Like many businesses, the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Wisconsin chapter has had to adapt to the turmoil of 2020.
Above all, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the ACC-WI to go virtual. The organization went online to hold its annual conference and other events that usually happen in person, like happy hours and roundtable discussions.
“It’s a change, but we’re all changing together,” said Danielle White, president of ACC-WI and senior legal counsel at Rockwell Automation. “There is some benefit to this in that we are able to have a greater impact on some of our membership. We’re able to pull in people who aren’t able to travel to the places where our in-person events are typically.”
White was elected as the president of ACC-WI in June, “a great time to be president of any organization,” she said with a laugh. Despite the difficulties presented by 2020, she’s determined to uphold the chapter’s mission to promote the professional and business interests of in-house counsel.
The organization supports members through information, instruction, networking and advocacy. White talked with the Wisconsin Law Journal about her long-time involvement in the ACC-WI and work with its supporting members.
Wisconsin Law Journal: How did you first get involved with ACC-Wisconsin?
White: I was first involved with the ACC a couple years into my in-house career. I started as an in-house attorney right after law school, which is quite rare. Rockwell participated in events, and I was tapped by a former board member and asked to join the board of the ACC of Wisconsin. And I did back in 2014 or 2015 and have been on the board ever since in increasing levels of responsibility.
WLJ: How has the organization benefited you?
White: The ACC, for me, has been a great way to network with other in-house counsel. I think that it’s important for new in-house counsel in particular, but also as you start to get more seasoned in your career, you tend to stay focused on your particular area. The ACC is another great way to get back in touch with the rest of the legal community.
I also think that it’s important for a lot of the practitioners who are the only attorney at their company because they have smaller budgets, limited resources and smaller staff that can assist them with the areas of concern. It’s really important that they use their resources wisely, and the ACC is an excellent resource for templates, knowledge and getting to know other people who might have dealt with the same issues.
WLJ: How is ACC-WI supporting members through COVID-19?
White: COVID-19 has impacted our members just as much as it has impacted the greater society. But the difference is the law has always been an essential business. And a lot of our businesses that we support are essential businesses, so our members have stayed really busy. They’ve also found themselves dealing with the challenges of working from home while wearing multiple hats.
Many of our members are on their companies’ COVID response teams and are helping make critical decisions. When this first started, the ACC global and the Wisconsin chapter opened a Response Resource Center on our website, which has links to global webcasts and a dedicated online discussion forum, legal news posts and links to our sponsor firms’ COVID response centers. So we’re trying to provide thoughtful and mindful content while understanding that people are being bombarded with information about COVID on a daily basis.
WLJ: What challenges are in-house lawyers dealing with related to COVID-19?
White: The challenge with being in house is that we have one client — our client would be our company — that is bringing a multitude of legal issues all at one time related to this one topic. It’s something that we need to become experts on really quickly. We don’t have that huge bench of other attorneys who can help us tackle these issues. So we’re having to prioritize certain things and then make sure that we’re using our resources wisely.
There are a lot of novel issues that are coming up with everyone’s organizations right now, and we’re trying to make sure, as the ACC, that we’ve created a forum for people to have those discussions amongst themselves. We have roundtable discussions where in-house counsel can bring issues to one another and talk about those issues in a small-group setting without any law firms present. Those types of events are helpful for our membership, and we’ve increased those during COVID.
WLJ: In addition to supporting members through COVID-19, what other initiatives are on your radar as president?
White: I would like to be able to support our members in the racial injustice area because I do think that companies are saying more about what they’re doing in this space. Sometimes they’re coming to legal before they make their proclamations, and sometimes they’re coming to legal after they make their proclamations, but I would like for the ACC to be a good resource in that space and give people ideas on how to navigate that landscape for their company. These discussions are happening whether we’re aware of them or not, so it would be nice to make sure that we’re supporting our membership and how they can support their companies as we all go through this movement.
WLJ: What kinds of questions are companies coming to their legal departments with when they’re thinking about implementing policies to promote racial equity and justice?
White: There are certain employment landmines that you might run afoul of if you are talking about how I’m going to dedicate certain positions for certain types of people. There are a lot of really good ideas on ways that people can support diversity right now, and business units and HR teams are coming up with these great ideas. (But) before they go to implement them, it’s really important that they come to legal. Even just making sure that employees are comfortable having these conversations in their employee resource groups on what does this mean in my community?
Am I OK to talk about this kind of stuff at work? That’s where I spend a lot of my time — just making sure that the culture is right at their company for the conversation.
WLJ: How can attorneys get involved with ACC-Wisconsin?
White: If you’re not already on our email list, go to our website (acc.com/chapters-networks/chapters/wisconsin) and poke around there. You can learn about our chapter, the events that we have coming up, the events that we’ve recently held, our sponsors, our membership discounts. You can also let us know that you’re interested in being a speaker or a panelist at some of our events.
Oftentimes law firms want to talk to us about great things, and it’s very helpful to have an in-house person who has the in-house practical knowledge that they can add to a legal discussion.