Verrilli, Clement Headline the Corporate Counsel Institute

March 17, 2016 —

Every March, as Georgetown Law students leave for spring break, a new and very different group of students arrives on campus. They represent leading corporations and law firms across the country. They’ve come to Georgetown Law for the Corporate Counsel Institute, the leading law school corporate counsel continuing legal education program in the country. The just-concluded annual conference celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016, and offered its 250 participants a rich feast of topics with an “inside Washington” spin.

The program began with a Supreme Court Review with Solicitor General of the United States Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and his predecessor in that role, Paul D. Clement. Professor Steven H. Goldblatt, director of Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute, served as moderator.

The panelists discussed a number of cases currently before the Court that are expected to have an impact on private businesses, including damage awards in patent-infringement cases, restrictions on class-action lawsuits and, for the fifth consecutive year, a challenge to the Affordable Care Act. 

“This is another extraordinary term as far as the significance and salience of the cases before the Court,” Verrilli said. “As in all but one of the terms that I have been solicitor general there will be an important Affordable Care Act case. This year it is a set of cases under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” 

The Court is also considering cases that would limit class-action lawsuits. “Having an eight-member court that does not include Justice Scalia does shift the balance of power in many of these cases,” Clement said. “At the risk of making a prediction, I don't think the law will change substantially in a way that will help corporate defendants that are trying to resist a class action.”

Knowing the Business

The Supreme Court discussion was only the first course. In the early days of the conference, recalls Larry Center, assistant dean of academic conferences and continuing legal education, the bill of fare was limited and everyone sat in the same room, listening to one panel after another. More recently, the CCI has come into its own, honing its unique ability to bring experts from Washington, D.C. to the conference stage. 

“We deliver an extraordinarily high caliber of speaker,” says Center, noting that the list includes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (twice), Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and, as a duet, Sen. Paul Sarbanes and Rep. Michael Oxley, authors of a far-reaching bill passed in 2002 in response to a number of high-visibility corporate scandals.

This year’s conference offered 19 different sessions, many of them concurrent, plus the option of following the proceedings via live webcast. The varied list of sessions serves as a microcosm of life in today’s American corporation. Topics included shareholder activism, campaign finance, monetizing big data, workplace violence, corporate social responsibility, and cyber liability, to name a few. 

“The agenda serves as a barometer of how dramatically the role of the general counsel is changing,” says Center. “More and more the general counsel and her or his team are being called upon to be valued business advisers, not just legal police. It’s no longer sufficient simply to know the law. Today the general counsel also needs to know the business.”

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