When Michele Coleman Mayes was 11 years old, she stood up in front of her family and made a declaration: "I'm going to be a lawyer!" She admits that even though Perry Mason was 100 percent the driving force behind this decision, she never wavered.
Thanks to an aunt who had friends in law, Mayes got an early taste of the legal world. During undergraduate school at the University of Michigan, she worked part-time at Legal Aid, a non-profit dedicated to providing legal services to low-income individuals, and spent a summer working at a law firm as a gopher. By the time she entered law school, Mayes thought she had a good idea of what law was all about.
Q: Tell me about your transition to in-house practice.
A: I interviewed with Unisys in 1982. It was a computers company and that was sexy sounding, so I thought why not. I knew how to try cases. They had been under siege and had been sued all over the place. It was a disaster. They wanted a litigator. I was hired as the staff counsel for the Eastern Region.
At the time, I was on a board, and that work became very stressful in summer 2007. The company had come under scrutiny about issues on how they handle reinsurance. I was asked to chair a special committee, which became a full-time job.
Then, I got the phone call to interview at Allstate. It was all I could do to keep my eye on my day job. I was burning the candle at both ends. But the woman doing the search for Allstate said I should look at this position. So I did. I came here in July 2007.
Q: You recently wrote a book about the history of women GCs. Tell me about it.
A: The book is called "Courageous Counsel." Lloyd Johnson [co-founder of MCCA and CEO of Chief Legal Executive] was really the brainchild behind it. I co-authored the book with Kara Baysinger, a partner at SNR Denton. Lloyd approached me a couple years ago and said he had this idea. There hadn't been many women GCs in the Fortune 500, so why don't we collect their stories.