On June 5, a panel of four corporate counsel addressed the challenges of diversity and inclusion that are faced by the legal profession.

The event, hosted at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, was sponsored by the Arizona Collaborative Bar, the South Asian Bar Association of Arizona, the Iranian American Bar Association, and the State Bar of Arizona.

The attorney–panelists were:

  • Sharad Desai, Litigation Counsel, Honeywell International Inc.
  • Maacah Scott, Staff Counsel Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Art Lee, Deputy General Counsel, University of Arizona
  • Ashley Kasarjian, Senior Corporate Counsel – Employment, Republic Services

Greg Gautam, a partner in Snell’s Phoenix office, moderated the discussion.

Among the questions posed:

  • How do the employers ensure they are reaching and identifying diverse candidates?
  • Why does your firm value diversity and inclusion? Does it start with your top executive?
  • How do you support lawyers who are parents?
  • How do you address the unconscious biases we all have?
  • What efforts does your firm make to mentor young lawyers?

Surrounded by an audience of more than 50 attorneys who attended this lunch-hour session, panelists warmed to the topics.

Desai described his company’s commitment to providing secondment opportunities – which is how he originally joined Honeywell. And Kasarjian stressed the value of holding multiple panel interviews to ensure that a candidate interacts with a broad swath of current employees.

Scott acknowledged that inclusion is a slow process – which may appear not to be advancing well in the profession. She pointed out that mindfulness about these issues is important. For instance, using non-gender-neutral language, even accidentally, sends a negative signal to listeners and slows progress.

Interactions like that occur far too often, panelists said.

“If you find yourself in a place with a lack of diversity,” Kasarjian said, “it’s not your fault. But it is your problem.”

And unconscious bias puts those on the receiving end at a disadvantage – a “different starting point that you have to explain yourself out of,” said Kasarjian. Desai recommended everyone take one of the many available Implicit Association Tests. “Acceptance [that biases are real] is the critical step. You then can begin to negate them.”

Panelists also spoke about how everyone in an organization can be an ally for diversity.

Art Lee offered advice to diverse lawyers: Reach out widely to a broad group of attorneys for ideas and mentorship. There will be lawyers in that group who may be extremely helpful on your path.

Scott agreed and urged lawyers to “recognize allies who may not be diverse.”

Kasarjian recalled the words of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she visited Arizona in 2017. It may be difficult to do, the Supreme Court jurist said, but we all must work to advance those people who may be different from us. “People who may not be walking your path” may still bring phenomenal value to the profession and to your workplace. And both the profession and your organization suffer if that talent is not nurtured and included.

 State Bar diversity conference 2016 header

Today, a great conference opens in Phoenix that offers a wide variety of content regarding law practice as well as diversity and inclusion in the profession. It is the State Bar’s “Spring Training for Lawyers” (formerly called the Minority Bar Conference).

On the second day of the conference (Friday), I have the privilege to moderate a panel of general counsel on the issue of diversity in law practice.

Leading off the Friday sessions will be our plenary session titled “Knocking It Out of the Ballpark: How Corporate Legal Counsel Are Leading the Way to a Diverse Legal Profession.” Here is a list of the stellar panel:

  • David Falck, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation
  • Lori Chumbler, Senior Associate General Counsel, Walmart
  • Isabella Fu, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation
  • Dawn Valdivia, Assistant General Counsel, Honeywell International

As organizers describe our session:

“Join us for this interactive discussion featuring corporate legal counsel to discuss how having a diverse team of lawyers helps their companies achieve their business goals. They’ll share their best practices, lessons learned and how their legal departments are leading the way to a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.”

And leading off that panel discussion will be my own six-minute (or so) intro to where we are in the profession regarding diversity and inclusion. 6 minutes. Hmm. As I prepared for that task, I wondered how we can discuss diversity in 2016 without mentioning … the Oscars.

Seriously, I’m wondering. Because if there is a way to do it, I’ve failed. My presentation will allude to the uncomfortable relationship between the law and the Academy. Here are examples of images from my PowerPoint, which suggests the hashtag #LawSoWhite (and #male and #able-bodied and #cis, because let’s be real):

Oscars so white gif animated

Here’s hoping panelists—and the attendees—have a sense of humor.

Rihanna nope animated gif

For fairness’ sake, I point you to a recent article by friend and journalist Bill Wyman. His analysis of the history of the Academy awards appears in the Columbia Journalism Review and suggests the diversity picture at the Oscars is not nearly as bleak as many have made it. As Bill writes:

“An intelligent discussion of the issue was made much more difficult by a curious exclusion from just about all of the media coverage[:] The Academy Awards have actually greatly improved their recognition of minority actors. In fact, in recent years, their representation, while not exemplary, has climbed into the realm of the respectable. … The lesson here is that Hollywood is sometimes more complicated than its public portrayal.”

Read his whole article and decide for yourself.

All the detail about the State Bar conference is here. I hope you can attend.

The agenda for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

The agenda for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

The sponsors for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

The sponsors for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

A March 10, 2016, forum heard from corporate chief legal officers. From L to R: Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson General Counsel; Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel; Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel; and Ahron Cohen, Barrett Jackson General Counsel.

A March 10, 2016, forum heard from corporate chief legal officers. From L to R: Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson General Counsel; Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel; Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel; and Ahron Cohen, Barrett Jackson General Counsel.

Among the things a lawyer audience appreciates the most are smart and candid remarks by corporate counsel. Those were in rich supply at a March 10 event hosted by the Jewish Federation’s Cardozo Society.

The General Counsel Forum was held at the Phoenix office of Perkins Coie and moderated by Eliot Kaplan, Business & Professionals Chair and partner at the firm.

The panelists were the following General Counsel:

  • Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel
  • Ahron Cohen, Arizona Coyotes General Counsel
  • Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel
  • Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson GC

The topics raised by moderator Eliot Kaplan were well selected as of the most interest to attendees. First up was panelists describing their work and what elements most appealed to them. Audience members were likely not surprised to hear the corporate counsel liked their jobs quite a bit.

Comparing his work in a law firm and his in-house work now, DeRespino appreciates that now there are “fewer distractions expected of me,” and he can focus more simply on the practice of law.

Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix logoIn-house counsel, he said, “get to know a particular client and focus on business solutions. That always was what the practice of law is supposed to be for me.”

But aren’t the hours in-house better? Yes, but … said Richard Lustiger.

“There are fewer hours but they’re more intense. You’re dealing with the crisis du jour.”

The other panelists agreed on the differences between in-house and “outhouse” (which got quite a laugh). Ohre contrasted the difference by describing “legal speed and business speed.” And, like DeRespino, Ahron Cohen enjoys the fact that he can concentrate more on “macro goals” rather than the “micro goals” that are the focus in law firms.

A primary mission of corporate counsel is offering sometimes challenging legal advice that may run hard into the company’s business goals.

Ohre said that he and other corporate counsel may occasionally be called “Mr. No” by colleagues on the business side. But getting brought in earlier in a strategic process may decrease the prevalence of No in the conversation.

Cohen agreed and said finding a way to say yes goes a long way. If the lawyer can help the company achieve its business goals, that will help foster trust in the legal department.

“The legal department should not get the reputation of being the place where deals go to die,” said Lustiger—though he added that some deals need to die. “Improve the output and be a better partner for the company.”

Communicating clearly, concisely, and free of legalese is probably the most important skill an in-house counsel can develop, panelists agreed.

“You have to learn to talk to people who may not particularly like lawyers,” said DeRespino. “It’s a complex dynamic when you want someone to heed your counsel.”

From L to R: Raphael Avraham, Cardozo Society Chair; Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel; Ahron Cohen, Arizona Coyotes General Counsel; Eliot Kaplan, Business & Professionals Chair and Partner at Perkins Coie; Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel; Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson General Counsel.

From L to R: Raphael Avraham, Cardozo Society Chair; Richard Lustiger, Harkins Theatres General Counsel; Ahron Cohen, Arizona Coyotes General Counsel; Eliot Kaplan, Business & Professionals Chair and Partner at Perkins Coie; Larry DeRespino, U-Haul General Counsel; Matt Ohre, Barrett Jackson General Counsel.

But all of that work building relationships is worth it, DeRespino added.

“It’s a tremendous value to speak with your client with absolute candor.”

More information about the Cardozo Society is here. Congratulations to moderator Eliot Kaplan and the Society for a terrific program.

Our distinguished panel (L to R): Patti Dietz, General Counsel, American Residential Properties; Lukas Grabiec, Assistant General Counsel, GoDaddy; Shannon Overcash, General Counsel, McDonough Corporation; Michele Keogh, General Counsel, BASIS Educational Group Inc.; and Melanie Hansen, General Counsel, Massage Envy Franchising LLC

Our distinguished panel (L to R): Patti Dietz, General Counsel, American Residential Properties; Lukas Grabiec, Assistant General Counsel, GoDaddy; Shannon Overcash, General Counsel, McDonough Corporation; Michele Keogh, General Counsel, BASIS Educational Group Inc.; and Melanie Hansen, General Counsel, Massage Envy Franchising LLC

An easy-lifting kind of Change of Venue Friday just to say THANK YOU to the Legal Marketing Association Arizona chapter for again inviting me to moderate a panel of corporate counsel (I previewed the event and panelists here.) In our packed-to-the-gills lunch hour, we wrestled a lot of ornery issues to the ground, including:

  • The challenges of a modern-day in-house lawyer
  • How law firms can best represent themselves to be considered as outside counsel
  • How diversity is considered (or not) in selecting outside counsel
  • How law firms can distinguish themselves from others in the effort to get noticed
  • What law firms actions please corporate counsel
  • What law firms actions irk corporate counsel
  • And more

The Game Seven Grill at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix was a cool location, the five corporate counsel were insightful and generous with their time, and the audience of legal marketers and attorneys was as savvy as ever.

Below are a few photos from the event (click to biggify). We’ll probably publish some excerpts from the conversation in the December Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Have a great—and non-corporate—weekend.

Legal Marketing Association logoWhat would you ask a company’s general counsel if you had the chance? Something about how you and your firm could get corporate work?

If that or anything else is on your mind, I’d love to hear it. Next Thursday, I once again will have the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion of corporate counsel. And as always, I want to ask the questions you’d like answered. (Send your suggested questions to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.)

Here is information about the event, to be held on Thursday, September 17, 2015 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

 Location: Game Seven Grill, Chase Field, 201 S. 4th Street, Phoenix 85034.

The challenging economic landscape has fundamentally altered the legal industry. Overall demand for outside legal services is down and in-house counsel and outside law firms are collaborating to deliver more with less. In this candid discussion, hear from leading in-house counsel about their unique challenges and opportunities, and their thoughts on such topics including:

  • Selecting legal representation
  • Strategic decisions to manage costs
  • Best practices they want to see from law firms

Join us to gain valuable feedback from our panel to help drive your business development efforts.

This year’s panelists:

  • Patti Dietz, General Counsel, American Residential Properties
  • Lukas Grabiec, Assistant General Counsel, GoDaddy
  • Melanie Hansen, General Counsel, Massage Envy Franchising LLC
  • Michele Keogh, General Counsel, BASIS Educational Group Inc.
  • Shannon Overcash, General Counsel, McDonough Corporation

Detail on the event is here.

Want to attend? (You know you do.) Register here.


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.

Legal Marketing Association logoThis Friday, I have the pleasure of moderating a great annual event: a panel of corporate counsel at a lunchtime gathering of the Southwest chapter of the Legal Marketing Association.

Before I get to the meat of the matter, be sure to read and register here (the speaker names are at this end of this post).

And now, 3 reasons you should be there on Friday:

1. Your question could be asked.

That’s right. I am seeking (here and via Twitter) great questions to put to attorneys who are in-house counsel at companies and nonprofits. What do you want to know about their work life? Curious how to get hired, in-house or as outside counsel? Secretly yearn to know how not to get fired in either of those two roles? Send me your question(s) to arizona.attorney@azbar.org (or tweet it to me @azatty).

2. These people are canaries.

No, I am not insulting them with a bird reference. I merely analogize them to the proverbial canary in a coal mine. There, the little birds could spot trouble before humans could—and communicated it in a disconcerting way.

AzAt 2011 GC panel headline corporate counsel legal marketing associationCorporate counsel are likewise on the leading edge—of the legal profession’s economy. As purchasers of outside legal services, they are extremely well informed about the state of things. As a result, they hire more, hire less, and examine bills with a fine-tooth comb (or whatever the opposite of that is). They also can gauge our profession by the number of others gunning for their positions. So if you’re looking for guidance on how the legal profession is emerging (or not) from a bad recession, listening to a corporate counsel is a pretty good strategy.

3. They may talk about you.

Well, OK, not exactly you. But I have asked the panelists to consider some anecdotes (omitting names, of course) that explore some of the great things outside counsel have done. But I also asked for their cautionary tales, those that arise out of law firm fails. Nervous-making and exciting all at once, right? That’s our goal.

So, once more with the registration link. I hope to see you there.

And here are the great speakers on tap:


  • Karim Adatia – Insight, Associate General Counsel & Director, Legal (Global Sales, Corporate and IP)
  • Steve Beaver – Aspect, Senior Vice President & General Counsel
  • Lukas Grabiec – Microchip Technology Inc., Senior Corporate Counsel
  • Carmen Neuberger – Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs and General Counsel

AzAt 2011 general counsel panel headlineWay back in September (remember September), I told you about an upcoming corporate counsel event—a panel discussion that I was asked to moderate, sponsored by the Legal Marketing Association.

It was a blast. It’s always great to hear the up-close-and-personal dialogues among and between lawyers who work within corporations and associations.

However, because Arizona Attorney Magazine is a multi-modal content-delivery system (say that three times fast), I point you now to a synopsis of some of the attorneys’ insights, available in print and online.

You may already have received (and read!) your print version of the magazine. But click here to read the concise article online.

Here is how the dialogue opens:

What are corporate counsel thinking?

Boiled down, that is the question that drives a great annual event that gathers lawyers and law profession communicators to hear from in-house counsel.

Corporate Counsel Q&A Dec 2013Tim Eigo: With an upswing in the economy, do you anticipate more outside legal hiring?

Sonny Cave (ON Semiconductor): It’s going to provide work both to the in‑house team and the outside team. At any given moment in time, I’ve got hundreds of matters that are being handled by outside counsel, lawyers in all the different countries where we do business. I do try to hold as much work in-house as possible. Our cost model is generally about 40 percent of the total legal budget for in-house work and about 60 percent for outside law firms.

Eigo: Todd, is real estate coming back, and is there a hiring effect?

Todd Weiss (Cole Real Estate): Yes and yes. When I started in 2004, we did $250 million in acquisitions. This year our goal is between $4 billion and $5 billion in acquisitions. There’s not a week that goes by that we aren’t sending a matter out to outside counsel. We rely heavily on our outside counsel to run our acquisitions.

Eigo: Lisa, as a large public university, what does your office seek in outside counsel?

Legal Marketing Association logoLisa Loo (ASU): We look for law firms that understand our challenges, understand where it is we’re trying to go. We’ve been lucky in that the law firms we have engaged understand the challenges. The downturn in the economy hasn’t lessened our work; it actually has made us be more creative because you have to figure out how you are going to bring more money in, and students tend to enroll in higher ed when the economy is down.

Keep reading here.

Legal Marketing Association logoQ: What do you do when you’re standing between an eager audience and panelists with valuable content to share?

A: Speak little, and ask a few good questions.

That is the primary lesson I’ve learned the last few years when I’ve had the pleasure to moderate an annual roundtable of corporate counsel.

Sponsored by the Southwest chapter of the Legal Marketing Association, this year’s panel, on Friday, September 20, will include four in-house counsel from a variety of public and private companies:

    • Sonny Cave, ON Semiconductor—Senior Vice President, General Counsel, Chief Compliance & Ethics Officer, and Corporate Secretary, Law Department
    • Christy Hubbard, PetSmart—Senior Counsel, Marketing, Operations and Services
    • Lisa Loo, Arizona State University—Deputy General Counsel
    • Todd Weiss, Cole Real Estate—Senior Vice President, Legal Services

AzAt 2011 general counsel panel headline

The event always packs a room. (You can read more and register here.)

As I always do, I come to you now, Arizona’s legal community, to ask for your help as I prepare for the September 20 event. Here’s my query:

If I were only able to ask the panelists ONE question, what should it be?

Post your suggestion(s) below, or send me a note at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

And I hope to see you there.

Corporate Counsel panel discussion, Snell & Wilmer, Sept. 26, 2012

O in-house corporate counsel, how we yearn to know what’s in your heads.

That desire has long been held by lawyers and law firms. And in a tough economy, the yearning gets raised a few octaves more.

I wrote before about a recent corporate counsel panel discussion in Phoenix. There, we explored a number of topics. Of most interest to the assembled lawyers, though, were questions about how corporate counsel choose to hire—and fire—outside counsel.

An insightful article in the Harvard Business Review came to my attention (thanks to legal strategist Dee Schiavelli). In it, the author says that we’re in the age of the in-house counsel. He argues that they have eclipsed the powerful stature of the outside law firm.

For more evidence that our panel was on the right track, here is an article from the ABA Journal that explores “four reasons why general counsel fire their law firms.”

Intrigued, aren’t you? Let me know if there are reasons that the author fails to mention.

All fired up: Lawyer brain activity