Co-head of Financial Regulatory Advice & Response
One of the features of MVAToday will be updates from our alumni. We have a diverse network of talented individuals that have been a part of our firm. We think allowing them to share their stories and advice will be a great resource and help our alumni make connections that may help them in their current position or in a later stage of their career. To kick off this section, we are going to take on this approach in reverse because a few years ago, MVA was fortunate to have Ed O’Keefe join our firm after many years at Bank of America where he served as Global General Counsel among several other positions. He has also served as Deputy General Counsel for Deutsche Bank AG and Chair of The Clearing House Association. Ed has been kind enough to answer a few questions on what makes a successful in-house attorney and how to best navigate this career path within a large institution.
Q: As a former General Counsel, what makes an in-house lawyer stand out?
A : Lawyers who are committed to the client and their profession are the most valuable to an organization. Learning the client’s business objectives as well as the tactics management intends to apply to achieve their goals not only demonstrates commitment to the client but also allows the lawyer to deliver timely, applicable and effective advice. Having a deep desire to be a legal professional creates a bedrock that supports ethical and risk based partnership with the business. There is a difference between legal analysis and business planning. Business people first and foremost need and want a lawyer’s rigorous and well explained legal thinking. An in house lawyer who is able to promptly provide practical advice; i.e., that which is achievable with in the business plan will stand out to both clients and peers.
Q: What suggestions do you have for an in-house attorney looking to better engage his client and become a more integrated, trusted advisor?
A : First, know the individuals, department, business and industry to which you wish to be an advisor. Understanding the issues and pressures they face helps develop not only empathy but also practical solutions. Applying a legal risk lens, watch for developments and trends that can affect the persons with whom you are building a relationship. The key is to be considered a professional who adds timely value. Second, become a part of the flow of the business processes. Work to understand how decisions are made and think about how to best integrate the lawyer’s point of view and work into that flow of work. Finally, develop trusting relationships with peer support partners. Having a fluid and efficient relationship with finance, human resources, risk and compliance will make life both easier and the business organization more effective.
Q: What are some best practices for when to look for a new position and how to approach this delicate situation within your organization?
A : The best way to get a bigger and better role in an organization is to be very good at your assigned position. By demonstrating competence and commitment to your job, a person stands out and gets noticed by the organization. If you can also carve out time for roles on cross enterprise committees or projects, you can also improve your profile. Once you are successful in your role and on cross company initiatives, you should be asked to take on larger roles. If you are not, then continue to build a network and express an interest across the network in broadening your role. Be patient, great careers tend to move in spurts. There is no steady trajectory.
Q: Why have you come back to a law firm after several decades in-house?
A : After 30 years in house, I decided the best way I could give back to the profession and the industry I have served is to train emerging leaders both here at the firm and at our clients to be the best lawyers and advisors they can be. I do so through example, direct training and personal counseling.
Q: Outside of your family and the law what has been your most rewarding experience
A : Serving on the executive team of a globally significant financial institution through and during the peak of the Financial Crisis. To me, there is no better reward than to be part of a committed team doing the work you love for a cause that matters.