Institute for Corporate Counsel will help lawyers widen perspective on business
By Steffi Lau
It may come as a surprise to many, but to be successful, lawyers need to understand more than just law.
On Dec. 8, Los Angeles lawyers will gather at the annual Institute for Corporate Counsel, an event that focuses on the intersection of law, politics and business. The institute is a collaboration of the USC Gould School of Law and the Los Angles County Bar Association Corporate Law Departments Section.
“The philosophy is to understand the evolving business environment in Los Angeles in which both in-house and outside counsel operate,” said Mary Andrues, a ’98 alumna on the organization’s Board of Governors. “It’s also to provide a venue for our panelists as well as participants to interact and provide insights into best practices and changes in law that impact business operations.”
Although the Institute for Corporate Counsel has been around for almost 30 years, only within the past couple of years has its focus become the intersection of law, politics and business.
Leeanna Izuel, the institute’s executive director and USC Law’s assistant dean of Continuing Legal Education, said that the focus has shifted with the changing business climate of Los Angeles.
When the institute was first formed, many large corporations, including aerospace and car companies, were headquartered in Los Angeles. This meant many lawyers were part of large in-house legal departments and had to be generalists. Starting in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the large corporations began leaving Los Angeles, a trend that has continued during the past decade. With the current California job market slump, many corporations are moving to other parts of the country where rent and other costs are much lower.
As a result, many lawyers are now part of small, two- or three-person in-house legal departments or might even be the sole lawyer of the corporation. The implication for lawyers, Izuel says, is that today’s lawyers must be much more aware of business and political issues.
“The changing business climate has changed what kind of education people need,” Izuel said. “People are more attuned to cost issues than they were 10 to twenty years ago, people are more focused on where the economy is going. People need to be more savvy about the business environment and how the economy affects a corporation’s ability to survive.”
While lawyers could easily choose to focus on only law, Izuel said that in this new day and era, doing so would be operating in a vacuum.
“The economy is obviously not in great shape, so people are running lean operations and everyone is focusing on business issues,” Izuel said. “Before, people were in ivory towers, thinking of just law, and now people really need to understand the environment and how it affects business. If lawyers ignore business and just focus on law, they can’t be the best advocate for that company, and they can’t give the best advice to the business people.”
Izuel said that with the institute’s newfound focus on business and politics, the event has seen higher levels of interest in the past few years. Izuel also expects this year’s keynote speaker, First Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles Austin Beutner, to be a key source of interest.
Although Los Angeles has not been perceived as the most friendly place to corporations in the past, Beutner will be speaking about the policies the city will be enacting to be more friendly to businesses.
In addition to learning more about the intersection of law, politics and business, participants also get an opportunity to network.
“I think a key benefit is having the opportunity to interact in a setting which fosters interactive communication with peers and colleagues from other businesses or law firms,” said Andrues, who works at Arent Fox.
The daylong event includes several opportunities for networking, including a networking break, a luncheon, afternoon dessert break and a cocktail party.
For Andrues, getting to interact with Los Angeles’ top-notch lawyers has been a major factor behind her participation in the institute.
“I get exposed to what I think are some of highest caliber lawyers in Los Angeles who participate on the board and in the institute. It also gives me an opportunity to do something as a USC law alum, so to me that’s a benefit,” she said.