Letter From The Past President Of The South/Central Texas Chapter Of The Association Of Corporate Counsel America

2007-11-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

In 2006, the Association of Corporate Counsel's Central/South Texas Chapter stepped out on the edge of propriety by producing a musical ethics conference instead of the traditional judicial speakers. The buzz was big because it was an unusually well-received show, with talented people sharing their music and parodies, reminding us about the fundamental concept of the Texas Disciplinary Rules. The three hours of required Texas Ethics Credit was virtually painless. Now the question that remains is how to do we top it on November 8, for the second Follies performance? It has to be memorable since it is the Tenth Annual Ethics Conference. There needs to be a big Tenth Anniversary cake, that's a given. Sure, seeing attorneys and judges sing and dance is fun regardless, but how does ACC keep it relevant and worth attending as part of an in-house attorney's professional growth and development?That's the goal.

The goal isn't reached with just Bob Fosse choreography from Chicago (which looked great in rehearsal), or the sequins worn by the Dreamgirls (sweet harmonies on this one), or in the Elvis impersonator (a former District Judge). It is in the substance of the parodies' lyrics. To make the fun-filled ethics conference equally relevant, it has to reflect the disturbing unethical corporate behaviors in the U.S. this past year. Ethics Follies will still be a fun musical experience this year, but with a bit darker tone. Song choices include "Steppin' to the Bad Side" from Dreamgirls, and angry tunes like "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. The stories of fraud and unethical behavior are real and deserve a serious treatment. Broadway's Wicked's song "Popular" is parodied as "Unpopular," as a General Counsel teaches a young associate how to take the hard stand with executives when compliance and ethical behavior reduces their salaries. Because of the repeated overlap of business and legal ethics in the news in 2007, this year's theme of Ethics Follies will be "Business Ethics for Lawyers."

The Follies committee toyed with idea of not naming corporations in the skits and songs even though the media has thoroughly dissected the executive's behaviors and regulatory infractions of those companies. But that alone seemed to be a compromise. If this conference is going to make a difference in the way that in-house attorneys influence ethical behavior of executives, the Follies needs to openly discuss the bad choices made by companies that have come upon hard ethical times. Further, some of these executives are attorneys, who play an increasingly large role in the growth and direction of the companies.

Another tough subject, which has received national press by the Association of Corporate Counsel's General Counsel, Susan Hackett, is the billing rates of attorneys and the inexplicable first year attorney salaries, which shot up above $150,000 a year in 2007. Although Ethics Follies is sponsored in part by large law firms, the committee decided not to back off of the subject, and address it without reservation. Alternative billing methods and first year attorney's salaries will be discussed in an open forum with the sponsoring law firms present.

Other areas of business ethics which will be parodies are the inferred benefits of products, false advertising, failing to recall a product with known dangers, the limitations of juries when they are "Razzle Dazzled" by excellent trial lawyers, whistle blower lawsuits, and law department management issues.

Production values of the show will be enhanced this year as well, with over 25 people performing, designing the stage, full costuming, lighting design, and professional sound engineering. Most of the committee members are in house attorneys from Central Texas corporate law departments, including Valero Energy, USAA, CPS Energy, KCI, Clear Channel, The Scooter Store, The Nature Conservancy, Mission Pharmacal, and San Antonio Housing Authority.

Judges, in-house attorneys, and sponsoring law firms are welcome to purchase advance tickets for what we hope will be a sold out performance on November 8 at the Plaza Club in San Antonio, Texas. Contact Executive Director Amber Clark at (830) 336-2049 for more information or to purchase the three-hour ethics conference on DVD.


Lee Cusenbary