Arriving home exhausted on the red eye from Los Angeles, site of this year’s ACC Annual Meeting. Tired though I may be, I am refreshed and energized about my job. Sharing a large convention center with in-house counsel of all stripes and from around the world is fantastic. I get to share ideas, learn more about topics that I don’t touch in my everyday practice, and collect a raft of CLE credits. I also get to network to my heart’s content. All of those things are integral to success for today’s in-house counsel.
I have written about the importance of those topics individually over the past years, and the chance to experience them in a three day conference can really change your frame of reference, and refocus your mind on just how much is out there that you don’t know. It’s like the old law school joke about the gunner who came to class not having finished the day’s reading. When asked “why” by the professor, she said, “I kept following the case cites and never got to the end.” There really is that much out there. And after sitting in on a CLE about social media and big data, there is so much more that just keeps on coming…
Given that approximately half of all in-house practitioners are in small law departments, the overwhelming body of what one is expected to know in order to keep your company out of trouble is absolutely daunting. Though you don’t have to master all of the topics, you need to at least be aware of as many as possible that are somehow related to your job. How do you possibly accomplish this seemingly impossible task? You get yourself aligned and involved with an association such as ACC, IPLD, NCUA, or the group that best serves your needs. Given my clear bias, ACC is the winner. The breadth of knowledge that is available, not only on the website, but in topical committees and email exchanges is absolutely incredible. In fact, the main complaint about ACC’s site is that it is overbroad. But, can there really be too much of a good thing? Only in certain areas, and legal resources and knowledge is not one of them. If your CEO, or budget guidelines, seem to prevent your membership in a legal association, I guarantee that the upside of membership will pay for itself almost immediately.
Attending one of these meetings also shows you that the in-house community is not large. Everyone recognizes my company, but it is surprising when people approach me about this column. Given that my last name is uncommon, I inevitably run into several “readers” (hopefully they’re not commenters) and have discussions about ATL, and in-house issues that I or Mark Hermann have raised. There is no shortage of challenging topics facing in-house counsel today, especially given the explosion of social media. Our job is not only to ensure that our companies stay out of “trouble,” but to proactively deal with topics in a digital age that can indeed bring down a reputation, or share price. Knowledge is king, and the speed with which information can be disseminated around the globe can keep in-house counsel awake at night.
It is not all doom and gloom with regard to the vast amount of knowledge required of in-house counsel. Joining an appropriate association of lawyers within your practice area (be it generalist of more specific) will go far to tying you in to a knowledge base that will not only support you when new issues arise, but will lilkely show you that you know more than you think.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.