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GCI (General Counsel Institute) 10 Inspiring Women Lawyers to Lead
Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lawyers are trained for many things, to represent clients in court, provide advice on legal matters and work hard to protect their clients’ interests.  Most law schools, however, do not prepare lawyers to lead.  Yet to succeed as in-house counsel, lawyers must be able to lead diverse teams and handle a variety of subject matters.  At the National Association of Women Lawyers® (“NAWL”) Tenth Annual General Counsel Institute® (“GCI 10”) Strategic Leadership: Developing Legal Expertise and Skills to Enable and Empower Yourself and Others in the 21st Century on November 6th and 7th, 2014, eleven leaders will share inspiring stories of how they lead through change, adapt to the ever evolving regulatory, cyber, global and other matters that are challenging their corporations today.  Additionally, they will share how they tailor their approaches to successfully tackle the tasks at hand.   

In honor of the tenth anniversary of the General Counsel Institute®, ten of these eleven inspiring leaders are General Counsels.  Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft Corporation, will discuss Top Leadership Traits Critical to Leading, Engaging and Motivating a Global Corporation as the lunch keynote speaker on Thursday, November 6th.  Smith believes that a commitment to continual learning and to diversity and inclusion are two traits critical to successful leadership.  He is committed to diversifying the legal profession to reflect the diversity of the United States as a whole.  To that end, Smith serves as the Chair of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), an organization of more than 200 corporate chief legal officers and law firm managing partners who share that vision. When asked about learning, developing and growing as a leader, Smith said that he makes it a priority to stretch himself in new ways every year. “I think it’s imperative that one keep growing to adapt to a changing world . . . the three best ways to learn are through reading, listening, and doing.”   He added that . . . “the single best thing one can do is surround oneself at work with people who bring diverse experiences, backgrounds, and points of view to a topic.”  

Sandra Leung, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, will be the keynote speaker at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, November 7th.  She joined the company after leaving the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office where she was part of the original Special Victims Bureau.  Leung rose through the ranks at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, taking the helm during a crisis, and is now also responsible for Environment, Health & Safety, Corporate Security and Philanthropy.  In her role, Leung has restructured the legal department to meet business objectives and reduced costs, which helped the company thrive in a challenging business and regulatory environment.  She advises leaders to “. . . have great personal integrity and be someone people can trust” as well as “. . . be respectful of people, not just your superiors but everyone.”  At GCI 10, Leung will be discussing what it takes to thrive in today’s regulatory environment.

Rebecca S. Halstead, CEO and Founder of STEADFAST Leadership, is Brigadier General, U.S. Army, Retired, and she will be inspiring GCI 10 attendees as the keynote speaker at lunch on November 7th.  She served as a Commissioner on the President’s Military Leadership Diversity Commission 2009 – 2010 and is the first female graduate of West Point to be promoted to General Officer.  Halstead is also the author of the book 24/7: The First Person You Must Lead is YOU in which she outlines five fundamental truths to support her definition of leadership.  She founded STEADFAST Leadership to extend the lessons she learned throughout her life, including in the military, to future leaders.  Halstead advises that “leadership is about the led . . . therefore one must understand who the people are, what the organization is about, what are the current challenges facing them, and how are they organized.”   

In addition to the keynote speakers, eight General Counsels will conduct interactive workshops at GCI 10 where attendees will have the opportunity to earn CLE credit.  These workshops include leading edge topics such as anti-bribery compliance and conducting global business in the cloud, as well as skills such as gaining executive presence to command attention and influence change.  The General Counsels leading these workshops offer the following advice to emerging leaders as a prelude to the conference:

  • Donna Costa, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings America, Inc., advises new leaders to have “. . . vision and aspiration, . . . to continually re-evaluate what they are doing. Getting input widely and often from those around you.”


  • Beth DeSimone, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, CommunityOne Bancorp, says “The worst that anyone can say if you ask for something is ‘no’ so you might as well ask – they might say ‘yes’!”  She also advises that you should always make time for family, continue your education, and follow your dreams.


  • Vicki Donati, General Counsel, Crate & Barrel Holdings, Inc., advises that one should “. . . speak up when you know something is amiss or when your gut tells you there are considerations not coming to the fore.”  She also shares that leadership is a constant honing process and that by observing people in power you can pick and choose the aspects that fit you to develop your own personal leadership style.


  • Cynthia Gibson, Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Scripps Networks Interactive, Inc., encourages being true to yourself, including admitting that you don’t know everything and that seeking input from others is key to success as a leader.


  • Leigh M. Harlan, Senior Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel, Tiffany & Co., when asked about evaluating two equally qualified candidates for a leadership position, she states that her selection would be “. . . the individual whose skills, demeanor and values align in such a way that he or she is likely to inspire others to perform at their highest capacity and to promote a fair, respectful and collaborative work environment.


  • Jennifer Rochon, General Counsel for Girl Scouts of the United States of America, has the distinction of serving as the first General Counsel of the Girl Scouts.  She believes that it is critical for leaders to have confidence in themselves, to stretch outside their comfort zones, and to bring those they lead along with them.


  • Monica Weed, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Navigant Consulting, Inc., points out that assuming a leadership position”. . . requires you to move away from the very things that recommended you for leadership to begin with into areas in which you are unproven.”  The ability to learn from others and to be flexible as circumstances change are characteristics that every leader should possess.


  • Linda Willett, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, advises new leaders to “identify role models, observe their leadership behaviors, and adopt those that work for you.”  Willett also shares that the art of tailoring a message to the intended audience is an important skill for leaders to develop and encourages emerging leaders to join not-for-profit boards to experience “sitting on the other side of the table.”

There’s still time to register for GCI 10, so come be inspired by these 11 leaders by going to Programs & Events at www.nawl.org!

About GCI 10:  The General Counsel Institute is designed to increase the effectiveness of in-house women lawyers at the top tiers of their corporate law departments. This annual program targets in-house counsel who want to build professional and management skills to improve the functioning of their practice groups or legal departments and their interaction with C-suite executives with focus on pressure points, strategic decision-making, measurements of success for in-house counsel and what it takes to improve such skills. The General Counsel Institute is collegial and interactive and a terrific opportunity to talk and network with the presenters and professionals from Fortune 500 companies.

About NAWL:  The National Association of Women Lawyers (“NAWL”) is a national voluntary legal professional organization devoted to the interests of women lawyers and women’s rights. Founded in 1899, long before most local and national bar associations admitted women, the Association is an educational forum and has an active voice for the concerns of women in the legal profession.

NAWL continues to support and advance the interests of women in and under the law and the social, political, and professional empowerment of women. Today, members of the Association represent all areas of legal expertise: public and private sectors; for-profit and not-for-profit; and large and small organizations. Through its programs and network, NAWL provides the tools for women in the profession to advance, prosper, and enrich the profession.

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