Quicktake: General Counsel Conference 2019

by Charles Dimov

This year’s General Counsel Conference 2019 – hosted by ALM – will be remembered for years. The event itself brought in delegates from across the US, from New York to San Francisco. But it also hosted international in-house legal counsel from as far as Brazil, Hong Kong, and Singapore. New York Times Square

All this co-incidentally taking place during the chaos of the UN general assembly delegations, world leader visits, and two major political crises in Britain (monumental parliamentary debate on Brexit), and the US (presidential impeachment proceedings).gcc sign in desk

Political delegations theatrics aside, this year’s in-house legal conference on September 25-26, has been memorable for the event itself. Most poignant among them has been the legal education sessions, the renaissance of rapid technology adoption in law, and the heart-felt open discussion about important health issues impacting law firms and legal departments, alike.

One of the big themes this year is the evolving role of the general counsel in the executive leadership role. As Kimberly C. Petillo-Decossard, partner Cahill Gordon & Reindel put it, “today the GC sits at the right hand of the CEO, and advisory board.” In-house counsel’s time has arrived.

Other strong themes of the discussions included the increasing complexity of running corporate counsel teams effectively and the role of technology and AI to answer some of the issues they are facing. And of course, diversity and inclusion, as well as the health of the attorneys and legal staff in our industry.

What follows is a glimpse of some of the events, discussions, presentations, and panel sessions. Also – since I love photos, we included plenty taken at the event.


Adam Markel opened the General Counsel Conference 2019 with a discussion about his experience as a lifeguard that taught him about life in law. Following the relentless ‘more for less’ mantra is costing the industry. Specifically, it costs $62 Billion per year in health and safety spending. Worse, it is costing $500 Billion due to disengagement of corporate lawyers. It has caused the profession to have the 5th highest incidence of suicides. Legal professionals are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. And lawyers are twice as likely to be alcohol and substance abusers, compared to any other professional group.

Adam’s key message was to build resilience in your teams. Encourage team members to bounce back from setbacks. He encouraged creating a ‘got your back’ culture, rather on where you must ‘watch your back’.

Markel encouraged developing rituals for recovery. Winners work hard. They work intensely. But they also do so and then take recovery breaks. This helps them keep going, and prevents exhaustion. Think about the recovery plan. Encourage your professional teams to take their days off, and recover. This way, when they are at work – they are giving it their best.



This panel session included: Presenter at General Counsel Conference 2019gcc panel

Eric Dinallo, Executive Vice President &General Counsel, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America
Dave Kerstein, Chief Risk Officer, Validity Finance
Brian T. Markley, Partner, Cahill Gordon & Reindel
James Sheehan, Chief, Charities Bureau, NY State Department of Law
Moderated by Steve Kovalan, Director of Research, ALM Intelligence
All general counsels and legal services have experienced this. You are called in when there is a problem, yet rarely get to see the results from the bottom of the 9th inning. Today’s key goals are to manage the legal team like any other business. Yes, there is that desire to show big value outcomes while also avoiding risk, and most importantly getting ahead of the problems.

Taking lessons from the #MeToo movement, it is sometimes important to step away from the lawyer’s instinct to keep everything confidential and admit nothing. When a cybersecurity incident happens, a data breach is detected, a racist issue emerges, or a #MeToo incident takes place; don’t bury your head and merely deny it. Sometimes it is prudent to act responsibly. Accept responsibility. Then immediately take remedial actions to prevent it from occurring again. Don’t just think about dispute resolution and denial.



Moderated by Deirdre Leone, VP Sales at ContractPodAi – this panel included:gcc speaker

Cathleen Colvin, General Counsel, Pall Corporation, and Julie Cantor, Corporate Counsel, Compass

This discussion focused on today’s need for legal teams to pull information from so many disparate data sources. Regarding the contract side, both speakers had contract management systems brought in to address the challenges. In both cases, the net result of adding contract management was to reduce head-count (or not have to hire additional resources), reduce risk, and save money in the process. Speaker Panel

A significant learning from the session was the emphasis of working closely with the IT team. Legal departments are often slow to adopt new technologies. However, doing this collaboratively with IT made the entire effort much easier. An even greater key point was the importance of bringing in IT – early. The earlier they are brought into the effort, the easier the technology implementation process.

Ms. Colvin highlighted that the go-live date is a double-edged sword. She emphasized that the timeline KPI’s need to be flexible in the contract. Colvin emphasized that “at the end of the day you will live with it for a long time, so need it to do what you need it to do – rather than stay true to timing KPIs”.

A key lesson from this learning network was surmised by Julie Cantor. Ms. Cantor pointed out that “Technology automation isn’t here to displace people from their tasks, it’s here to help them with what they are doing.” This might taper some of the fear and anxiety associated with the change management efforts related to introducing new technology to the legal team.


Moderated by Andy Teichholz, Global Industry Strategist, Legal – Opentext, the speakers were: General Counsel Conference 2019 – The Upper Terrace

Graham Luce, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, BJ’s Wholesale Club
Patrick Fuller, Vice President, Legal Intelligence, ALM Intelligence
In this panel session, we investigated how AI truly takes away repetitive knowledge tasks. Contracts immediately came to mind. In this light, the NDA emerged as an example. Non-disclosure agreements are a terrible waste of a lawyer’s time to review. Given the estimate that 99.97% of the time NDA’s are just not contested, this is an ideal agreement to let artificial intelligence (AI) hack away at it.

Another practical example of AI use is for triage services. An AI engine can review contracts or issues in high volume. It can then filter and highlight irregularities, and concerning issues. This is by using semantic analysis.


This panel session included:

John Snyder, ESQ and CEO, Agnes Intel
Eric Weikner
Jordan Thompson, Deputy General Counsel and Privacy Officer, NYIT
John Snyder opened stating that, “we are going through an explosion of data – in volume and variety.” As such, “AI is the human effort to deal with this explosion of data we are having to deal with – overall.” ContractPodAi Team

Eric Wiekner pointed out that “growth in technology and evolution of how we work has made litigation much more expensive. All this technology creates more and more data. As a result, now there is so much more data to consider and get through.” Hence, the need for AI-driven data analytics.

Snyder pointed out an important need stating: “there is an ethical obligation to be diligent. There is also an ethical obligation NOT to gouge your client. As such, with this data tsunami, the profession has to find a balance between using the right technology and using humans to solve real-world issues.”


Heather D. Nevitt – ALM Editor in Chief moderated this final panel session with speakers: Session at the General Counsel Conference 2019

Carlos Davila-Caballero, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett LLP
Eduardo Santiago-Acevedo, VP & Senior Regulatory Counsel, Prudential Financial
Our opener here started with the statistics that in 2007, women made up 30% of the legal profession. In 2013 that figure had risen ONLY to 35%. Worse yet, only 20% of partners in firms are women. Only 18% of partners in firms with an equity stake, are women. Merely 5% of lawyers identified as African American.

Clearly this session of the General Counsel Conference 2019 closing session – highlighted a need for change. Diversity is not a strength in the industry.

Although there was a debate on whether committees are effective, or not; the importance is to set objectives and to work with talent to solve this problem. It is about bringing talent in early, to keep a pipeline filled of more diverse individuals. Most importantly, DON’T use policy to describe inclusion efforts. The answer is about developing talent, rather than creating policy.


The CLE credits definitely helped make the General Counsel Conference 2019 sessions popular. But more importantly, did the sessions actually teach the attendees something? Will they apply some of the learnings once they get back to the office? In this regard, a few participants mentioned the highlights of the conference for them including the following:

On technology, Pierre Binetter, Regional General Counsel Americas (VP) for JTI mentioned, “tread carefully. Don’t get overwhelmed by data. Ask yourself some basic questions before you embark on technology projects. What are the key things you should think about? Stay away from the theoretical. What are the practical steps you need to embark on for a predictive analytics project, for example.”gcc group photo

Christine E. Goodrich, Esq, Counsel at Erie Insurance, mentioned that a memorable learning was Markel’s concept of the “Trim Tab.” This being, “the little rudder that helps the big rudder turn the ship. A lot of times in a corporation, people can think they don’t make a difference. But this concept really showed that everyone in a company can make an impact.”

Finally, Sharie A. Brown, Partner at Troutman Sanders LLP, mentioned that “there were a number of substantive legal topics. But, the one topic that satisfied me the most was with respect to the responsibility of managers and general counsels to recognize when your staff and lawyers are stressed and need additional help. It is not sustainable for lawyers and staff to work 24-7 in an ongoing ‘crisis mode.’ Everyone participating in the roundtable contributed honest, authentic feedback about the challenges of detecting wellness issues in staff and lawyers – regardless of organizational context. It is important to recognize when someone is stressed and needs help and not simply focus on meeting client deadlines. That roundtable was impactful for me.”


This year’s General Counsel Conference 2019 was an exciting, lesson filled event. Plenty of important highlights and technology discussions about artificial intelligence. There were also several key discussions about resilience in the profession, recuperation that is needed, and the importance of the responsibility of management to take care of our people. Welcome to the General Counsel Conference 2019

Naturally, there were many photo opportunities to be had. So, we are sharing many of these photos in this post. If you have additional photos you would like to add, please send them through to us at ContractPodAi, care of [email protected]

Many thanks to all those who contributed, dropped by the booth, spoke, and partook in this year’s event. Looking forward to seeing you all at ACC in Phoenix, or at next year’s General Counsel Conference 2020.



Charles Dimov
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