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Spotlight: Kristen Kenley

Kristen Kenley

Q: Please tell us about your current role and how you got to where you are today.

A: I am Corporate Counsel at Brighthouse Financial in the Litigation, Employment and Customer Relations department. In this role, my responsibilities include acting as a legal advisor on a wide variety of counseling and pre-litigation matters related to the company’s annuity and life insurance business.

Before I joined Brighthouse in September 2022, I was lucky enough to spend seven years at MVA after being a summer associate and joining MVA right out of law school. While at MVA, I focused on litigation, regulatory defense, and internal investigations matters. Although I had no experience in the life insurance industry prior to joining Brighthouse, my years working closely with financial services clients prepared me well to transfer the skills that I had gained to an in-house environment.  

Q: What suggestions do you have for an in-house attorney looking to better engage their client and become a more integrated, trusted advisor?

A: As someone who is relatively new to an in-house role, this is a skill that I continue to build every day. That said, as a first priority, I work to be as responsive as possible, including by making sure to take the time to do something as simple as sending a short acknowledgement email while I am researching a matter. I want my business clients to know that my job is to assist them and to feel that their issues are a priority for me.

Next, I treat my job more holistically than what’s in my job description. For example, I aim to identify not only business risks and opportunities that may impact a particular business unit but also those that may impact the company as a whole. It can be easy to view a litigation case with blinders on and focus on completing the tasks necessary to move the case forward with outside counsel. However, I also want to add value to the company by assessing broader issues, such as whether there are any improvements that can be made to processes or any trends in risks that the company is experiencing.

Finally, I believe that building personal relationships with colleagues results in stronger working relationships. Therefore, there are many things that I do to build those relationships. For example, during virtual meetings, I try to be intentional about spending a few minutes asking my colleagues about their weekends, upcoming vacations, or activities that their kids are participating in. Luckily, I work for a company that also recognizes the value of strong employee connections and, as such, takes many steps to foster those connections.

Q: What recommendations do you have for managing outside counsel who are oftentimes more senior than the in-house lawyers tasked with managing them?

A: While this is another area in which I continue to learn and work each day to improve, my main recommendation is to trust your instincts and speak up whenever you disagree with outside counsel’s recommendation or view. It is easy to defer to outside counsel, given that their “role” is to guide you in providing advice to the company. But outside counsel does not know the company as well as you do. As a result, there are times when a proposal will not work from a business perspective, or the company is facing other risks and considerations that weigh against a particular proposal. I am learning to strike the balance between being a critical editor and trusting outside counsel’s expertise. Moreover, I have learned that usually my gut is right, and I have to be prepared to have tough conversations with outside counsel, who are almost always more senior to me. Even if I am nervous on the inside, I approach those conversations with confidence and directness—just like I would any other business conversation where I am providing feedback.

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