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ACC Certification Program: Q&A With Vikhna Sivalingam

ACC's first in-house counsel certification program was recently held in Dubai, April 30 - May 3. In this series, we spoke with some of the first participants –– and graduates –– of the program about why they decided to attend, what sessions were most useful and offered key takeaways they were able to take back to the legal department, and most importantly, if they'd recommend the program to colleagues. Read on to see what they have to say, and find out more about the upcoming program, to be held September 3 - 6, 2018, here

Vikhna As the lead for Johnson Controls’ legal team in the Asia-Pacific region outside of China, Vikhna Sivalingam leads a team of about 15 legal professionals across a wide array of roles. While his various roles over his last 20 years in practice have undoubtedly taught him a few things, he decided to make the trip from his base in Singapore to Dubai in order to attend ACC’s very first certification program. He shares why this trip (and ACC membership in general!) is worthwhile and offers insight into what the next group of participants can expect at the upcoming program, to be held September 3 – 6, 2018.

ACC: Why did you decide to participate in the certification program – what made it stand out? And further, how will the In-house Counsel Certified (ICC) designation help advance your career?


Sivalingam: First of all, let me congratulate you on the Docket. It is a stellar publication. Johnson Controls believes very strongly in supporting the great work that the ACC does –– all of us on the legal team in Johnson Controls are members of the ACC. As a result of that, I enjoy the publication that you send out. It’s always intrigued me how wonderful the materials that are presented in the Docket, both from the variety of topics that are discussed in the magazine as well as the depth that you go into. Not to mention the practical guides that are included in almost every issue. You know, I’ve always seen the ACC and the work it does as being nothing short of world-class.

ACC: Thank you Vikhna, it’s wonderful to hear that you find our resources and publication so useful!

Sivalingam: Yes, so when I learned about this ACC certification program, I immediately sat up and took interest in it because I knew that this would be a quality program worthy of the time and expense. That was primarily my motivation. I will be very candid with you, I was not able to get funding through my company for a number of reasons, especially since we have a multitude of internal programs ourselves. But I really wanted to experience this, especially since it was the first certification program that ACC was running for in-house counsel. I decided to go ahead and pay my own way, and that led to my participation in the program in Dubai.  

Yes, so when I learned about this ACC certification program, I immediately sat up and took interest in it because I knew that this would be a quality program worthy of the time and expense.
— Vikhna Sivalingam, Senior Group Counsel, Johnson Controls

ACC: How will the designation ACC will help advance your career?  

Sivalingam: Certainly, I think any certification coming from the ACC will hold a lot of merit in my own opinion, especially with practitioners who are familiar with the ACC, which is obviously a very broad global community. That’s why I did not hesitate at all when it came to this program because I knew that this would certainly look very good from a career standpoint.

ACC: Can you share a key takeaway(s) from the four-day program? In other words, what did you learn or perhaps further your knowledge of during the program that you can take right back to your legal department?

Sivalingam: That’s a tough question, simply because we covered a lot of ground in the four days that we had together in Dubai. It was a multifaceted program that touched on a very broad spectrum of topics. From managing stakeholders internally, to how to create an effective legal team, to crisis management, and the deep dive that we had on a multitude of compliance topics. I’d really be hard pressed to pick one. What I appreciated the most was how much thought had gone into the various subjects that were covered during the course of the program, which I felt really gelled together very well to give the participants a good, well-rounded overview of the key considerations that in-house practitioners like myself need to keep top of mind today.

ACC: Can you provide an example of a particularly relevant session?

Sivalingam: What I would say stood out for me was the depth that we went into on the compliance topics. Therefore, I won’t pick a particular subject in that realm. But on compliance generally, I think that the in-house practitioner today needs to have a very good handle on this very broad topic. What I found most beneficial coming out of this certification program was this very good understanding of how the subject of compliance in today’s environment needs to be managed and needs to be considered not only from a strict legal practitioner standpoint, but also from the standpoint of the corporate community as a whole.

[Related: ACC Certification Program: Q&A With Crystal Gothard]

ACC: This was ACC’s first certification program, with curriculum developed by a diverse Education Advisory Council (EAC). The council helped to identify the essential and critical skills for in-house counsel that program addressed. That said, what additional skills or areas of focus would’ve made the program even stronger? Are there other skills the program should consider addressing in the future?

Sivalingam: There was a lot was accomplished in a very short time frame. We had four days together which does seem like a rather lengthy stay by any standards. But given the quality of the subjects that the team went through as part of this program, I certainly believe that there would have been benefit in extending the program in terms of its duration so that we could have gone deeper into the subject matters that were already chosen by the advisory board, simply because other than the outstanding faculty that we had as part of the program, I was tremendously impressed by the fact that we had a lot of mid-career professionals attending and participating. Let me elaborate.

Initially, when I signed up for this program, I wondered if I might be a bit too senior, if it was targeted perhaps for the more junior practitioner-type audience. I was really pleased to note that most of the participants had been in practice for well over a decade and really brought a tremendous sense of that experience from all around the world to the table. There was a lot of dialogue and participation which was tremendously useful, especially when we talked about subjects in the compliance arena, in crisis management, when we talked about legal privilege across the world, just to name a few. There was a lot of sharing, this free exchange of ideas, which was tremendously beneficial and added another layer of learning for me. You certainly need time to allow that to happen!

I was really pleased to note that most of the participants had been in practice for well over a decade and really brought a tremendous sense of that experience from all around the world to the table.
— Vikhna Sivalingam, Senior Group Counsel, Johnson Controls

ACC: Certifications like this one, as well as advanced degrees in general, are options for lawyers who want to strengthen their business knowledge and increase their professional marketability. Have you noticed a trend of more attorneys in your professional networks and beyond who have completed similar certifications or obtained MBAs, for example?  

Sivalingam: We all come out armed with a law degree. For today’s in-house practitioner, given the breadth of expectations that are placed on that person, it becomes quickly and painfully apparent that a law degree alone is not going to get you across the line. So much so that I think you’re always on the lookout for programs like these which are reasonable in duration, reasonable in terms of cost, and really deliver a high quality of learning to help you get on with the job on a day-to-day basis. I think programs like these are tremendously beneficial for that purpose alone. Certainly, the trend that I have noticed in the Asia-Pacific region is for people to develop their skillset through programs like these.

ACC: I think in-house counsel having that ear of the business so to speak, being in the room and needing to have the tools to communicate, it’s very important especially for mobility and rising through the ranks.  

Sivalingam: It’s so true. When you look at what the in-house practitioner today is required to do from managing the legal work to the compliance arena which is a whole different ballgame in itself, to being that business partner and trusted adviser and maintaining those relationships that you need to have to be effective, a law degree alone is not going to cut it. You really need to be educated with the right skills to be able to do your job effectively.  That’s why I think, MBAs aside, programs like these and other programs run by the ACC are spot on in helping practitioners develop those skillsets.

I think anyone who is serious about their career as an in-house practitioner needs to give this program a real hard look.
— Vikhna Sivalingam, Senior Group Counsel, Johnson Controls

ACC: Would you recommend ACC’s In-house Certification Program to your colleagues? What advice can you offer other corporate counsel who want to participate in the program, but may need to convince their GC or boss?

Sivalingam: I think anyone who is serious about their career as an in-house practitioner needs to give this program a real hard look. Whether you’re going to be able to obtain funding through your company, or you have to go the self-funded route, it is definitely, in my opinion, money that is going to be very well invested in yourself. The four days of learning will really stand you in good stead for the road ahead for a very long time to come.  

I, for example, am certainly actively looking forward to other such programs that the ACC will run in Asia Pacific or elsewhere because I came away from the four days thinking wow! On top of balancing the day job that I have, as well as the demands of this program, that sense of learning through an actively engaged community of participants, coupled with a very, very high caliber and world-class faculty from the ACC, is something that’s hard to come by. We all have a breadth of choices in terms of what we can participate in, and this certainly ranks very, very high on my list of those that one should consider seriously.


About the Authors

Tiffani R. AlexanderTiffani Alexander is the senior editorial director, web content and publications of the Association of Corporate Counsel.


The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.