Philadelphia Area - Organizations Adding Value To In-House Practice Throughout Philadelphia And Its Delaware Valley Neighborhood

Thursday, July 1, 2004 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Don C. Brown, Corporate Counsel, DuPont Company, and President of the Delaware Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (DELVACCA).

Editor: Like most companies today, DuPont closely watches its bottom line. Why does it support your contributions of time and leadership to DELVACCA?

Brown: The support of DuPont's Legal management to professional associations is crucial to an organization like DELVACCA, which depends on the leadership freely given by its volunteers. The number of hours that DuPont and other companies allow their lawyers to devote is amazing. In short, it allows me to grow and learn so that I bring a broader view to solving my DuPont client's business issues.

Among the many benefits, leadership in professional associations helps to advance common corporate values. For example, in his interview in the February issue of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, DuPont's general counsel, Stacey J. Mobley, noted how the American Bar Association, Minority Corporate Counsel Association and American Corporate Counsel Association leverage what others are doing to advance diversity in the profession.

Membership in professional associations has many benefits for in-house lawyers' day-to-day practice as well. We are not shy, where the law permits, about sharing practices that seem to work for DuPont with other Association companies. DuPont's primary contribution seems to be the unique and structured way that we handle relationships with our law firms and legal service providers. By the same token, we often attend professional association meetings and continuing education events, listen to others and bring back new ideas; we are always learning about ways to improve efficiencies from others that may benefit our customers and DELVACCA members.

Attending DELVACCA's monthly board meetings is tremendously advantageous to me. More than a dozen board members focus on planning a rotating list of activities for the chapter. Our members look for ways to share information about how they handle common situations in their companies. It's always good to find out that other lawyers "do what we do" each day. This networking lets us know that we're not alone in trying to deal with these problems and often leads to cost effective solutions that each of us can implement within our own companies.

Editor: Please tell us about DELVACCA.

Brown: We have approximately 650 members and serve the Delaware Valley. The area includes Philadelphia and its western suburbs, as well as southern New Jersey and Delaware. We try to balance our program locations between Philadelphia and the other areas of Delaware Valley. For example, our May program on corporate governance, called "Working to Prevent Corporate Fraud," was hosted by Saul Ewing in Malvern and then repeated a few days later in Philadelphia and then about a week later in Princeton.Our members voted in favor of attending programs close to their jobs during the day and their homes in the evening.

Editor: What are some of the major challenges facing corporate counsel in your area?
Brown: Given the recent changes in federal securities laws and regulations, DELVACCA has found that nothing is more important than to focus on integrity and responsibility in corporate governance. DELVACCA's programs on governance issues are in high demand. People appreciate our programs that provide practical advice from the in-house perspective, rather than a dry, academic lecture. Sponsors and speakers are encouraged not only to deliver information, but to offer useful examples for applications of the law.

Many of our members are in-house counsel for global companies. So, to provide a forum for discussing the impact of the EU's expansion, this winter we hosted a program sponsored by Eversheds' European Regulatory Team out of Brussels. The presentation opened with an identification of the countries now in the EU and continued with an explanation of some of the regulatory issues for U.S. companies related to the expansion. Handouts included samples of regulatory filings, rulings and other practical aids. We have to start with basics and then also offer more advanced programs.

Our program on "Lessons Learned from the Corporate Scandals - How Does Your Compliance Program Measure Up?" sponsored by Buchanan Ingersoll, PC had a large turnout. Attorneys who had defended companies provided tangible examples of what could be done to enhance companies' internal ethics programs. Having experts and regulators share real-life examples is especially useful so people do not have to reinvent the wheel for their own companies. We want you to come out of a session with at least a few good answers.

Editor: What networking opportunities does DELVACCA provide?

Brown: Most in-house counsel tell us that they enjoy our events because of the associated networking opportunities. Because people do not want to take the time for a sit-down meal, we have found mid-week programs that start at 5:30 or 6 and end by 8 p.m. work best. We usually kick off programs with time dedicated to getting to know our counterparts before we convene the CLE.It gets everyone in a more interactive mood.

Recently we hosted an event in Wilmington with the Corporate Counsel Section of the Delaware State Bar Association that gave corporate counsel an opportunity to network with our panel made up of a chancellor from Delaware's Chancery Court, a private practitioner from DC, and Hercules' general counsel. It was a great venue for an informal discussion of court decisions at the intersection of Delaware corporate law on director responsibilities and the new federal legislation. We invited the local bar association to also sponsor the event which was supported by DuPont and Corporation Service Company and hosted by MBNA, which expanded attendance to almost 80.

Editor: How does DELVACCA help corporate counsel who are in transition?

Brown: Because several of our officers, board members and I have faced transition ourselves, we feel an especially strong ongoing responsibility to help our current members to enhance their career options and to provide networking, job search and skill-building opportunities availablethroughout the in-house legal community.

In May, we kicked off an in-transition program that features a series of monthly meetings for small groups of attorneys who are either looking for employment or considering a move to another company. Our first event in the series focused on how to present yourself, where to look for potential job openings and how to sell your skills. Reflecting today's economic climate, the event was oversubscribed. We're going to hold the programs monthly for as long as there is ready interest. We owe it to our members to help them keep up their own sales skills as well as their legal talents.

I can't say enough about the people whom I've met through ACC who have been very generous to me when I had been interested in new job opportunities or wanted to learn about a new industry or area of practice. I'm happy to share their spirit of collegiality as my list of contacts to whom I can refer someone gets longer.

Editor: How is DELVACCA helping law students to consider an in-house career?

Brown: Because most clerking experiences are in a law firm or government rather than an in-house setting, few law students are aware of in-house practice. In our upcoming planning session, I expect our board will consider a couple of options. One would be to choose a location for one of our ethics or other CLE programs on campus or at a location accessible to law students where price is not an issue. Another would be to gear a program towards law students that explains what it is like to be an in-house lawyer. We would probably take our show on the road and target presentations to law students before their final semester.I already have interest from several DELVACCA members; I just need the schools to say yes.

Editor: How can DELVACCA help companies to enhance their paralegals' training?

Brown: Like many companies, DuPont has been increasing its use of paralegals. Internally, we include lawyers and paralegals in a lot of the same training. It just makes sense. Occasionally our paralegals attend DELVACCA and local bar association events. I am in conversations with The Delaware Paralegal Association to consider an arrangement so that its members might work together on planning or attending DELVACCA events where the topics would benefit both groups. Improving the efficiency of in-house counsel working hand in hand with paralegals is important to our success.

Editor: How does DELVACCA encourage in-house participation in pro bono programs?

Brown: We encourage in-house participation in pro bono programs through mailings to our members, as well as at our annual General Counsel Forum. We find that in-house counsel participate in pro bono activities in direct proportion to what their general counsel wants to accomplish. Each law department has its own spin with some more aggressive than others. The local and state bars will also set the tone for their members.

We try to find pro bono programs geared toward in-house lawyers. For example, the pro bono work I do in Wilmington focuses on wills because I can book them into my schedule without interfering with routine work. I am not a litigator, so it would not make sense for me to handle matters that would require me to be in the courthouse for unscheduled hearings. Others find their niche based on the host of in-court and community agencies that are always providing legal services to those in need.We encourage our members to just do something.

Our role at DELVACCA is to inform our members about pro bono organizations rather than screening those in need of services ourselves. Law Works is one example of an organization that tends to have projects within areas of an in-house lawyer's expertise - such as reviewing lease documents, personnel policies, or a distribution agreement for a person who is starting up or running a family owned business. We are also working with ACC and Law Works through CorporateProBono.Org to host a half-day program this fall.They will explain their volunteer program to our members and provide an opportunity that day to counsel clients. This pro bono work could involve reviewing a non-profit company's personnel policy, family leave act statement or work-related injury policy - the type of tasks familiar to a typical in-house generalist or employment lawyer.

Another way we promote and encourage corporate support of pro bono activities is to recognize members for their pro bono service at our annual dinner.

Editor: Thank you, Don, for telling our readers about DELVACCA.Where can they learn more about your chapter?

Brown:They can visit DELVACCA's web page by following the menu choices on the home page of the Association of Corporate Counsel at del.php.