Ep: 16 LeaAnn King on How to Land an In-House Job

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I interviewed Lea Ann King, General Counsel of Toyota Material Handling USA on Friday November 17th, 2017.
LeaAnn and I first discussed her plan of attack and story behind how she landed an in-house job
with the corporate legal department of a large company after being at a corporate defense law firm.
We talked about what her role at Toyota, what its like being a division of a Japanese company and
what inspired her to be a General Counsel. She shared what she looks for in hiring attorneys and her thoughts on how they hire outside counsel. LeaAnn is a product of mentoring and believes strongly in mentoring others and women in leadership. She also shared about her family life, her
recommended books and her grandmother.
Here are some highlights of my interview with LeaAnn King:

“You have to stalk a little bit to get the job of your dreams.”

“It takes some self-discipline to step back and stop just saying, “I want to go in-house,” but to say, “I want to go in-house and here’s where I want to go. Here’s my dream job.””

“So I cold called one evening and got her voicemail (VP of Litigation) and said, “You don’t know me, but here’s who I am. I live in Batesville, where Hill-Rom is, and I’d love to have coffee with you and understand how I can become an attractive candidate should you ever have a need on your team.”

“Don’t always be waiting for “what can you do for me?” in terms of giving me a job, but what can you do for them. What are ways that you can learn their business now or learn more about their legal team now and the people that you’d be working with?”

“If somebody comes to me with a general interest and genuine interest in the products that we make or in the fact that we are a Japanese company and they would like to work with a Japanese company, whatever the reason is, that says so much more than the best candidate that could be presented by a recruiter.”

“It’s a pretty easy business case to make for ROI to say instead of hiring an outside lawyer, let’s spend a little bit more or put in personnel costs versus operating expenses and let me hire somebody.”

““Hey, when you’re staffing this matter, I expect to see some diversity there,” I think they’re open to it. And what I love now is that I’m having to say that even less. I think it’s kind of – it seems to be, at least with a lot of the law firms we partner with, happening naturally.”

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Links referred to in this episode:

LeaAnn King’s Company Profile

LeaAnn King’s LinkedIn Profile

Inside Counsel’s Project 5/165

The Rice-Paper Ceiling: Breaking through Japanese Corporate Culture by Rochelle Kopp

Widow’s Succession by Wikipedia

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Audio Transcription 

To Download the PDF Transcript, click here. (Look in the top right corner and click on the three dots to download.)
Chris: Welcome to the Law Firm Leadership podcast, I’m your host, Chris Batz with The Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Lea Ann King, general counsel of Toyota Material Handling, USA, which is based in Columbus, Indiana. Lea Ann leads a corporate legal department focused on litigation, IP, acquisitions and corporate governance.
Prior to joining Toyota, she was the vice president and associate general counsel with Hill-Rom Holdings, a 1.8-billion dollar public company, which is a leading worldwide manufacturer and provider of medical devices. In this role, she was the chief litigation employment counsel for all of the US operations. She also began her career with Hill-Rom in 2007 as a staff counsel for litigation. You’re going to hear her story about this as well.
Since that time she’s held positions of increasing responsibility, including assisting Hill-Rom’s security filings in corporate governance and leading the records management program. Prior to Hill-Rom, she was a litigator at Bose McKinney & Evans in Indianapolis. She received her BA from Centre College and a cum laude graduate of the University of Louisville School of Law.

Her Story Landing an In-House Job

Chris: I’d love for you to tell your story and your desire that while you were in law school you really wanted to go in-house. Can you describe to my audience how that occurred for you?
Lea Ann: Sure, so it actually started while I was in law school and clerking. I found that even working closely with partners who were really kind of what I would kind of see as the go-to for various in-house attorneys, they never knew kind of what Paul Harvey refers to as the rest of the story. I would be involved in matters or be giving kind of legal advice, at that time it was just more memorandum to the partner, and I would always want to know how did that end up, how did that resolve. And from my purview at that point, you never knew how it ended unless it ended up in litigation. And I was always so curious to know what did the in-house lawyer do with our guidance or our counsel. Did they disregard it? Did they act on it? And kind of what happened actually with the business.
Chris: What gave you the confidence that you would be able to land a job in-house?
Lea Ann: Well, I always joke and say I think sometimes you have to stalk a little bit to get the job of your dreams.
If you truly want to go in-house, it’s going to be because there is a company that you want to work for, whether that’s because of the type of work that that company does, the industry that they’re in or it’s ranked on one of the best places to work or geographically it makes sense to you or there’s even a leader in the legal team or the president of that company that you want to work for. But it’s usually one of those kind of three areas that people focus in on and say that’s where I want to work and that’s why I want to work there.
And I think a lot of times it takes some self-discipline to step back and stop just saying, “I want to go in-house,” but to say, “I want to go in-house and here’s where I want to go. Here’s my dream job.” I think once a person realizes, yeah, that’s where I want to go, it makes the transition to going in-house a lot easier because you’ve got one focus. And that’s kind of how it happened for me, quite frankly.
Chris: So you were in law school and you envisioned yourself getting a job at Hill-Rom or that was a type of company you wanted to work for?
Lea Ann: What dictated me ending up at Hill-Rom was actually I got married while I was at Bose McKinney & Evans and geographically my husband had to be in a certain area because of his job, so I was driving about an hour and 15 minutes one way to work as a young associate at Bose McKinney.
And so I started to think about geographically what are some companies closer that I might be able to work for and one of those companies just happened to be five minutes from my house and was Hill-Rom Holdings, which publically traded, medical device, growing company at the time.
And I did a little bit of sleuthing and my firm actually was doing some work for them. And from time to time I would do document review, but I wasn’t really known to the client, if you will. Probably my name would show up on billings, but I didn’t have any relationships with them.
So I did research that I could about what best through public filings and online I could determine about the composition of their legal team and I figured out that they had a vice president of litigation and so I cold called one evening and got her voicemail and said, “You don’t know me, but here’s who I am. I live in Batesville, where Hill-Rom is, and I’d love to have coffee with you and understand how I can become an attractive candidate should you ever have a need on your team.”
But it was kind of one of those great opportunities because she had actually just lost somebody on her legal team and had an immediate need, so within two months of me making that call, I landed my in-house job.
Chris: I absolutely love that Lea Ann. And I’m big advocate of encouraging people to do this, but you did something incredibly gutsy. You, first off, you had a plan. You found a company that was close to you. How did you know to go look for the VP of litigation?
Lea Ann: Well, I had gone online and I’m sure every state has something similar, like Indiana posts every year a directory of all of the in-house lawyers in the state and so by company it lists out who the attorneys are that work for that company. And so that’s really where I started and then once I had a name I just did what investigative work I could from there.
Chris: And is that directory available through the Bar Association, the state Bar?
Lea Ann: It is. It’s through the Indianapolis Bar Association puts it together. And it’s a tremendous resource not only then, but even now I kind of use it when I’m trying to think of okay, who else would be struggling with a similar issue or dealt with this same issue.
Chris: Yeah, that sounds like a huge resource. And so you do what I don’t know very many attorneys that have the courage to do, but you picked up the phone and cold called this individual. And so tell me about next steps after that. So she obviously talked to your husband and was it one or two meetings after that and were there other candidates in the mix?
Lea Ann: It was not one or two meetings after that. So one distinction probably between law firms and corporate America is the hiring process can be pretty arduous.
Because you’re into this an HR function that has a process that maybe attorneys and attorney’s roles don’t fit well within, but they will wedge that square peg into the round hole every time. And so it was a pretty lengthy interview process, both not just with starting with her. I think it would have been pretty easy if it was just her decision to make. But having to go through HR and then meet with the general counsel at the time for the organization as well as some of the support team that I would be working with. And there were other candidates and interestingly they actually ended up hiring two of us.
At the same time. It was just one of those I think they had had a more senior person in the role historically and so I think financially and from an experience level, they felt like bringing in two junior lawyers, we could probably better handle the workload based on where we were in our career.

Going InHouse Take-aways

Chris: What are some of those key takeaways that people can glean from this process?
Lea Ann: Well, I think first it’s so much easier to get any job, but speaking more of a corporate job or in-house, actually knowing somebody and having a relationship, even if it’s just that personal phone call, is more attractive than a resume through a recruiter or resume through an online application system.
Chris: Yeah, when you say know somebody, you’re just talking about the head of the litigation that you spoke with.
Lea Ann: Yeah, I’m just talking about – she didn’t – yeah, she didn’t know me really from Adam, but I stood out to her in what ended up being the interview process because I had taken the first step to proactively call when I didn’t even know there was a job. There was no job for me to apply for. And that’s where I think a lot of attorneys who want to go in-house kind of wait for that perfect job opportunity to present either from a recruiter bringing it to them or online. And, quite frankly, it’s real easy to get lost in the shuffle if that’s what you do and, moreover, a lot of those opportunities don’t even make it to that stage.
That you don’t even get a visibility, so that’s why I’m always – as young lawyers kind of say, “How can I go in-house?” I’m always like figure out where it is that you want to go. If geography is restrictive to you, then that narrows it down and then try to network. Don’t always just be waiting for what can you do for me in terms of giving me a job, but what can you do for them. What are ways that you can learn their business now or learn more about their legal team now and the people that you’d be working with? Because everybody wants to hire somebody that’s going to be a good fit and so there’s no better way to figure that out than early.
That’s kind of what started the process for me and then I think you’ve just got to be patient and realize that a lot of lawyers are trained to make decisions quickly, but that’s not the way of the corporate world. And as much as the attorney that is going to be hiring you or the CEO that’s going to be hiring me want to move real quickly, there is a certain process dictated usually that the HR function that dictates what all has to happen before an offer can be extended, so you’ve just got to be patient and kind of just go with the process and not kind of let our natural tendency I think as lawyers to kind of go back and kind of pester in some ways, to say, “Have you made a decision? Have you made a decision?” and just go along with the flow.
Chris: And so what time of the year did you approach that head of litigation?
Lea Ann: So I want to say it was around mid-April. And I did not start until close to December.
Chris: Oh wow, so that was a long process.
Lea Ann: It was. It was a very long process because she had at various times kind of almost acted like oh, this is a done deal, but then she kept getting reined back in from HR of, “Oh, you didn’t take this-“ like here, even at Toyota, most companies a lot of times will have certain tests that they want folks to take to see kind of your natural tendencies and your personality because they have a range that they have been able to demonstrate folks that are successful in their organization fit certain profiles.
Chris: Yeah, and that’s definitely an increasing matter I’ve found among employers. Just to ask another question. I think my audience might be asking, did you have other opportunities, you know, in the funnel for you? Did you approach other companies?
Lea Ann: I didn’t. I was laser-focused. And that’s not to say that I guess if that one hadn’t worked out, I wouldn’t have refocused, but I just kind of got lucky that the first call I made worked out for me.
Chris: That’s just great. And is it safe to assume, and we’ll come back to this again, but is safe to assume this is how you landed at Toyota?

Using Legal Recruiters

Lea Ann: Similar. I actually had a recruiter who had contacted me a few times about different opportunities and finally I said, you know what, here’s what I’m looking for and here’s what that next role has to be. It either has to be a role like I have now, leading a legal team for a specific subject matter/area at a larger company or it’s got to be the next step of being general counsel. And so it was probably six or seven months later she called and she said, “I think I found the job for you.”
Chris: Hm, so in that case, it wasn’t you perusing the employer; you actually had a recruiter in the process with you. You know, because you’re in the role of an employer at this point, you’re a general counsel of a large company, I mean, how often do you see recruiters being used for in-house recruiting?
Lea Ann: We’ve used them for the roles that we’ve had to fill here, but that is usually in conjunction with or only after we have not been able to source candidates through our own network.
Chris: Oh wow, so you’re a little bit more desperate is when you talk to them.
Lea Ann: Yeah, I mean I didn’t want to say it. But normally, I mean it’s just you want to go with somebody who’s kind of known commodity. And so in-house attorneys have their own network of colleagues and friends that they’ve developed through the years, so we have kind of this email list that a lot of times we’ll just send out a blast and say, “I’m looking for this type of attorney. If you know anybody, let me know.”
Chris: Is it safe to say, Lea Ann, that you would more likely hire somebody approaching you versus someone a recruiter’s presenting to you?
Lea Ann: Hands down.
If somebody comes to me with a general interest and genuine interest in the products that we make or in the fact that we are a Japanese company and they would like to work with a Japanese company, whatever the reason is, that says so much more than the best candidate that could be presented by a recruiter.

Put Yourself Out There

Chris: Yeah, yeah. I wanted my listeners to hear that. I’m going to go back to your story again, did you do anything else to get the attention to stand out at Hill-Rom?
Lea Ann: Other than picking up the phone, no.
Chris: Okay. Yeah, that’s really important, so sometimes it’s the littlest things that make some of the biggest differences in just picking up the phone versus emailing a resume.
Lea Ann: And that’s what I kind of think of today. I think if I had sent an email and said here’s who I am, I think it would have been so easily deleted.
But just taking that extra step and kind of that whole thing of do something every day that scares you. I kind of put myself out there a little bit.

Her Role as General Counsel

Chris: Tell us about the company a little bit and tell us about this role that you are now a general counsel.
Lea Ann: Sure. So I work for Toyota Material Handling, USA. We are the sales and marketing arm for Toyota branded forklift here in the United States and Canada. We’re the number one selling forklift brand in the United States, have been for a number of years. And in my role I provide not only legal support to sales and marketing but also to our manufacturing corporation here in Columbus, Indiana as well as we have six company owned stores that sell, market and service our forklifts. So it’s a wide variety of what I’ll call internal customers that I serve on any given day. And that’s what I enjoy the most is that variety. So we – I can be doing an IP license agreement. I can be doing acquisition agreement another minute. I can be counseling an HR rep on terminating somebody.
Chris: You had mentioned just briefly that it’s not really a US company per se; you’re actually owned by a Tokyo company, correct? Japanese.
Lea Ann: Yes, our ultimate parent company is Toyota Industries Corporation out of Takahama, Japan. So we are not, though we may be affiliated somehow on the ownership team, we are not directly a subsidiary or related entity of Toyota Motors Corporation. So I always joke and say, “If you’re in the market for a Camry, I can’t help you, but if you need a forklift, I’m your gal.”
Chris: That’s excellent. And what is it like being a part of a company that’s publically traded on a Tokyo stock exchange?
Lea Ann: Well, so it’s more similar – I came from Hill-Rom Holdings, which is publically traded on the New York Exchange, and then coming here it feels more like it is privately held or even at times a family-owned company. I always say I get the best of both worlds when I came to Toyota because you have one of the world’s most recognizable brands, so people instantly recognize our logo and what Toyota is and what it stands for. But here, within Toyota Material Handling, we are a very small company and so, you know, they still have potluck lunches at times or all hands meetings with all the staff coming in. So you really get the best of both worlds. You get the Toyota brand, the Toyota resources and the Toyota kind of way. If you’ve read any of those books, we have all that here, but then we get the benefit of being a very small organization.
Chris: Tell me about the leap that you made from Hill-Rom and the roles and responsibilities you had there to the role that you have now as a general counsel. Give us some more color about the differences that you’re seeing.
Lea Ann: One of the main differences for me in the role that I have now versus the role I previously held is there I was reporting to our general counsel chief legal officer. And so while I did interact with the CEO and the board on occasion, it wasn’t a regular part of my day-to-day work. And when I came here one of the first observations I made back to my former general counsel was I had no idea how important the relationship between myself and the president and that dynamic and trying to become his trusted advisor would be. And she said, “I know. Would you have taken the job if I had told you?”
Because it brought to light – I’ve seen a lot of colleagues who kind of follow one of their peers and what I mean by that is, you’ll be in a large company together and one of your fellow members of the executive team will leave to go lead a business, to become a president or CEO of another business and a lot of times that lawyer will follow that person. And I never appreciated how valuable that was until I came here because I was an outsider in the industry, I was an outsider to Toyota and Japanese culture and I was an outsider to having a relationship with our president. And so I had to learn all that. I had to learn a new industry. I had to learn a ton of acronyms, all beginning with T of course. And then I had to convince this president that I was not only a capable, competent attorney that he hired but that I was his trusted advisor. I needed to be his strategic partner as he thought about doing things and moving the business forward. I wanted to be the one that he consulted with.
Chris: And is the president Japanese?
Lea Ann: He’s not. So we do have a Japanese president over in manufacturing, but my direct boss is American.
Chris: Got it. Why did you take the opportunity to go to Toyota?
Lea Ann: It was the natural thing, right? I mean I always tell people, you know, you’re kind of raised or at least when I was growing up, you’re raised to get the best grades you could so that you could get the best job you could so that you could kind of move up the corporate rung. And as much times as people say you’re career development is more of a jungle gym than a ladder, something I completely ascribe too, there are times when the next role is truly the next role and so it really felt like becoming a general counsel was something that I wanted to do.
I wasn’t sure it was going to happen for me at Hill-Rom Holdings. Like I mentioned, my husband, he’s an attorney, but actually he was elected judge during the time I was at Hill-Rom, so with his role we couldn’t relocate. And I think for me to have been successful as a general counsel at Hill-Rom would have required relocation or at least me to be away from home most days of the week and with having a young family, that wasn’t where we wanted to go at this stage in our life.

The ROI of Corporate Legal Departments

Chris: Lets talk about corporate legal department trends right now. There are articles in the news about basically the boom of corporate legal departments and the shrinking demand for defense law firms. Are you feeling that? Is that happened right now for you at Toyota?
Lea Ann: We’ve been pretty stagnant in the number of attorneys that we have, but we don’t have a whole lot of outside counsel spend. One of the other big differences in moving from medical device publically traded to Toyota Material Handling was the lack of securities legal issues that you really need a certain level of expertise around.
So we haven’t seen it necessarily here, but among colleagues who are at other companies, I think it becomes this complete ROI that more and more companies are seeing their lawyers not just as a lawyer, but as a trusted business advisor who truly has the proverbial seat at the table and who offer more value and are doing more things than just legal. And so I think as that transformation has happened versus “We’ll call you if we see a legal issue that we need you to work on,” versus this pretty broad leadership role that lawyers are being asked to fit into, it’s become easier, I think, for lawyers to make the case to bring more people inside.
And I think more and more are teams internally at companies are seeing greater value, are seeing that they appreciate somebody who knows the business and speaks the language and understands risk tolerance. And with that, it’s a pretty easy business case to make for ROI to say instead of hiring an outside lawyer, let’s spend a little bit more or put in personnel costs versus operating expenses and let me hire somebody.

“You can be a General Counsel”

Chris: Let’s transition to diversity and women issues. I know you have a passion for this very front and center topic right now. Can you share your story as it relates to this? I know you mentioned the phrase before recording ‘pay it forward,’ share a little bit about that.
Lea Ann: I can’t say that I would be where I am today if I had not been mentored and had a lot of great development opportunities from women who were more senior than I was in my legal department over the years. And most notably there was a group called 5 in 165 that was an offshoot I believe of Inside Counsel magazine. And this initiative was trying to increase the number of women who are general counsels at Fortune 500 companies in 5 years to 165, with the math being one-third, roughly.
And my general counsel at the time came to me and said there’s this development program and somebody asked me to select one person to go to it and I’d like you to go. And I was so flattered and then I went and I looked around the room and I heard everybody talking and I thought I don’t deserve to be here. These women are amazing and fabulous. And I kept – the whole thought that somebody else selected you versus you self-selecting to be in the program, just was top of my mind. Okay, so she thought I deserved to be here, so I’m going to stay and see it through. And that created a great network of support all across the country and real friendships across the country for me.
And that’s really what got me started to say I think I want to be general counsel one day. Because I would tell my husband like, we want to have a family and, you know, you want to do everything and he has a career that is demanding as well. And so I used to just kind of say, “Hey, I’m good where I am.” I don’t want to move up. I don’t want her job. Do you see the crazy hours she works and that he’s putting in and the stress and I don’t want it. And for the first time that was when I thought maybe I do and maybe there’s a way that I can, for what I define as having it all, make it happen.
Chris: That’s amazing that program and how that gave you the confidence or just show you that this was possible and to have the network support. So tell me about how that’s translating now that you are in leadership of a corporate legal department as it relates to outside counsel.

Diversity as a Mandate

Lea Ann: Sure, so that’s kind of where this whole pay-it-forward idea even came to me in some conversations with women I had met. They are, they really raised my awareness to an obligation that we have. Instead of waiting for law firms to present diverse folks to work on our matters to us, that we need to be the ones mandating it or requiring it to the extent that we can or at least letting them know it’s a priority for us.
And it’s a little bit different in the world that I’m in because I’m business to business. I’m not business to consumer. And I think if you’re a business to consumer, there’s – and especially if you’re publically traded, there’s a whole lot more diversity initiatives around there and a whole lot more emphasis to it. But I think if we all, as in-house counsel, can agree that this is kind of the right thing and a priority we need to make it, there are great opportunities that you can really pay it forward, more than just saying we expect diversity in our billing guidelines.
It’s as simple as when I have an opportunity to take a client to an event that we are hosting or even something socially, that I call and if my go-to person that I will call for that firm is a man, then I say,
“Okay, who’s kind of an up and coming associate female that you have or a diverse associate that I can take with me that I can start to build a relationship with that you think has expertise in an area that we’ll need it or will just be a great personality fit for the rest of my team.”
Chris: And how are firms receiving this? I’ve been hearing lots of feedback around this, but I’m curious from your standpoint.
Lea Ann: From my standpoint, they’re receptive. I mean there’s a little bit of hesitation, right? Because we still struggle like so many firms have always with who’s the originating client, whoever is the perceived, there’s always going to be a perceived owner of that client. And sometimes where I’ve been met with some hesitation or resistance has been, “Well, I’m your contact. You should start with me when you’re offering up opportunities to kind of come and get to know you as our client better.” I think if it’s more of,
“Hey, when you’re staffing this matter, I expect to see some diversity there,” I think they’re open to it. And what I love now is that I’m having to say that even less. I think it’s kind of – it seems to be, at least with a lot of the law firms we partner with, happening naturally.
Chris: What have you been passionate about lately for you personally?

Family as a Passion

Lea Ann: So as I alluded too, we have a young family, so I have a daughter who just turned six and a son who is getting ready to turn nine and so my passions are dictated by what they are passionate about at the moment. So for my daughter, who’s in kindergarten, we are working on sight words and trying to read. And my son loves sports and so right now we are in swim season and basketball season. So, you know, having time with my family really energizes me and that’s kind of my passion.
I mean if it was just my husband and I, I think we would travel a lot more frequently. That’s something we enjoy doing. We do it as a family, but then getting away, just he and I, is something that I will continue to be passionate about as the kids get older.
Chris: Yeah, and if you two were to travel, where would you go?
Lea Ann: A cruise to the Greek Isles is my next Mediterranean, that’s the next one that I would really like to plan.
Chris: Yeah, go to Santorini and Mykonos?
Lea Ann: There you go. I love it.
Chris: When we were talking beforehand, but you have a passion for goal setting and as we’re getting towards the end of the calendar year, how do you approach goal setting for yourself and maybe even for your corporate legal department?

Year End Planning and Her Corporate Legal Department

Lea Ann: Sure, so I’ll start with the legal department. So what I always like to challenge my folks to do is not so much think about goals, but think about where should we be as a department a year from now. What should we be spending our time on or what – how can we look back and say we were successful? What are the two or three things, I never want more than three, two or three things that a year from now if we can say we’ve done these things, we were successful?
For us it can be – it’s largely around process improvement or in the Japanese world kaizen, that might be introducing an improved technology for contract management system or more updated, easier to use contracting templates or completing a large acquisition that’s going to make a big change for the business. But what could we do versus getting, you know,
it’s always kind of the sand and rock, so what are those big rocks that we can do before we get bogged down in the day-to-day in the sand and the day-to-day work that’s always going to be there. That’s what I challenge my team to.
For me, personally, I love goal setting, so I go through these phases where sometimes it’s like every day I’m going to have two goals, one personal, one professional that I’m going to try and achieve. But at the end of the year, I just think it’s kind of a natural reflection point that a lot of people say and I do myself, what are three things that I want to do personally over the next year and three things professionally that I want to do over the next year. And then sometimes, kind of a – I view those as goals. Then I’ll also sometimes throw in a resolution, you know, of something that I really want to do. So a couple of years ago, my resolution was that I was going to do a handwritten note every day.
Some days I got behind, so I’d have to do kind of a weeks’ worth on the weekend, but I did. And the funny thing was at the beginning it was really easy to do because just, you would have so many thoughts about people that you wanted to send notes to and then as the year progressed, it got harder. But what I found was that it was so interesting that all of the sudden I would read an article or hear something about someone and it would just inspire me to send them a note. And I just think that mail and handwritten notes are becoming such a lost art that people really appreciate. So it was so funny because I would send a note and then I would get an email back thanking me for the note that I had sent. But I should, I’ve always joked and said I could write a book about how it changed my life when I wrote a note every day for a year. So I’ve got to come up with something fantastic for next year’s resolution.

Law School Advice

Chris: What advice would you give yourself if you were to go back through law school again.
Lea Ann: Hands down, the one thing that I would do if I had it to do all over again or to give myself advice, would be to get my MBA at the same time I was getting my JD. At the time I was in law school, those programs for you to complete both in four years were just becoming popular and there weren’t many people in my class that had done it. But now, especially if you think that you want to end up in-house, it’s invaluable. Because you will find when you are in-house, there’s just this kind of – my husband refers to it as corporate speak, so I circle back and I drill down a whole lot. But you pick up on terminology and you understand priorities and it is so important for a lawyer to be successful in-house to understand your partner’s priorities and their focus and what’s going to resonate with them. And I think you’re better prepared as an in-house lawyer if you have that background versus doing what I did and then buying the book, like the ten-day MBA book.
Chris: So is it about connecting the dots meaning understanding more about your clients?
Lea Ann: I think you would understand better in a business world what it is your clients are looking for or at least the right questions to ask. Because, you know, as lawyers, we get asked – when I was in private practice, you get asked a question and I almost felt like, now looking back in hindsight, I would run off to find out the answer or to address the problem and not ask the right question because whatever the outside counsel is calling you about, it’s not because it’s a legal issue, it’s because it’s a business issue. Right? I mean there’s an interplay there. And so I never asked a lot of those questions. Who’s driving this? Who wants to know? When do you need to get back to them? In the big scheme of things, how important is this for the business? Is this a strategic initiative that if you can’t do it, it’s going to derail your plans for next year? Is there a work around? Is it too late? Have they already done this and you’re just trying to understand what the risk looks like?
Chris: How do you like to wind down from a busy week or a night?
Lea Ann: So I do try to do yoga when I can. I love to read when I can. And then the quickest way for us is, as I shared with you before, with little kids they love music and so we will kind of play – we have kind of – I won’t call them family theme songs, but we do have like our go-to songs and we’ll play that and just kind of dance around. We call it shaking the grumpies out because, you know, working parents can get just as grumpy as sleep-deprived little people and so that’s what we do. And just spending time together as a family is a great way to unwind.

Recommended Reading

Chris: Lea Ann, you had mentioned your love for reading. You brought up a book I thought was fascinating because of your relationship with the Japanese in business. Can you describe this book again and why?
Lea Ann: Yeah, sure, so the book that I have on my nightstand and I’ll admit that I haven’t started reading it yet, is The Rice Paper Ceiling: Breaking through Japanese Corporate Culture. And the way it got on my radar is I work very closely with a lot of Japanese associates who are here on assignment and I noticed that one of my colleagues was carrying this book around and I asked him about it and he said that it was going to help him understand how the Japanese could work better with Americans. And I tried to explain to him that, I view it as a two-way street, like, yeah, you’re here in the United States, but our ultimate parent is a Japanese company and so you don’t have to just mold yourself to the way we Americans work. I should learn even more than I already know about your culture in ways that I can better work with you and better communicate with you. So when he got done with the book, he shared it with me. So luckily, he hasn’t asked me how I like the book yet because I’ll confess I’ve had it for a few weeks and haven’t opened it yet.

Grandmother and Widow’s Succession

Chris: Do you have any current heroes right now, Lea Ann?
Lea Ann: So my hero, and she has been for many, many years, was my grandmother. She passed away about 12 years ago, but she was 90 when she did pass away. And so back in the day when not many women were running for office or being elected, she was actually part of what’s referred to as The Widow’s Succession in Kentucky. My grandfather was the state representative in the General Assembly in Kentucky and died suddenly in a car accident. And what was common at that time was that when – and most of the elected officials were men and so when they would pass away or something would happen suddenly that they could not fulfill their term, their surviving widow would be the one that would very smoothly and easily go through the process to fill out the remainder of their election term. So she did that for my grandfather and then I don’t know if she liked it so much or what led her to do it, but then she actually ran. She was actually opposed and ran and continued to serve another term after that.
And so I’ve always thought like how brave to go through such a sudden traumatic loss, but then still kind of keep your chin up and go forward and serve. And she did some legislation. I have all of her old scrapbooks and things from her time. And so she inspires me every day to kind of take a risk and put yourself out there.

Family Holiday Tradition

Chris: Do you have any holiday traditions as it relates to either Thanksgiving or Christmas ?
Lea Ann: So we have, I don’t know if you can call three years in a tradition, but actually we do not do anything on Thanksgiving. We host – both of my kids have November birthdays, so we kind of host the family. We’ll do it this Sunday, so the Sunday before Thanksgiving, for just a real laid-back open house celebration for the kids. And then on Thanksgiving we stay in our pajamas and watch Thanksgiving Day parade. And later in the night we’ve gone to Dave & Buster’s, which is kind of this gaming place. Nobody’s there. I feel a little guilty because, you know, there are people there working, but they have to be there regardless. And then we actually have Thanksgivings that we go to at our families on Friday and Saturday, but we just feel like it is just an awesome little secret that we don’t let a lot of people know. And then for Christmas, I go down to Kentucky for Christmas Eve and then we obviously do the big Christmas day when Santa comes.
Chris: Yeah. Lea Ann, it’s been a pleasure to have you on the show and I just want to say thank you for your time.
Lea Ann: Thank you so much, Chris. I enjoyed it.
Thank you everyone who listened to this episode of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
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