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Counsel reenergizes section

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In-House Counsel

Even though the Corporate Counsel Section of the Indiana State Bar Association can boast a membership of 431 statewide, it was a relatively inactive group until the immediate past chair took over in 2009.

Prior to that, there had been some activity on a members-only listserv, including information about relevant continuing legal education opportunities from ISBA staff liaison Maryann Williams, and conversations about issues specific to general counsels. However, Williams credited the section’s leadership in recent years with working hard to get more recognition and to offer more opportunities for its membership to become engaged in ISBA efforts.

The immediate past chair of the section, Stephen Landrum Due, is one member of the leadership team who made a push to make the section more active.
 

due-stephen Stephen Due, assistant general counsel at American United Life Insurance, helped reenergize the ISBA Corporate Counsel Section. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Due is an assistant general counsel in the nine-member legal department of American United Life Insurance Company, a OneAmerica company in Indianapolis. He joined the ISBA Corporate Counsel Section when he joined AUL in 2007. Due began his legal career as a member of Bingham McHale’s labor and employment practice group after passing the bar in 2002.

He became chair of the Corporate Counsel Section in 2009. He served until the ISBA 2010 Annual Meeting in mid-October, when he was succeeded by Deborah Edwards of Heritage Environmental Services in Indianapolis.

Due didn’t blame past leadership – or anyone for that matter – for the section’s previous inactivity. Instead, he said it was likely due to the nature of an in-house counsel’s job and how little time this group of lawyers has for involvement in professional organizations compared to attorneys in private practice.

“When I come into the office, I might have a ‘to do’ list of three things. By 9 a.m., I realize there are other things I need to take care of instead,” he said. “Our days are never our own.”

That is not a negative aspect of the job, Due added. The reality is that an in-house counsel is an integral part of the company, he continued, unlike an attorney at a firm who might have more flexibility and independence when it comes to working directly with clients.

Another reason the membership may have been less active in previous years, he said, could be that corporate counsel attorneys don’t tend to be as concerned as their counterparts at law firms when it comes to networking and business development. Therefore, being active in the ISBA may be less of a priority.

Business development may not be viewed as vital by corporate counsel, the way it often is for private practice lawyers, because each corporate counsel answers only to one client. If in-house lawyers plan to stay with their companies for a long time, which many tend to want to do, the perceived value of networking drops.

However, Due said he hopes in-house lawyers see the bigger picture and understand the benefits of networking with other attorneys – both in-house counsel and private attorneys. For some, it might mean a new relationship that could lead to the identification of new outside counsel for work not handled in house. For others, it may be a peer to talk to who works for a similar type of company and might deal with similar issues.

He added that when an in-house lawyer works in a small legal department or is the only in-house attorney for a company, there might be even more of a need to meet with other general counsel to get their perspective on issues faced.

Personally, Due has been able to make new friends through his involvement in the section. He has met many attorneys he might not otherwise have met.

To encourage more corporate counsel to take advantage of networking opportunities, listserv members were sent survey questions. Due wanted to know if the members wanted CLE opportunities, social events, to receive resources from the section that could help their practices, or if there was something else the section members would want.

He also asked for volunteers to join the organization’s leadership to ensure the group’s sustainability.

Of the fewer than a dozen responses the ISBA received, Due was encouraged that some shared an interest in leadership positions. Several of those responding were named to the section’s council. Due added that in the spirit of ISBA past president Roderick Morgan’s diversity initiative, he sought a diverse group of attorneys for the council.

Due and other council members have since started working on different opportunities. Those included a CLE at the ISBA annual meeting, “Best Practices for Drafting Arbitration Clauses,” which was co-sponsored by the Corporate Counsel, ADR, and Business Law sections.

For now, Due said co-sponsoring CLEs will likely make the most sense for the Corporate Counsel Section because finding a CLE that is helpful to generalists, as many in-house attorneys are, can be difficult. While some in-house attorneys have specialties specific to the type of company they serve, the type of CLE that would benefit them is likely too specific and would not appeal to a broad enough audience.

Due added that for his area of practice, which includes reinsurance and retirement services, he will often travel out of state for CLE.

Section leaders are also working with ISBA staff to look at the group’s budget and where its dues can be most effectively used. As a relatively inactive section with a relatively large membership, the budget was financially sound when he took over, Due said.

The section helped sponsor the We the People program earlier this year as well as a table at an event hosted by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-partisan organization that studies policies on taxes and government spending.

He said the section also helped the Indiana Attorney General’s Office get the word out to members of the section about an unclaimed property amnesty program for companies that had not reported unclaimed pay checks within the specified amount of time.

Going forward, Due said he hopes more members will want to get involved in leadership or other aspects of the section.

Edwards said because she didn’t plan to become chair this year – when she was vice chair, the previous chair elect left a job as corporate counsel to go into private practice – she couldn’t yet discuss specific future events. She planned to meet with Williams in late 2010 to discuss the possibilities.

Edwards said she would like for the section to continue to offer ways for members to be more active, something she said could be especially beneficial for in-house counsel like her.

“I’m not surrounded by lawyers all day long,” she said, describing her situation as a legal department of one. “I think this is a great opportunity to bring together people who are in similar situations. … I want to do something to keep the revitalization going. Maybe we can do CLE or more networking.”

Edwards said interested lawyers could contact her directly at debi.edwards@heritage-enviro.com or (317) 486-2892•

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