SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference 2010 – Rants and Raves

RANTS

The Legal Environment for Business Professionals – this “pre-conference” was my first stop on the first day.  The presenter, Richard Coffinberger, JD, is an Associate Professor at George Mason University.    He teaches a similar course to undergraduate students, and he asked the class if they knew what television show “Shirley Jones was famous for”.  Most of the people in the class knew about The Partridge Family because none of us were 18 years old.  He has obviously never heard about tailoring his presentation to his target audience.  Also, the case he was referring to (Calder v Jones, 465 US 783) was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1983, regarding a National Enquirer article that was published in 1979. It’s OLD, and it’s about in personam jurisdiction.  Why does an HR professional even CARE about in personam jurisdiction?  The man was personable and engaging, but suffered from a serious case of  “needs to update his notes and presentation.”  He also misspoke about the law on one occasion and was promptly chastised by one of the attendees (he called on her before me so I didn’t have the pleasure).

I’m also going to rant a little about SHRM and this same presentation.  It cost an extra $310, and attendees were promised a Certificate of Completion and extra HRCI credits.  There were no Certificates, and they furnished no program number for HRCI.  I submitted for credit without either, but if  HRCI denies my credit I am going to be seriously pissed off.

How to Lobby Your Member of Congress This program was presented by Lisa Horn,  who is from SHRM and works on health care, to explain the “ins and outs” of the scheduled Capitol Hill meetings with members of Congress.  I was fence sitting about going to these meetings, and went to this session to make a decision.  At one point an audience member asked about discussing something other than health care reform or Section 127 of the tax code (regarding extension of employer provided educational assistance), which were the two official topics of these meetings.  Ms. Horn made it very clear that SHRM arranged the Hill visits and attendees were there to promote the SHRM agenda.

Funny me.  I thought SHRM existed in some part to provide benefits and value to their members in exchange for dues and the fees from the conference. I didn’t realize that my conference fee was paying  them to promote their agenda. I got off the fence and didn’t go, because I am not a shill for SHRM.

Cocktails & Conversation – Networking Happy Hour – I always thought that networking meant that people came together and actually spoke to each other. That’s pretty hard to do when SHRM has people speaking from a podium.  In fact, Mary Ellen Slater, Mike VanDervort, Paul Smith and I were getting many dirty looks from others because we were actually talking during this billed-as-a-networking event.  We finally went outside.

Other rants? (1) The lack of diversity of opinion, particularly about social media.  See a great post about this from Mike VanDervort. I was there and he’s not exaggerating; (2) My inability to get breakfast at the Thursday morning session because I was 8 minutes late; (3) A total aversion to networking and conversation from the majority of the attendees. I’ve written about this before, and this conference was no different.  In fact, one presenter had no business cards, and offered no address or phone number of any kind; and (4) A program called To Tweet or Not To Tweet?  Is That the Right Question? given by a presenter who admitted to me that she doesn’t use Twitter.  When I told her that I would like to Tweet the program, she said, “You mean you are going to tell people what I SAY?”

RAVES

Washington, DC in mid-March – The weather was stunningly beautiful, mild and sunny.  I had the opportunity to see many of the monuments and buildings lit during the evening- a beautiful sight.  As I asked a companion as we were walking toward the Library of Congress, “How can anyone come to DC and not be emotionally moved?”

VIP Reception and Tweet-Up – This event, sponsored by the employment law firm of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, was nothing less than stunning.  Held in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, it offered food, drink, photographers and an awesome view.  OK, there WERE speakers (again!), but the venue was so large that it was easy to ignore them and keep on talking and socializing networking. This was what a “networking event” should be.

Immigration Reform and the Employer – This was one of two different programs on immigration law compliance (a personal favorite topic), and it was easily the most superior (I attended both).  In fact, it was the best of all of the substantive sessions that I attended.  It was led by Stuart Brock, a lawyer out of Charlotte, NC who manages a consulting firm called HR Innovators.  Stuart used facts, not emotion, to make the audience understand the huge shift in immigration law enforcement prompted by the Obama administration.  He made it clear that some opinions could differ, and that some of his recommendations were based on the interests of his clients.  He gave us information and many resources, in an engaging and friendly manner, treating us like thinking adults and not children in need of discipline. At this conference, taught mostly by employment lawyers, that was in very short supply.

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