Originally Published in Corporate Counsel | April 8, 2016 | By Sue Reisinger

‘Mini-MBA’ Program Is Training European Lawyers to Be GCs

About 15 European General Counsel are planning a trip to Silicon Valley in September as part of a program billing itself as the first academic business school course for GCs in the world.

The General Counsel Executive Programme is a joint initiative of the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University and General Counsel Netherlands (GCN), a Dutch group akin to the Association of Corporate Counsel in the U.S. The course provides GCs based in various countries with the business and strategic skills needed to adjust to the changing role of a global general counsel.

GCN co-founder Petra van Hilst helped start the program in January by creating special courses, taught in English, on topics aimed at international GCs. “The legal industry in the U.S. is so much bigger, with many legal IT tools and software, and so much further ahead of Europe,” says Van Hilst, herself a former GC of San Francisco-based Meltwater, a media intelligence software company.

The academic program consists of six, three-day modules spread out over 18 months. The group has just completed the first module, C-Suite Strategic Management, which focuses on how to evolve into a trusted adviser, corporate secretary or direct report to the board.

Most of the group is looking forward to the trip to Silicon Valley. Details are still being finalized, but Van Hilst says the trip will include meetings with law schools and other company GCs as well as one or more tech companies.

“We thought it would be interesting for them to see how innovation works, and how changes regarding digitalization affects them and their companies,” Van Hilst says.

One group member is Sebastien Vitali, senior corporate counsel with Wyeth Nutrition, part of Nestle. Vitali is based in New Jersey, while the company’s central legal team is based in Switzerland, and he travels to Rotterdam for the three-day modules.

“I was looking for a mini-MBA program for GCs and couldn’t find anything,” Vitali says. And then he found the Erasmus program taught by MBA program professors but designed for general counsel.

“It’s already great to see the business insights it is giving to the GCs,” he adds. “We have the technical skills but this is about giving us additional strategic skills, enabling us to understand how the senior leaders of a company operate.”

Another participant is Marja Gorter, senior corporate vice president for legal and compliance at LeasePlan Corp. in the Netherlands. The company offers fleet management services as well as different forms of vehicle leasing.

She says she joined the academic program because “internationally you believe there is something happening in our [GCs’] environment that you’re not fully aware of, but should be.”

Gorter worked at a Dutch law firm based in New York for three years and says “you always get a lot of energy and new ideas when you travel to the U.S.” She’s looking forward to the Silicon Valley trip to gain insight into the latest tech tools that relate to her business.

As Van Hilst notes, “The in-house lawyer is not the person he or she was 15 years ago, sitting at the end of a hallway drafting contracts.” Now, she adds, in-house lawyers are expected to run legal departments, manage bribery and compliance efforts, and talk to CEOs and executive committees. “The role has changed so much,” she says.