Your In-House Home – By Bret Parker

Bret Parker is Executive Director of the New York City Bar Association

One of the New York City Bar Association’s greatest strengths is the breadth of expertise and experience in our membership. We have lawyers in big-law and solo-law and everything-in-between firms, in corporate legal departments, in public service, in nonprofits, in academia, and in the judiciary. All of these lawyers come to us because the City Bar always has something of value to offer for their respective practice settings.

I feel fortunate to have worked in several of these areas in my career. I started clerking for a judge, went to a law firm, moved in-house, and have worked extensively with the City Bar Fund in my role as Vice President of their board. In my City Bar role, I have worked with the judiciary and government agencies. I know firsthand that the cultures, needs, and interests of these sectors all differ. But the bulk of the formative years of my career were spent in-house, and I’d like to bring you up to speed on what the City Bar has been doing for in-house lawyers.

Over six years ago, I left my prior position at Elizabeth Arden to become executive director of the City Bar. I actually leapt at the opportunity, not because I didn’t like my previous job (in fact I loved it as well as my law firm and other jobs), but because of how much the City Bar meant to me. I saw the value of bar association membership early in my career, having joined the City Bar over 20 years ago when I was at a law firm. I joined the Trademarks and Unfair Competition Committee and then, when I was in-house at Colgate-Palmolive, chaired the committee. It was a great opportunity to learn from others in the field, develop my speaking skills by presenting at CLEs, grow my personal brand, and have candid conversations about the latest developments in IP law. When I was in-house at Wyeth (later part of Pfizer), I joined the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee so I could speak to others at companies, firms, and other organizations to get advice on creating and running Wyeth’s pro bono program. I also reached out to the City Bar Justice Center, which had helped other companies launch pro bono programs, because they had template policies and could answer some of the typical questions.

Once I started my job at the City Bar, I was glad to learn that then-President Carey Dunne and the amazing staff were enthusiastic about increasing offerings for in-house counsel. We created the In-House Counsel Committee, which produces, among other programs, the annual Corporate Counsel Symposium. The next edition in December will feature general counsel or senior legal department executives from companies including Facebook, CBS Corporation, Tiffany & Co., JP Morgan Chase & Co., Barneys New York, Etsy, Hermes, Advance, and more. We also created the Compliance Committee to serve that fast-growing segment, with an in-house lawyer as the first Chair, and created the Emerging Companies Committee. And, more recently, understanding that the value proposition and the business dynamic for in-house counsel is different than for law firm attorneys, we lowered membership dues and made much of our live and online CLE free for in-house lawyers. 

We have also put the City Bar’s policy and advocacy resources to work on behalf of our in-house members. In 2013, then-Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman lamented the absence of “an important untapped pro bono resource — the talented cadre of lawyers who presently are not permitted to provide legal services outside their corporate or in-house employment.” I was honored to serve on the Chief Judge’s Advisory Committee on Pro Bono Service by In-House Counsel in New York State. The result of that effort was an easing of the rules allowing in-house counsel to do pro bono work. A separate proposal to ease New York State registration requirements for foreign in-house counsel by the City Bar’s Professional Responsibility Committee, with the support of the New York State Bar Association, has been put forth for public comment by the Office of Court Administration. These developments, along with increased outreach to corporate legal departments by the Justice Center, the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and other organizations, have helped lead to a significant increase in pro bono work by in-house counsel.

Each year, the Justice Center honors a corporate legal department (along with a firm) at its gala, and this year’s awardee, AIG, showed what in-house lawyers can do as the company was honored for its work on multiple Justice Center projects: the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project, the Veterans’ Assistance Project, the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund Project, the Refugee Assistance Project, and the New York Civil Court Pro Bono Brief Services Project.

In-house counsel are integrally involved in other City Bar Fund programs as well. For example, the Vance Center has benefitted from close collaboration with international insurer Chubb. Nicola Port, Senior Vice President & International Counsel, chairs the Chubb Rule of Law Fund, which has supported Vance Center projects in Latin America and Africa. After getting to know the Vance Center through this collaboration, she joined the board of the City Bar Fund. Many in-house counsel also contribute their time and expertise to our Office for Diversity and Inclusion; recently Kimberley D. Harris, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation and General Counsel at NBCUniversal, engaged in an inspiring conversation with Sheila Adams of Davis Polk & Wardwell at the Associate Leadership Institute. The Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) has provided a variety of services to individual in-house counsel attorneys, as well as crisis intervention following traumatic events.

In-house lawyers want to give back no less than other lawyers do, which is why so many of them serve on any number of our 150+ committees. I think the legal departments and social responsibility departments of forward-looking companies are fully supportive of this and appreciate that their employees have a place where they can, and must, leave their company hats at the door to pursue policy and other interests.

In-house counsel, like all the other segments of the legal profession, are well-represented on our Executive Committee. They include Mei Lin Kwan-Gett of Citigroup, Anna Pohl of Thomson Reuters, Nate Saint-Victor of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Karen Patton Seymour of Goldman Sachs, and Jeffrey Winn of Chubb Insurance Group. The City Bar Fund Board, in addition to Nicola Port, includes Ricardo Anzaldua of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), Allen D. Applbaum of StoneTurn, Emma Bailey of Barclays, Livia M. Corredor of Forest City Ratner, Andrew Fossett of NBC Universal, Laura Franco of CBS Corporation, Arunas Gudaitis of BNY Mellon, Aaron Kleinmann of Capital One, Soo-Mi Lee of Morgan Stanley, and David Levine of Bloomberg LP, who chairs the City Bar Fund Board.

I know that one can sometimes feel isolated in-house. For small companies, the in-house counsel might be the only lawyer in the building. That’s why one of the greatest benefits a bar association can offer is the opportunity to network. Sometimes in-house counsel want to gather just among themselves and other times they want the opportunity to speak with and learn from outside lawyers, judges, government attorneys, and those who aren’t at companies. Among the opportunities we offer are an annual In-House Counsel Reception, and more intimate “Bar@theBar” happy hours, some especially for in-house counsel. I hope to see you at one of these events or as a member of one of our committees. Here’s to in-house counsel!