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Our MVP rookie general counsel had a lot to say. Here is some further insight and inside information that we couldn't fit into the printed story.
Kristen Campbell, GC of Staples, describes her role in the company's corporate social responsibility initiatives.
"One of the things my predecessor had done was set up a very strong foundation for CSR. That's one of the areas I'm responsible for, specifically the ethics and compliance piece but also our sustainability and environmental pieces. I have two pieces of the four cornerstones of Staples Soul [the company's corporate responsibility initiative, which also includes Community and Diversity divisions], but they really can't be separated. I think it's really one of the greatest elements of our company in terms of achievements.
"One of the things we're really starting to see is how CSR efforts really connect to the bottom line. Not only is it the right thing to do in my view, but it's very good for business. We're finding that it's feeding directly into the way we run our corporate governance practices, which is clearly one of my direct responsibilities. We're seeing our customers and our employees and our shareholders, effectively all of our stakeholders, not only demanding this but being very pleased with the efforts that they've seen us make in the corporate social responsibility realm."
Jennifer Daniels, GC of Barnes & Noble, explains how her department maintains a united front.
"I feel really strongly that a legal department, whether it's a small one--and mine's quite small--or a big one--and I managed a very large team at IBM--needs to give one piece of legal advice to the client. Legal advice isn't always black and white--there are a thousand shades of gray in between. I think it's really bad for a business to be able to forum shop among lawyers in a law department and get one answer from one lawyer and a slightly different answer from another lawyer.
"So one thing I always say to my team is that we can disagree as a team for hours, I'm okay with that. But in the end, we're going to come up with what we as a group believe is the right answer, and then we're going to stick with that so we don't ever give confusing advice to our clients. We don't want our clients to feel like one lawyer's the easy lawyer and one lawyer's the hard lawyer. Consistency is incredibly important."
Ona Dosunmu, GC of The Brookings Institution, explains her daily assortment of work.
"I handle a lot of smaller contracts with scholars for certain projects that can range from $5,000 to about $100,000, and then there are larger transactions--for instance, we just bought a building, so there is a lot of transactional and financing legal work there to take care of.
"Brookings also has an endowment that's between $250 million and $290 million depending on where the market is. Some of it is invested in alternative investment vehicles, and I review most of the documents related to the endowment's investment. Some of it I have to send out to outside counsel.
"Also, I work on immigration issues. We seek talent from all over the world so there are special visas we have to process. That part has taken up an increasing amount of my time."
Michael Holston, GC of Hewlett-Packard, discusses how litigation experience helped him land the top legal position at the information technology company.
"There is more of a trend toward GCs having a litigation background, which wasn't the case 20 years ago. It is a reflection of how important litigation has become for major corporations. Hewlett-Packard has significant risk in terms of financial, as well as reputational. It's not just in the U.S. anymore, but on a global basis. We're in litigation around the world, and being able to navigate those issues is helpful.
"Through communication with CEO, CFO and the board, we've made a decision that we are going to be more aggressive in defending HP in litigation. We are not just going to pay off plaintiffs in cases. Obviously my litigation background helps in that regard. If we don't think we've behaved inappropriately, we're not just going to pay up to have the matter go away. We are going to defend ourselves. And that means sometimes we may lose those cases but the message is out there: If you're going to sue HP, we're serious about defending ourselves and our rights."
Jane Luxton, GC of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, discusses the importance of communication.
"When I was at the DOJ, the assistant attorney general at the time was someone who would hold meetings in his office once a month at 7:30 am for the younger attorneys to talk about his experience in the private sector, which was incredibly informative for us young attorneys, having never practiced there.
"Here was this leader in the field telling us about the big picture. His openness, his willing to communicate and his open door policy are things have really stayed with me and that have been important to me in my first year here in terms of how I go about communicating with the attorneys here."
Thomas Sager, GC of DuPont, discusses his role in helping create the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) more than 10 years ago.
"In 1997, Lloyd Johnson--an African American lawyer from California--approached Sharon Leyhow [associate general counsel at DuPont] and me. He had been active in area of diversity and was frustrated by the progress in the profession. He thought an organization dedicated to the effort could be a more effective engine for change because it would be led by the client rather than the firm. The visions included advancing the careers of lawyers of color within legal departments. The complement was to have our law firms equally committed and supportive of that effort.
"There were 4 or 5 of us that launched the MCCA in 1997. We were in the green room of the Hotel DuPont [in Wilmington, Del.] when we started to kick this around. We reached out to others in the legal profession, and I'm proud to say we are now in our 10th year.
"The MCCA has become the premier association in this space we call diversity in the legal profession."
Matthew Small, CLO of Blackboard, offers advice for young in-house counsel who have their sights set on a GC position.
"Never shy away from strategic opportunities. If someone comes and asks you to do something, the answer should never be, 'How much extra time will it take and how much will you pay me for it?' You just say, 'Great! Let's do it.'
"If your CEO comes to you and you always say you'll take care of it, and you take care of it, you will make an impression and eventually walk away with a great result."