In 2017, Peter Nguyen attended a fancy linen-and-silverware dinner. The event was put on by a well-known networking group that catered to corporate counsel. At the time, Nguyen was the general counsel, and the only in-house lawyer, at Resolver, an incident- and risk-management software company. He had hoped to connect with colleagues at businesses of a similar size. That didn’t happen. “I had a nice meal,” he recalls. “But I mainly met lawyers from big companies.”
Nguyen had little in common with many of his fellow diners. At large companies, in-house counsel tend to work in a single practice area, such as employment, marketing or media rights. “As a company’s solo lawyer, though, you have to advise leadership on everything legal, from contracts to litigation,” says Nguyen. “You also have to weigh in on issues that aren’t strictly legal, but might have legal implications, including overall business strategy or customer privacy. You have to be a jack of all trades.”
Because Nguyen couldn’t find a community of such lawyers, he built one himself. In 2018, he founded GC Forum, an organization targeted at the senior lawyer on small in-house teams. Nguyen made two crucial choices at the outset. First, he wouldn’t accept sponsors. The focus of events would always be on connecting and problem solving, as opposed to evening-long sales pitches. Second, there would be no membership fee, so that cost would never prevent anyone from joining the group. “I only asked,” he says, “that people bring an open mind and a willingness to participate.”
In short order, he started to host get-togethers, which were held at Resolver’s office. (Once the coronavirus pandemic hit Toronto, these gatherings moved onto Zoom.) These events focus on topics that are uniquely relevant to those on small legal teams. At one meeting, Rob Chesnut, the former general counsel at Airbnb, talked about the ethical dilemmas that tech startups often encounter. Another meeting explored how general counsel can drive change in the battle against systemic racism. (In November, Nguyen became the senior vice-president of legal at Descartes Systems Group, a logistics and supply-chain-management software company. He’s one of five lawyers at the company.)
To date, more than 100 lawyers have joined GC Forum. One of its members is Gordon Ackroyd, the general counsel at SecureKey, a Toronto-based online privacy company. “It’s been an incredible opportunity to share insights and learn from others,” he says. “Peter is both very generous with his time and a problem solver at heart.”
This is a story from our Winter 2020 Issue.