The 2016 ABA Business Law Section Spring Meeting in Montréal was successful in many ways: over 1,500 members in attendance, more than 75 programs and sessions, and dynamic networking functions. However, the Section’s greatest resource – its diverse group of lawyers – each experienced his or her own Montréal “moment” differently. Here are insights and highlights from the members themselves!
The snowstorm raged outside, and business lawyers huddled for warmth between CLE panels at the Section-provided rest area, steaming coffee in their trembling hands. As one does in these situations, we introduced ourselves to each other and learned about the practice and priorities of our fellow Section members and about what warmer climes they had abandoned, believing that April would be spring in Montréal.
I always meet interesting people and often learn useful tidbits in Section meeting discussions, but in this case I was introduced to one of the few, living, named partners at a prominent U.S. business law firm. He was charming and thoughtful in his comments, and I managed not to embarrass myself in reply, as I have long been a fan of this well-known lawyer’s business and legal acumen. The encounter reminded me how worthwhile these meetings are for the hallway conversations and the random introductions – the unscripted moments are as valuable as the well-planned conferences. Who can put a value on meeting your heroes?
Charlotte, North Carolina
Lesson for Millennials
In Montréal I attended the Fisher Program, which is sponsored annually by the Conference on Consumer Finance Law (CCFL). Lawrence Young introduced the program and recounted the significance of Fred Fisher to the downfall of McCarthyism in the United States, as Larry has for the last 14 years. Most of the audience was unaware that this would be the last time Larry would recount the drama, ending with the famous line uttered by Hale and Dorr Partner Joe Welch, “Have you no shame, sir.”
As I sat there listening to a collegial but highly spirited debate on whether fair lending was really fair for all, it dawned on me that many of the “millennial” lawyers sitting in the room had come of age after the end of the Cold War and how important it was to remind them of the real significance of their profession to society. The ABA and the CCFL provide these opportunities for young lawyers. Although Larry is retiring, and the CCFL will miss his many contributions, he should be buoyed by the fact that the Fisher Program had drawn so many young lawyers to the room – and they were listening carefully.
Birth of a New Venture
Having dinner with a friend – a financial quant from San Francisco – I turned to him and asked, “If there was a group of lawyers dedicated to data analysis and its impact on business law, what would you call it?” “Legal analytics,” he replied. A few months later I found myself in Montréal, chair of the brand new Legal Analytics Working Group. We had three members at the meeting’s start, and by the end, well, we had more. Building up toward the Annual Meeting in Boston this year, what a great opportunity to be at the start of something new and innovative in the legal field. Truly, however, this kind of thing happens all the time in the Section.
A Busy Montréal Itinerary
William Kroener with performers at the Welcome Reception
What a great meeting in Montréal! It has been a long time since the Section met outside the United States, a result of the dynamic leadership of William Rosenberg, a lifelong Montréal resident. Having recently taken senior status in my law firm, my wife and I were able to arrive a day early and stay the entire weekend. Canada is one of our favorite travel destinations, yet this was our first time in Montréal since the world’s fair there in 1967.
The Section and committee programs were of great interest to me, especially the program on total loss-absorbing capacity (don’t ask), for which I was a panelist. Among the Section-wide events, the Cirque-de-Soliel performers at the welcome reception were very memorable; we even got to try the legendary Canadian poutine, an experience we had studiously avoided during many Canadian adventures. The Marché Bonsecours, site of the Section dinner, was equally delightful. Our days touring Old Montréal – the Notre-Dame Basilica and Mount Royal, a Frederick Law Olmstead park that dominates the city – were wonderful.
William Kroener III
Connections Made and Nurtured
The Montréal meeting provided so many highlights that we forgot – at least it felt like we forgot – swimming through the streets to our committee dinners and donning winter weather gear to get about. The moments that stand out in my mind include Sylvia Chin and her well-deserved Jean Allard Glass Cutter Award. Following so many prior exceptional women, this is a recognition of true excellence and contribution, and the quality of the women receiving it each year astounds me. In addition, our Project Finance and Development Committee dinner is always the best of times, and the committee meeting saw many new members step up and take on significant roles – their enthusiasm and agreement to give of their time and effort so typical of the ABA “way,” but particularly remarkable in these time-stressed times. However, the receptions and evening activities in the great locations available to the Montréal meeting, friendships kept alive, and new connections made – for me that is the real value of the in-person meetings, and Montréal delivered well.
Keeping in Contact Through the Years
Montréal provided a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with two people whom I have known for over 30 years but only see occasionally. One was George Madison. George and I met back in the 1980s when we were among the few African American associates at prominent New York law firms: I was at Mudge Rose, and he was at Shearman and Sterling. Our next meeting was in the early 2000s when we were both general counsel: I was at General Motors North America, and George at Comerica. George went on to be GC at TIAA Cref before becoming GC to the Treasury Department during President Obama’s first term. George has returned to New York and is a Partner at Sidley Austin. After retiring from GM and a stint as a law professor, God has called me to fight human trafficking, which I am primarily doing by leading a subcommittee of the CSR Committee, which is implementing the ABA Model Principles on Labor Trafficking and Child Labor. My subcommittee held a few meetings, and I also had the opportunity to participate in related CSR, sustainability and governance meetings. This highlights another benefit of the face-to-face BLS meetings in that they provide you with the opportunity to meet and collaborate with great lawyers in your areas of interest.
The second person I reconnected with was Richard Alvarez. Rich and I graduated from New York Law School in 1981. While at Mudge one of the things I did was serve as a blue sky lawyer. After I left the firm to become a headhunter the firm was looking for someone to work as a blue sky lawyer on a full-time basis. I recruited Rich who had started to work in that area and placed him at Mudge. After Mudge closed its doors, Rich went on to work as a blue sky associate at a number of prominent New York firms and now has his own very successful practice in that area.
High Points – Purely Subjective
Overheard in the hotel lobby: “This is really a support group for law nerds like us.” My own observation is that I thought I’d attend lots of meetings and a couple of CLEs, but ended up in fewer than I’d planned. Friday afternoon slipped by most pleasantly as I kept bumping into and chatting with friends new and old. You can’t get that through a webinar. Another thought is that the high point was Mount Royal, which I would have missed but for David Snyder’s insisting that I should see it when I bumped into him on Sunday morning.
Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
The American Bar Association Goal III was created to meet two objectives: (1) to promote full and equal participation in the association, our profession, and the justice system by all persons; and (2) eliminate bias in the legal profession and the justice system. I was very impressed with the Section’s commitment to diversity, which was a common theme throughout the meeting in Montréal.
A program that really stood out was “Diversity and Inclusion: Your Client’s Care and This Is Why You Should Too!” The panel was made up of three general counsels of top-performing organizations, one partner, and the chief diversity officer of a prominent law firm. The program was centered on interrupting bias in the legal profession. Some of the key takeaway points follow.
The discussion began with the fact that there has been significant talk on the issue of diversity but not so much on the issue of inclusion. The panelists all agreed that inclusion was the obvious next step in the discussion on diversity. One of the panelist defined inclusion in terms of the four Rs (recruiting, retaining, rewarding, and recognizing diverse talent). There was also discussion on the effectiveness of chief diversity officers. One of the panelists encouraged those in the role of chief diversity officer to take the lead in ensuring diverse associates are not overlooked for substantive assignments. In addition, the panelists also discussed ways in which general counsels can play a role in ensuring diverse candidates receive recognition and substantive assignments. One of the panelists gave an example of a policy that was implemented within his organization in which “relationship partners” were protected by the use of “origination certification.” Each law firm had to certify that the relationship partner received origination credit for that company.
In closing, the panel noted that we must be deliberate in our actions, we cannot stop talking about it, and if we are to be successful in our efforts to increase diversity, we must interrupt it. Overall, I thought the Section did a fantastic job of carrying out the Goal III, and I am extremely excited for the Annual Meeting in Boston.
Sasha Ann Francis, Esq.
Millennials Work Culture Booms
It is almost 2:30 on Friday afternoon, it is the last session before the reception, and I am having a rather difficult time deciding among a slew of good programs I had scheduled on my BusLawEvents app. Unable to decide, I pick the first one, “Bridging the Generation Divide: How Millennials Can Communicate with Baby Boomers and Succeed in the Workplace.” This is topic with which I was intimately familiar after spending four years at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. (Although I am young enough to be a millennial, I actually identify with Boomers because of my “old soul.”)
Monique D. Hayes, Jamie May, and Abiola “A.B” Kalejaiye
The panel was moderated by Jonathan Stemerman and included as panelists Micah Cbuchdahl and Lynne Barr (filling in for Lauren Stiller Rikleen, author of You Raised Us, Now Work with Us, who was unable attend at the last minute). The biggest takeaway for me, espoused by both Ms. Barr and Mr. Chuchdahl, was that communication requires a certain level of trust, and both millennials and boomers must do more to understand other each other – to really go beyond the stereotypes to get to know people. Although the other “younger” panelists stressed the importance of paying one’s dues and learning the craft of lawyering, the general sentiment was that young attorneys today take on more (or at least want to take on) substantive responsibility compared to past generations. There was also general recognition that Gen Xers, having already bought into the boomer’s work-first mentality, will most likely get lost in the work-culture transition from the boomers (who value work highly) to the millennials (who value things outside of work as highly as work) due to the Gen Xers smaller/“donut” workforce.
Abiola “A.B” Kalejaiye
Brisk Early Walk
Lisa Lifshitz and Kathy McElroy enjoying a balmy night in Montréal
It is still dark when I wake on Friday morning at 5:45 a.m. EDT (2:45 a.m. for us still on PDT). The weak light of a winter sunrise is just starting to appear as I glimpse through the hotel window at the snow floating past my window. Not a morning person, I still happily don my layers of winter workout attire: two layers of socks, sweatpants over running tights, down vest over Under Armor, down mittens, and a goofy green ski cap.
By 6:00 a.m. I am in a hotel conference room buzzing with the lively conversation of friends, both ABA staff and members, dividing into a walking group and a jogging group: ABA Business Law Health Club starting the day off right! Our group walks briskly across the city, my first real chance to see Montréal, and it is beautiful, albeit surreal as the city is still asleep, with the snow and wind is picking up. We hardly notice the weather, hills, or darkness as we catch up with our friends: what is happening with our families and businesses, our future plans, and shamelessly plugging the programs we will chair later that day.
I attended numerous, terrific sessions and networking events during my weekend in Montréal, but want to thank the Section for providing me with this special opportunity to tour the host city, catch up with old friends, and make new ones on a snowy April morning.
First Timers Become Old Friends
I helped start the First Timers program more than 15 years ago – it was my first “project” as a newcomer to the Section, and it led to my becoming co-chair of the Women’s Business Law Network and to so many other positions within the Section. I am always thrilled to see my First Timers, some of whom continue to travel from places like Switzerland and India, and have become old friends. I love connecting with all of my old friends, meeting new ones, and learning and sharing with them.
Merci beaucoup for providing such a beautiful setting for our Spring Meeting!