Q: What are three keys to your professional success?
A: Without a doubt, nurturing strong and positive connections with people—my colleagues and others in the legal and business community—ranks at the top. I say “nurturing” intentionally; building and maintaining these relationships takes focus and effort but also bears the greatest personal and professional rewards. My team will tell you that I’m always saying that there are plenty of talented attorneys who have the training and substantive experience to perform our jobs well. But these “hard skills” are table stakes for me; the attorneys and legal staff who thrive are those who are great colleagues and peers on an interpersonal level.
Being a hard worker is another key. Although we mercifully don’t bill hours, my level of effort is measured qualitatively. My CEO and my fellow members of our senior leadership team know that I’m fully committed to achieving our business objectives given that I’m in the trenches with them—sometimes at all hours of the day and night depending on what we have going on—and I’ve never let a business objective slip. On a related note, they also know that I’m not content to do the bare minimum and am always looking for opportunities to provide business counsel in addition to legal counsel and to think with a strategic mindset about how to help take the business where we want it to go.
Lastly, I would say making time for interests outside of work. Burnout can be a major occupational hazard for lawyers and other client service professionals (and it has not been my experience that in-house attorneys work any less than private practitioners). I recognize that I cannot charge hard 24/7/365 and that finding fulfillment outside of work, such as by spending time with my family, keeps me centered on the most important things in life but also helps me bring my best self to my workplace and career.
Q: What are some best practices when looking for a new position within your organization?
A: The best advice I can give is that efforts to land a new position need to start well in advance of actively looking for one. Making positive impressions on colleagues and building a good reputation are critical and require sustained efforts over a long period of time. At my company, we have a perpetual discussion about whether to promote from within versus hire externally for roles we need filled. Our preference for many reasons is to promote from within and those who are tapped internally are those whose performance record—as well as their commitment to our company principles such as putting people first—gives us confidence in their likely success. Having a demonstrated history of being proactive, showing an eagerness to take on more work, and advancing one's professional development by seeking out learning opportunities will also open doors to a new position of greater responsibility and autonomy.
Q: At many firms, there has been a trend for bringing more legal work in-house and reducing the reliance on outside counsel. Is your firm a part of this trend, and if so, what have been the benefits and challenges?
A: When I joined Passport in March 2017, I was the only attorney and I now have a team of five. We tend to perform most of our day-to-day legal work in-house with reliance on outside counsel for more specialized matters, such as patent and trademark prosecution and M&A matters. I wouldn’t say this practice has been part of any intentional effort to contain costs or follow the market, so to speak, in terms of distribution of work internally versus externally. The pace and volume of our work, combined with our “open office” culture of collaboration, are just better suited to having internal folks handle most things. We communicate in real-time, either in person or via Slack, and answers are often needed right away or very quickly. My in-house lawyers, who have come to know the ins and outs of the business, down to the practices and quirks of certain functions and even individual colleagues, are typically able to provide speedier practical advice that is appropriately attuned to our business’s risk tolerance. Our very best outside counsel relationships and the outside lawyers I’m most likely to send work to are those who seek out opportunities to see how we work and understand the unique aspects of our business and people.
Although keeping a lot of work in-house is a great benefit to our business overall, the flip side and the challenge we encounter is that there tends to be more work than hours in the day to do it. We have to be very thoughtful about how to streamline our work and increase efficiency.
Q: Outside of your family and the law what has been your most rewarding experience?
A: I love to travel and to explore new places and cultures. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to many parts of North, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, southeast Asia, and the south Pacific. As my kids get a little older, I look forward to infecting them with my travel bug and seeing the world through their eyes.