When DLA Piper launched its first Global Women's Leadership Summit seven years ago, it was largely in response to a growing demand among in-house lawyers for an all-woman conference focused not on women's issues but rather on the broader business concerns that all general counsel were facing.
"Women think and address issues differently, and we wanted to provide them with a platform for a serious strategic conversation," said Stefanie Fogel, partner at DLA Piper and co-chair of the 2018 Summit, as well as one of its founders. "It was an incredible forum for clients and the legal community to discuss the issues they were facing, and they appreciated the opportunity to connect and meet with one another."
Since that first successful summit in 2011, the event has grown from a gathering of 75 female in-house counsel to one with more than 250 attendees. What hasn't changed, however, is that the guest list continues to be limited to high-ranking female general counsel, which ensures that attendees are able to analyze areas of concern and debate complex solutions with lawyers who are in similar high-level positions.
"These are general counsel who are at the top of their field and they like to have meaningful discussions with their peers," said Lisa Haile, partner at DLA Piper and co-chair of the 2018 Summit.
Over the past seven years, the Summit has evolved to better serve the needs of top general counsel, both in its overall structure as well as in the topics that are covered at each event, which vary from Summit to Summit based on the changing legal landscape and the interests of attendees.
In 2016, DLA Piper added a half-day CLE Ethics program to the first day of the Summit, which focused on cybersecurity. This year, the CLE program will focus on diversity and inclusion, exploring the elimination of bias within organizations.
The firm also decreased the number of panels from five to four on the second day of the event schedule to allow for more in-depth discussions. To come up with relevant, timely topics for the panels, Summit organizers engage in an extensive research process and distribute a survey to gauge past participants' interest in various issues.
"We really listen to what the GCs are telling us in terms of the issues they are facing and what is front and center on their minds," Haile said.
Focus on tech
The topics at this year's Summit are tied together by a common theme – how advancements in technology affect almost every aspect of a GC's work, Haile and Fogel noted.
For instance, at the time of the first Summit in 2011, the risk of cyberattacks, the theft of confidential data, and the ability to cripple business through technical means were not a frequent news topic, but now, in-house counsel consider these priority issues.
"The whole premise for the Summit is the new age of business, which now sits on mobile, globally connected, and transparent corporate platforms integrated with customers and consumers in a versatile and direct way. The age of e-commerce and data value propositions means that GCs are navigating risks from the perspective of business functioning in a completely different way," Fogel said. "Thanks to technology, there's a higher degree of transparency and visibility to everyone from regulators to hackers."
Another evolving topic shaped by technology is how to deal with multigenerational issues in the workplace.
"How are the younger generations working with technology versus the older generations, and how is that affecting the composition of the legal department?" Haile said. "We're trying to touch upon the ways technology impacts how legal departments function in all of our panels – it's key to every discussion we'll have."
Highlighting successful leaders
In addition to the panels, which provide time for an in-depth look at a number of issues, the Summit's lunch speakers and keynote presentations have been a highlight for past attendees, often featuring inspiring stories of leadership and perseverance and ranging in format from standard speeches to fireside chats.
"Our keynote speakers are very good at listening to us about who the audience is and who they're not," Haile said. "We emphasize that the audience at our Summit happens to be a group of women GCs, but the event is not about gender per se."
This year's two-day Summit will be held on October 16 and 17 in Chicago, bringing together another talented group of women in-house counsel.
"There's something about a room full of powerful, incredible women – that was the idea when we started and it continues to be an incredible hit," Fogel said.