dallas Bar Association and Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program to offer pro bono activities; (C) Our chapter is staffing a Hurricane Relief Clinic in August and is participating in the Public Lands Day Event in October; (D) The DFW Chapter co-sponsored the Best General Counsel Awards and the Defender's Program; (E) In addition to our full calendar of CLE events, we offer numerous social events including sporting events and networking happy hours.

Editor: What outreach efforts does your chapter sponsor?

Butler: Our outreach efforts are focused in two areas. First, we give scholarships to students with diverse backgrounds at our three local law schools. Last year, our scholarships totaled $36,000; this year we expect to give a total of $48,000.

Second, we are working with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, which is the pro bono arm of the Houston Bar Association. Although we are not nearly as far along in our pro bono efforts as we are with respect to our diversity scholarships, we voted just this past summer to make pro bono an equal priority with diversity.

Editor: How is your chapter building on its accomplishments to continually improve its service to in-house counsel?

Cusenbary: Our chapter proactively asks our membership for feedback about all the events we organize. We also have a committee that organizes the CLE luncheons to seek feedback on what topics are currently helpful to the in-house lawyers who attend these lunches. Being relevant to the day-to-day law practice of the membership is the best way to have value to the members.

The industry roundtable discussions currently underway in our chapter were a recommendation of one of the members. The board accepted the recommendation and sought volunteers from each industry area discussed to organize the roundtables. By responding to membership input, we open the door to even more helpful input that will help us grow and better serve the membership.

Lowenstein: Our chapter will be able to build on its accomplishments by maintaining a strong Chapter Board, supporting ongoing communications with its current and prospective members and maintaining a willingness to try new ideas. We are very proud and grateful to have talented executives from both large and small companies dedicate their time and effort to support our local organization. The board has continued to attract new and talented leadership candidates. These new leaders bring fresh ideas and new perspectives as demonstrated by the numerous different programs we offered this year. The Austin Chapter also began distributing an electronic newsletter to its members, a member survey was just completed, and we continue to update the breath of information offered on our website. Perelman: We continuously communicate with our membership to find out what they are looking for from ACC. From ACC national's incredible resources to individual chapter resources and benefits, members get significant value by joining and participating in ACC. The DFW Chapter has grown its benefits to our members especially to our Fort Worth members. More than 50 percent of the DFW Chapter's membership is involved in our other CLE events, social events or other special projects.

Editor: Congratulations, Don, on your chapter's winning ACC's Raising the Bar Award in 2005.

Butler: Thank you. We appreciate the recognition for our improvement. In contrast with our unstable finances some years ago, today we enjoy a positive cash flow. We also have been very fortunate in our membership growth.

I attribute much of our success to our retaining Association Management. The company manages not just our chapter but also 19 other associations in town. Having professional staff costs money, but the staffing has enabled us to raise the bar in terms of the quality, as well as the quantity, of services that we provide to our members. And, that's what's it all about.

For More Information Austin: www.acca.com/chapters/aust.php or contact liz_lowenstein@dell.com. Dallas/Ft. Worth: www.acca.com/chapters/dallas.php or contact jperelma@zalecorp.com. Houston: www.acca.com/chapters/houstphp or call Lori Wilkins at (713) 839-0808 or lori@amchouston.com. San Antonio: www.acca.com/chapters/sanantphp or contact Amber Clark at (830) 336-2049 or accasouthcentral@yahoo.com.