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Legal education seminar puts focus on changing role of in-house counsel

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More than 350 attorneys received continuing legal education on topics ranging from how to mediate employment disputes to intellectual property law in the fashion industry during the annual conference of the New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association today.

Joseph Aronds, president of NJCCA and assistant general counsel of Hartz Mountain, said attendance has grown steadily since the chapter presented its first daylong CLE conference a decade ago to 75 lawyers. In 2010, the state Supreme Court required New Jersey lawyers to get 24 hours of CLE every two years, further fueling the program's growth.

The sessions at the Hanover Marriott, in the Whippany section of Hanover, were designed around the needs of in-house counsel, Aronds said. In recent years, these in-house lawyers have sought help with issues involving better efficiency and effectively juggling multiple disciplines.

"They are asked in many ways to be generalists, and not only provide legal advice, but be a partner with the business teams throughout the corporation," he said.

Aronds is part of a team of about a dozen lawyers at Hartz Mountain, the Secaucus-based real estate development company. In November, he will be succeeded as chapter president by Barbara Ann Sellinger, who is the one-person counsel at Arts Horizons, in Englewood, a nonprofit providing artist-in-residence programs to students and professional development for teachers

Sellinger said some corporate law departments have downsized, "so they are learning how a smaller group can handle more responsibilities." At the same time, "small companies that used to farm everything out (to outside counsel) are now hiring in-house attorneys."

"In the past, the in-house counsel was acting essentially as a conduit between the outside attorneys and the business units," Aronds said. "Now the in-house counsels are expected to act in all capacities, and have a much greater role in the business decisions of the corporation."

Aronds said a key initiative of the chapter is assist in-house attorneys in transition, who through corporate downsizing or other reasons are between positions. The chapter provides reduced or free admission to events and networking sessions and mentoring to help them find jobs.

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