Arizona Corporate Counsel Awaards logoLast week, I praised (rightly) an annual event put on by the Association of Corporate Counsel. And in that post, I promised to share the names of the attorneys honored that evening (in case you haven’t already heard).

Today, I honor that promise.

First, I must mention a corporate counsel who spoke that evening. Lukas Grabiec is Senior Corporate Counsel at Microchip Technology Inc. And a few things commend him to your attention.

It fell to him and two others to offer opening remarks to a Camelback Inn banquet room filled to capacity. Lukas was funny and concise, precisely the tone and approach we most admire. But Lukas is noteworthy for a few other reasons:

I routinely keep company with brainy and talented attorneys, but Lukas is someone I’ll be careful to keep on my radar screen.

And without ado (further or otherwise), here are the honorees from the January 15 event:

  • Nonprofit Attorney of the Year: Carmen Neuberger, Phoenix Children’s Hospital
That's Mike Reagan (right, in the red shirt) on our December 2011 cover. Arizona Attorney Magazine Dec. 2011 cover

That’s Mike Reagan (right, in the red shirt) on our December 2011 cover.

Carmen also shone brightly in last fall’s corporate counsel panel. Congratulations!

  • Up-and-Comer of the Year: Jason Steiner, insight Enterprises
  • Intellectual Property Attorney of the Year: Franc Del Fosse, Insys Therapeutics Inc.
  •  Public Company Attorney of the Year: Mary Beth Orson, Apollo Education Group
  •  Private Company Attorney of the Year: Michael Reagan, Kahala Corp.

Michael not only served well on a previous LMA panel I moderated in 2011, but he made it onto our cover.

  • Legal Department of the Year: JDA Software
  • General Counsel of the Year: David Bixby, Banner Health

Well done and congratulations to all the attorneys who were honored.

Grant Woods delivers the keynote address at the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Camelback Inn, Jan. 15, 2015.

Grant Woods delivers the keynote address at the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Camelback Inn, Jan. 15, 2015.

What makes a lawyer event more enjoyable? When organizers can dial down the lawyerliness. (Yes, I just coined a word. Sue me.)

That ability to create an event dedicated to lawyers but also committed to battling sleepiness is what has made the annual corporate counsel awards dinner such a great ticket.

This year’s event was on January 15, at the Camelback Inn, and I have a few theories as to why they achieve goodness when others may not.

First, it’s put on by a magazine. True, the sponsor is the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. But helping to run the show are magazine types.

No, not Arizona Attorney. (Sigh.) Instead, the folks at AZ Business Magazine have been tapped to steer the evening. And they’ve managed to make the vessel a fleet-bowed skiff rather than a slow-moving ocean liner (or, even worse, a Titanic).

There’s just something—I don’t know—impatient about magazine people. We want to get to the nut of the issue, the meat of the matter. And so the magazine staff (including the emcee–editor-in-chief Michael Gossie) and others from AZBigMedia (note to self: Steal that name) goosed the evening along, never allowing it to come to rest as many legal events do.

Second, the honorees are some of the best corporate counsel around. So when the winner is announced (or even the finalists), the business-attuned audience nods with recognition. These are the companies that weathered storms, established beachheads, reached the summits. And they did all that with excellent legal teams. (The winners’ names and companies will appear in a subsequent post.)

So there’s that. And then there’s the keynote.

When I heard keynote speaker Grant Woods a year ago, I laughed my keister off (like everyone else in the room), and I assumed it would be his last appearance at the annual event. Why is that? Well, Grant pulled no punches in his hilarious political monologue. And legal events—especially among risk-averse corporate counsel, I’m sorry to say—are highly adept at pulling punches. Yes, Grant was a crowd-pleaser. But was he an event-organizer pleaser? I guessed the answer was no.

How pleased I am that I was wrong. Grant again was the speaker, arriving this time in jeans and an unbuttoned blue shirt.

Well, if he comes next year in a robe and slippers, the AAC should still welcome him.

As there is a mixed audience for this blog—some of whom may be a tad thin-skinned—I won’t pass on all of Grant’s gems. But here are a few:

Q: What’s the difference between an Arizona state legislator and God?

A: God doesn’t think he’s an Arizona state legislator.

But no, don’t worry, Grant’s items were not all rim shots. He offered political observations created out of a lifetime of Arizona living, law practice, and public service.

Since he was in high school, he noted, no Arizona governor has entered office and left it “normally.” Whether to head off to a better job or running out the door ahead of impeachment proceedings, our chief execs have been a colorful lot.

Grant focused his time and talents on three noteworthy items: the presidential race, Sen. John McCain, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But along the way, he had skewers available for others. Among them:

  • Newly elected schools chief Diane Douglas (“She hid in her house for the last week and a half of the campaign so she wouldn’t be interviewed. She won!”)
  • Former Maricopa County Sheriff Dick Godbehere, who led a helicopter raid not only outside the county line but into Mexico itself. The retired lawn-mower repairman kept in his office a prized possession of what he claimed to be ancient artifacts—including a sculpture of an automobile (think about it).
  • Sometime- and often presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who mused in amazement that it is possible to FedEx a horse—something never imagined by anyone in my humble neighborhood).

Through it all, the audience—of many political stripes, I would guess—was laughing as they never can do in boardrooms. But ultimately, Grant offered the AAC audience a moment of high seriousness.

“There are smart, compassionate and innovative lawyers in our state,” Woods said, pointing to members of the audience. “I salute you, and I am proud to be part of your profession.”

Grant Woods addresses a packed room at the Camelback Inn for the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Jan. 15, 2015.

Grant Woods addresses a packed room at the Camelback Inn for the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Jan. 15, 2015.

“All of you worked really hard to achieve what you have,” he ended. “I’m proud to be a lawyer, and I’m proud of our fellow lawyers.”

Well done, ACC and AZBigMedia. As just one guy who occasionally gets sleepy at lawyer events, I urge you to get Grant to sign on for another year.

Arizona Corporate Counsel Awaards logoHave you met or worked with in-house counsel who impress you with their skills and approach? Organizers of an annual award event seek your nominations.

Founded by AZ Business Magazine and the Association of Corporate Counsel state chapter, the Arizona Corporate Counsel Award nominations are due by Thursday, October 23.

More detail and a nomination form are here.

Categories include:

  • Public company (large and small)
  • Private company (large and small)
  • Nonprofit company
  • Government/municipal/public sector
  • Up-and-comer
  • In-house law department of the year
  • Litigator of the year
  • Intellectual property attorney of the year
  • Community/pro bono attorney of the year

The Awards Dinner will be held at the Camelback Inn on January 15, 2015.

The State Bar of Arizona is a presenting partner for the program.