Friday, July 3, 2015

NACUA 2015 Conference

The purpose of our visit to the USA (pay attention Deputy Commissioner for Taxation) is to attend the National Association of University and College Attorneys' annual conference. NACUA is a huge organisation with over 4500 paid-up members, and the annual conference this year had over 1400 delegates...

...including your humble narrator, a little less intimidated the second time. The US Universities recruit powerhouse lawyers from the White House, major global firms and the judiciary, and the many speakers from the profession present as smart, articulate and masochistically professional. Like Australia, the profession has a slight majority of female lawyers and the external firms more so. Generally the speakers dressed for work and the delegates dressed down in the uncomfortable zone somewhere between suits-no-ties and jeans-and-sneakers. Lawyers don't actually do "smart casual" very well since we're either working with clients or recovering at home with little external leisure opportunities.

Main ballroom venue for larger audiences
 Apart from the plenary sessions, there are up to a dozen break-out sessions in smaller venues up and down the corridors. These follow streams so you can focus on particular themes from one session to another, or look all over the programme. I had a few sessions to attend on request of staff in my office, but otherwise focused on the theme of General Counsel's relationship with other risk managers and University management. Timely for me since my division at UWA is being reformed under an opaque organisation change, and it is interesting that the US Universities also have no uniform or "best practice" position on where Legal Services sits vis-a-vis Risk Management or the University Secretary's offices

The American Universities are way ahead of Australian Universities on compliance requirements and things like procurement by purchase order, table top business disruption exercises and Chief Information Security Officers are routine. However the practice varies greatly according to resources, and in some campuses there is one lawyer/risk manager and in others there is a 20-strong legal team and separate risk managers for many appreciable risks

The conference starts on Saturday with a series of meetings for NACUA sub-groups and introductory sessions for counsel new to the higher education sector. As I'm not a paying member of NACUA, I spent Sunday morning instead looking at the major Washington monuments and admiring the setting up of the Safeway BQ Battle street food festival - van after van of fast-food vendors with a distinctive theme of barbecued meats.

The Washington Monument 
Some people chose to tour as a Segway party, which is something to see.

The Warner Theater is a pleasing building near the older parts of town -perhaps past its prime but with its own Hall of Fame.

There are some classic examples of Grecian Revival architecture and some lovely older buildings, though not many predating 1812 for some reason.

During the visit, Lynda and I used the excellent Metro subway extensively - a well-planned and intuitive system which was as idiot-friendly as the Vienna subway.

The stations are giant concrete caverns, done with some flair.

We stopped - hopefully - at a French-themed cafe in the hope of getting a decent espresso but in vain. I understand it is a national chain and what a wasted effort.

Paul cafe. Sad as Starbucks.

Back to the hotel for the plenary "The Court of Public Opinion" by lawyer and broadcaster Jack Ford. He spoke compellingly and off-the-cuff for 90 minutes on the 24-hour news cycle, and the effects on the depth, integrity and fact-checking in mainstream news. "The guy in his bathrobe in his basement" starts stories now, and the professional journos have to try to keep up. He was especially scathing on major, trusted news sources being so shallow as to report news just because another news outlet has reported it - no "two independent sources" any more.

I sat in on the "Public-Private Partnerships" lecture thereafter and learned there were a couple extra ways to shift risk and cost to the private sector, and consequently ways to monetize many types of campus activity to pay the investors back. The "concession" model is gaining traction, where the investor builds an asset and has exclusive rights to get income from it from the students for a lengthy set period. Naturally quite a lot of the talk was about integrity in procurement and clear boundaries.

Enough for one day and a light meal at the Open City bistro to finish. This bar was half-hipster and half-gourmand, but lots of hearty and artisanal food to make up for it.

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