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ACC Talks with Former Top 10 30-Somethings Winner: James Derry

Are you a rising star? Know someone who is? ACC's Top 10 30-Somethings awards recognize in-house counsel rising stars for their innovation, global perspectives, proactive practice, advocacy efforts, and pro bono and community service work. Nominate yourself or a deserving colleague by December 14, 2018.

This piece is a preview of the upcoming “Where Are They Now?” series on former Top 10 30-Something winners.


S ix years ago, ACC sought to recognize legal excellence in a younger generation of in-house counsel — those between the ages of 30 and 39. With the convening of an advisory board to judge nominees on the value they added to their legal departments, to their companies, and to the larger in-house community, ACC’s Top 10 30-Somethings awards program was created in 2012.

James Derry, then-associate general counsel and chief intellectual property officer of Arbitron Inc.,* was among the inaugural cohort of Top 10 30-Something winners. At age 37, Derry was using his IP background and litigation skills to protect Arbitron’s patents, while still finding the time to do pro bono work for prominent organizations like the Special Olympics Northern Virginia and Bread for the City.

Now, six years later, Derry is general counsel of Cellebrite, a high-tech company focusing on the mobile forensics space, and he is still giving back — this time to his fellow in-house lawyers. Derry organizes women’s in-house roundtables for his peers to discuss structural inequalities, sexual harassment, and career advancement. But despite finding the speakers and funding the roundtables himself, Derry does not attend them, instead preferring to maintain the privacy and integrity of the sessions as a space for female in-house counsel.

In his role at Cellebrite, Derry concentrates primarily on regulatory and legislative issues for the Americas, dealing with attorneys general, law enforcement, and, as he puts it, the “FCC and other alphabet agencies.” Deciding whether the scope of a search warrant applies to a specific mobile device, or navigating the gray zone of who is entitled to the information on the devices of the deceased, seems a far cry from his intellectual property days. Reflecting on this change, Derry explains that when looking at his future he saw two options: He could become a chief IP officer in a larger company or he could try to become a senior corporate generalist. “I decided to re-brand myself as someone who is very strong in IP, very strong in privacy, but who is more of a good corporate generalist who can block and tackle across many issues.”

Part of this rebranding was sparked by Derry’s participation in ACC’s Top 10 30-Somethings. “I started realizing, for me at least, being a general counsel is about being a good businessman and making sound business decisions. Legal is important, but it’s actually about being a good business partner. And I think ACC helped train me for that; the Top 10 30-Somethings started making me think about that.”

Expanding on the role the Top 10 30-Somethings had on his career trajectory, Derry states, “I do think that ACC’s recognition was beneficial to my career in the sense that it added a lot of credibility. Because a lot of people will claim how good they are, but it’s always nice to have some kind of measure that recognizes you from your peers. That says, ‘look, this person may not just be all fluff and pomp here.’ They actually may be a fairly decent in-house lawyer.”

For Derry, part of the stature that the Top 10 30-Somethings carry is intertwined with its exclusivity: From the hundreds of nominations that ACC receives, only 10 in-house counsel are named as winners. Derry openly says, “I think the fact that you only limit it to top 10 — I think it’s tremendous.” When considering other awards programs that have larger numbers of awardees, Derry muses, “So, if I get that, there’s like 20 other lawyers that get it each year.” He clarifies that the greater number of awardees doesn’t make those awards less meaningful, but that having a stricter criterion that narrows down the candidates to a such a limited number truly adds to the sense of accomplishment when presented with a Top 10 30-Somethings award.  

Heightening this sense of accomplishment is the age — and stage — at which winners are selected. “I think the ACC Top 10 is actually a great launching pad because it’s picking the best, picking the brightest, near the beginning and right at the sweet spot of their careers,” Derry asserts. Just as the Top 10 30-Somethings benefited Derry, he feels that it will do the same for other winners.

These days, Derry sees himself as part of the “old guard” of the Top 10 30-Somethings, but he is consistently impressed with the accomplishments and caliber of the recent winners. He jokes that he’s lucky that he applied when he did. “Today, I would not win compared to some of these people. They are really, really impressive.” But Derry is not surprised that ACC has attracted such talented individuals to apply to the awards program. “I think that’s just the reflection of what ACC has done and how people view ACC.  It is the premier in-house group around the world. And I think that it’s an honor to win this award. And it’s an honor to be involved with ACC.”

The Top 10 30-Somethings winners represent the best characteristics of ACC members. They all are trailblazers in their own ways — leading and supporting not only their businesses, but others in the in-house community, and their individual communities as a whole. James Derry is no exception. Stay tuned for the full profile on James Derry and what he’s doing now.

*Arbitron Inc. was acquired by Nielsen Audio in 2013.

About the Author

Danielle Maldonado is the editorial coordinator for the Association of Corporate Counsel.


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