Second Annual Vanguard Forum for General Counsels

General Counsels today face unprecedented challenges. They must lead their teams and their companies through the continuing chaos of the pandemic, while also reinventing their roles and their organizations to drive a recovery. And they must meaningingfully address the emerging new imperatives for society and racial equity.  All this, as digital and AI accelerate the transformation of how legal departments are structured, and what they do.

The Forum for GCs 2020 addressed these leadership challenges through intimate, interactive dialogues in a variety of highly engaging formats.


The Forum was by invitation only. It was conducted as virtual sessions, noon-noon September 30 - October 1, 2020.


Each session was a dialogue or workshop of approximately 45 minutes.


Session leaders are highly experienced General Counsels, Senior Counsels, Board members, and top leadership experts. Advisory Board members helped us plan the Forum agenda and we included topics that were of the most importance to GCs.

  • Bob Bailey; Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Allergan

  • Andrew Brownstein; Partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

  • Noni Ellison; General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary, Carestream

  • Mark Goodman; Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

  • Mary Ann Hynes; Senior Counsel, Dentons; career General Counsel

  • Garrick Isert; President, Executas; past Managing Director of World 50, Inc.

  • Igor Kirman; Partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

  • Michael O'Connor; General Counsel, MassMutual

  • Tom Sabatino; Former Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Aetna; past GC of Hertz, United Airlines, Walgreens, Schering-Plough, Baxter

  • Brandon Smith; General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Tenneco

  • Bjarne Tellmann; General Counsel, GSK Consumer Healthcare

  • Caroline Tsai; CLO and Corporate Secretary, Western Union


What is the evolving role of the GC?

This past year has generated more change for GCs than the previous ten. Beyond the tactical issues, what are the most important new strategic and leadership priorities for the General Counsel? Is it critical to repurpose existing capabilities to meet the new challenges - or are entirely new capabilities required? What is the right balance for today between being a superior leader of the legal function, and being a superior leader of the total business? How is the dual role of advisor to the CEO, and advisor to the Board, evolving?

How should I be thinking about the capabilities and role of the legal department after COVID 19?

What has the pandemic experience taught us about the department of the future? Do I need new kinds of talent on the team for new challenges? What are the assignments we should be executing internally, and what should we be outsourcing? How do we transform strong lawyers into strong business partners? What combination of new technologies, competencies and talent can make us more cost effective, and more impactful for the business? Should the GC be responsible for other areas such as compliance, communications, and public affairs - or are those distractions?

How do I build a high-performance culture for the long-term?

How can I set a framework for high-performance, when we don’t know even what the near-term future holds? What is the sense of purpose for my team, and how does that translate into execution? How do we create a meaningful and lasting positive response to the critical issues of social and racial equity? What are the best benchmarks for high performance culture, and how will we know we are succeeding?

How do I implement the right people strategy for accessing and growing talent?

What is our people strategy? If we don’t have one, how to create it? Is it more important to hire for capabilities, or to hire for attitude? Are other legal departments good models - or should we look at other models? What kinds of development programs are most effective in law departments? Where should I be looking for the next generation of top talent?

What is the role of the GC on the top leadership team?

The GC plays a special role, including on governance, advising the CEO, and advising the Board. How can the GC also be a team player on the top team?

How should I be managing myself?

Am I as self-aware as I should be in this time of crisis and transformation? How do others see me, as a leader? If I were the CEO and Board, how would I rate my performance? How would my own people rate me as a leader? If I were to spend 30% more of my time on a specific area of my work, why and what would that achieve? Do I model the right leadership behaviors to my people? How can I improve?

Courage and agility: winning under fire

M&A is often compared to open warfare, and for good reason. In this session, Andy Brownstein and Igor Kirman (Partners at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz), with Bob Bailey, past General Counsel of Allergan (and Forest Labs) and Bausch + Lomb, as commentator, led a dialogue around the role of the GC on the M&A frontlines and the lessons in leadership they have learned. The participants worked through a case study - a three-year activist campaign by Carl Icahn against a public pharmaceutical company, and its aftermath - and considered (including in small group breakouts) some of the key challenges and pivotal decision-points. Andy, Igor, and Bob commented on some of the group decisions that they made and invited participants to share their views as well.



Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
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Debevoise & Plimpton