October 27, 2014
I recently had the unique opportunity to speak with a remarkable woman, attorney, and leader, Nancy Nord. Nancy’s impressive background ranges from general counsel to the Council on Environmental Quality to serving as an attorney at the Federal Communications Commission and with the U.S. Congress to Director of Federal Government Relations for the Eastman Kodak Company. This was all before her eight year stint as commissioner on the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), serving as chairman from 2006 – 2009. Notably, Nancy Nord was in the extremely unique position to help found the ACC – Association of Corporate Counsel. Here Nancy speaks about the challenges facing corporate Counsel today.
Obviously the role of corporate counsel has changed significantly since ACC was founded, especially within the past 10 years. What are the biggest challenges facing corporate counsel when the ACC first started? How did the newly formed ACC help address those issues?
Nancy Nord (NN): Corporate counsel, especially the CLO, were expected to be excellent managers as well as excellent lawyers. Management skills are not taught in law school. Managing staff, managing the relationship with retained counsel (who often prefer to report to the CEO), and navigating corporate organizational relationships are challenges that corporate counsel faced as law departments grew and their role in the company became more important. ACC was created because there was no organization addressing these needs.
Many more specific issues were part of this broad management focus. These more specific issues included attorney client privilege issues, bar admissions and interstate practice of law issues, growth of legal fees, use of alternative dispute resolution techniques, and ethics issues, among others. Finally, as more and more legal work was moved in-house as ACC was being founded, it was important that in-house lawyers be recognized as being as professionally skilled as their outside counterparts. Through its substantive committees, its advocacy work, its programs and its publications, ACC developed a strong program to address all these issues.
What are the biggest challenges you see facing corporate counsel today that would not have even been anticipated when ACC was founded?
NN: The world has changed and the regulatory environment has changed from what existed in the 1980’s.
Today, the general counsel of even the smallest company cannot ignore the global nature of business and therefore, law practice. Manufacturers who, when ACC was formed, made their products entirely in two or three plants in the U.S. now outsource much or all of the manufacturing process throughout the world. Decisions made by suppliers or subcontractors half way around the globe can determine whether your product is in compliance or will face a recall and your brand will face the kind of reputational damage that is hard to recover from. Companies that provide services, especially financial services, are seeing the same phenomenon except on steroids.
Understandably U.S. policy makers and regulators have responded with increasingly proscriptive regulations. Unfortunately, some of these regulations, written by lawyers with little understanding of the industries they are regulating, are complex, burdensome and easily-violated. In addition, I believe that enforcement agencies over the past several years have been more interested in seeking large penalties than in determining whether or why a regulation was violated. And a large penalty is only the start of a company’s legal exposure in the current litigation environment.
Visit Corporate Counsel Connect http://info.legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/signup/newsletters/corporate-counsel-connect/2014-oct/article4.aspx to view the rest of the interview with Nancy Nord.
Nancy Nord was Executive Director of ACC from its establishment in 1982 through 1990. She was a commissioner of the CPSC from 2005 through October 2013. Her blog on regulatory policy issues, Conversations with Consumers, is at nancynord.net nancynord.net.