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Economy dominates CCCA World Summit

|Written By Kelly Harris

VANCOUVER — Economic issues dominated the inaugural Canadian Corporate Counsel Association World Summit, held at Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, Jan. 25 through the 27.

Conference co-chairman Daniel Desjardins, senior vice president and general counsel for Bombardier Inc., used his opening remarks to call on in-house counsel to help stem the tide of growing hourly rates from outside law firms. Saying “we need external firms and they also need us,” Desjardins called for dialogue with managing partners to prevent hourly rates from increase year-over-year.

“All of us in corporations need to be better managers of our budgets across the board,” Desjardins told Canadian Lawyer InHouse. “Not just legal, in every function.”

Much of the two days of panel discussions focused on doing business across borders, managing effective international legal teams, and recognizing the different ways corporate counsel are viewed around the world. However, the issue of struggling worldwide economies and the caveat of “especially in this economy” was attached to almost every discussion.

Attendees at Tuesday’s luncheon were treated to more than just chicken, as 2008 Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman talked turkey about failing economies, and the paltry chances for a quick rebound. He provided guests with a copy of his latest book The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, which he later signed, yet very little of his luncheon speech provided hope for the immediate future.

“I never thought, even in spite of the fact I’m specialized in financial crisis sub-field, I never thought that I’d be seeing anything that looked this much like the Great Depression,” Krugman told the crowd. “As an academic I’m fascinated, as a human being I’m absolutely horrified.”

In all, more than 200 in-house counsel from Canada and around the world attended the conference. CCCA executive-director Silvie Kuppek, says the organization was happy with both the turnout and the quality of speakers.

While she wouldn’t commit to another world summit, she says the turnout was proof of the importance of the information being discussed.

“The CCCA is absolutely delighted for a first-time event to have sold out in this economy,” she says. “It confirms our belief that these topics need to be discussed.”

Aside from the CCCA, representatives from corporate counsel associations in Belgium, France, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia attended. There were also speakers from the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Selvaraja Muthaya, senior regional contracts manager with Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions, Malaysia, says the conference gave him the opportunity to see how other in-house counsel work. He hopes many of the rights afforded corporate counsel in North America are one day available in his country.

“I find in Canada in-house counsel are given much more respect, in terms of things like legal professional privilege, then in the Asia-Pacific region,” he says. “In Malaysia and Singapore in-house counsel are not given solicitor-client privilege.”

Muthaya says he was also impressed with the collegiality between North American in-house counsel and the working relationship with the legal bar.