August 06, 2014 // Franchising.com // New York - "It's important to not only recognize the need to have a conversation among women lawyers, but to actively shape it," said San Francisco Insurance partner Kara Baysinger, co-author of Courageous Counsel: Conversations with Women General Counsel in the Fortune 500. She was speaking at Dentons' inaugural Courageous Counsel Leadership Institute, a successful full-day professional development conference for senior women in-house counsel.
Co-authored by Kara and general counsel for the New York Public Library Michele Mayes, the Institute extended the message of Courageous Counsel to promote the advancement of women lawyers in senior legal and leadership positions. The event attracted over 100 senior-level women inside counsel and executives from major companies around the world, who gathered together for insightful panels on sophisticated topics of interest.
Global CEO Elliott Portnoy opened the day by introducing Kara and Michele, the "visionary duo" behind the event and the concept of Courageous Counsel. Michele spoke about her inspirational history teaming up with Kara and Elliott, a "partner in progress," to address the lack of women and minorities in leadership positions. Setting the tone of the event, she laid out what the conference was really about: to build a leadership-focused mindset that always evaluates thoughtfulness of one's actions in any career path, which build up to a unique and powerful personal brand. "Ask yourself: What are you grateful for today?" she challenged. "Never stop asking that question."
Another major highlight at the event was the luncheon keynote delivered by former US Senator Olympia Snowe. Chicago Litigation partner Natalie Spears, also chair of Dentons' Women's Leadership Growth Network, introduced the Senator.
"I have often found that the best sources of advice are other women in leadership roles," Natalie said. "Senator Snowe's ability to challenge expectations and succeed in an institution as male-dominated as the US Congress is reflected in her impressive record of breaking down barriers for women."
Senator Snowe's well-received speech began with congratulations to the attending women counsel for personifying models of leadership in a role that has taken on significant pressure and responsibility in today's risky environment. Noting the symmetry of women's rise to power in both business and politics, the Senator spoke about fighting for her beliefs in Congress, the independence and strength that informs her force of personality and the value of women's contributions at the highest levels of leadership.
The rest of the day was filled with informative discussions addressing specific issues relevant to in-house counsel. Mary Ann Hynes, Chicago senior counsel and the first woman general counsel in a Fortune 500 company, moderated the first two panels, which focused on how general counsel negotiate relationship dynamics with senior management in the C-suite and on the board of directors.
Since Mary Ann broke ground over 30 years ago, women now comprise 21 percent of general counsel positions in Fortune 500 companies, according to Corporate Counsel. Mary Ann has since set a record as a general counsel of five international companies. "I'm proud to be a part of this forum where women can share their experiences as both lawyers and business leaders, to trade insight about this very specific role that makes us all stop and think, 'Wow, I've been there. What can I learn from her?'" she said.
Chicago Real Estate partner Jana Cohen Barbe followed with an interactive crisis management panel, in which panelists and audience members engaged with a detailed hypothetical scenario of a corporate disaster. Participants then broke up into tracks that addressed specific legal areas handled in a variety of different industries, featuring narrowly-tailored discussions that brought together timely developments and in-depth expertise on topics ranging from the management of cybersecurity risks to the unique challenges of private equity portfolio companies. The conference concluded with two general panels that provided attendees with an inside look at negotiating compensation strategies and legal innovation. New York White Collar and Government Investigations partner Michelle Shapiro, Privacy and Data Security partner Andy Roth, Chicago Litigation partner Natalie Spears, Pensions, Benefits and Executive Compensation partner Pam Baker, Corporate partner Linda Harris and Washington, DC Corporate partner Maggie Kavalaris all moderated panels.
At the cocktail party finalizing the packed day's events, participants expressed their appreciation and delight with the conference, praising its unique and sophisticated approach to the practical concerns of women in the general counsel role. The focus on both daily and big-picture leadership considerations was especially applauded. Many also commended the elite demographic of senior-level counsel who attended, which elevated the conversation to a higher plane of discourse.
"The critical element for me is that the content was substantive. The speakers shared real strategies: concrete, practicable and actionable ideas," commented Toronto Litigation partner Kate Broer, who attended the conference.
In addition to Kara Baysinger, the Courageous Counsel committee responsible for making the event possible included Chicago partners Linda Harris and Natalie Spears, Phoenix partner Meghan Cocci, Dallas partner Peg Hall, Washington, DC partner Maggie Kavalaris and New York partner Michelle Shapiro.
Dentons is a global law firm driven to provide clients a competitive edge in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2013 Global Elite Brand Index, Dentons is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality in new and inventive ways. Dentons was formed by the combination of international law firm Salans LLP, Canadian law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP (FMC) and international law firm SNR Denton. Dentons' clients now benefit from approximately 2,600 lawyers and professionals in more than 75 locations spanning 50-plus countries across Africa, Asia Pacific, Canada, Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the CIS, the UK and the US. The firm serves the local, regional and global needs of a broad spectrum of clients, including private and public corporations; governments and government agencies; small businesses and startups; entrepreneurs; and individuals.
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