Mark Roellig | Senior Client Advisor at Perkins Coie

Senior Client Advisor at Perkins Coie | Helping Others Succeed | Diverse Perspectives | Embrace Realization | Train People to Leave | What Attorneys Bring Now | Career Advice | Biographies 


I interviewed Mark Roellig | Senior Client Advisor at Perkins Coie on Friday, June 26th, 2020.

We began the conversation with Mark sharing how he wanted to spend his time after retiring from MassMutual and a brief overview of his career history. We discussed the genesis of his leadership journey and his steps to growing in self-realization that led him to become a better leader. We discussed his conviction for diverse perspectives and hearing their input as it’s proven to benefit the team. Mark shared what General Counsel look for when hiring, hiring process insights, and training his team. He shared valuable insights for lawyers’ involvement with board members. Mark also shared about legal service providers and the transformation of in-house counsel’s role. We discussed his marriage and his love of history and biographies. We wrapped up the conversation by discussing his love for the outdoors and surrounding himself with incredible people.

Here are some highlights of my interview with Mark Roellig:

Leadership is not necessarily innate and can be learned, can be developed, and can be improved.

You need to accept input, even if you don’t agree with the input, because how you are being perceived is so important, even if you disagree with that perception.

It’s absolutely critical to surround yourself with very impressive, diverse people. You’re going to miss so much if they all look like you and if they all have the same background as you.

Diversity is the noun. Inclusion is the verb. You need an inclusive environment where you get the value to draw upon that diversity.

I love the person that wants to work hard, get great results, and want to win the race, but if you ever try to trip one of your team members, you’re off the team. It’s as simple as that.

When people leave working for me for a better job, I don’t cry. I hold a party.

If you very quickly, after two interviews or less, are able to make a decision, you’re sending a clear message that you want this person, that you can make decisions, and that is important to the individual.

Other people are always looking for what can be done better, where we can add value, and are coming up with ideas and thoughts totally outside their area of responsibility. Those are the people that are looking to win.

My belief is if you’re asking people to do a lot, you never skimp on technology, you never skimp on training, and you never skimp on compensation.

You want to spend time understanding your board members, understanding their concerns, spending time with them, and always getting their input on ways you can do things better.

What do Lawyers really bring? Lawyers bring judgment, they bring emotional intelligence, and they bring that teamwork together.

At the end of the day, what is so interesting is that all the great results belong to the team. All the bad results belong to you. 

Read history and biographies because whether it was a bad person like Hitler, Mao, or Stalin, or whether it was a good person like Martin Luther King Jr. or Franklin Roosevelt, you can learn from all of them.

Links referred to in this episode:

Mark Roellig | Perkins Coie Profile

Mark Roellig | LinkedIn Profile

National Law Journal | America’s 50 Outstanding General Counsel 2016

Ethisphere | 2016 Attorneys Who Matter List

ACC Docket | Leadership Lessons: Mark Roellig Reflects on 45 Years of Working

Charlie Russ | Mentor Profile

Walter Issacson | The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Nancy Koehn | Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times

Pia Flanagan | Chief of Staff to the CEO at MassMutual

Dominic Blue | Head of Strategy Planning & Delivery at MassMutual  

Brian Garner | Editor in Chief of Black’s Law Dictionary | Twitter Account

Charles Craver | George Washington Professor

Patricia Diaz Dennis | Former Commissioner of the Dept. of Labor

Jim Collins | Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap & Others Don’t

Eric Schmidt | How Google Works

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Audio Transcription 

***To Download the PDF Transcript, click here*** 

Greetings, friends. This is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. In today’s episode, I spoke with a four-time Fortune 500 General Counsel and a multiplier of corporate leaders. He’s passionate about leadership and seeing people succeed. Listen to the whole episode, it’s solid gold. 

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to this podcast and leave a review on iTunes. 

We interview corporate defense law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants. You’re listening to Episode 47 of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.

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 Mark Roellig, Senior Client Advisor with Perkins Coie’s Client Advantage Team. Mark leverages his wide-ranging experience to help his general counsel clients innovate, solve problems, understand trends and legal services, and bring value to the law firm client relationship. Over his career, Mark held C-suite roles at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Fisher Scientific International, Storage Technology Corp, and US West Inc, overseeing critical functions including marketing, corporate strategy, and executive compensation and benefits. He also served as Mass Mutual’s Chief Technology Officer for two years. Widely known for his leadership in general counsel space, Mark writes a monthly column for the Association of Corporate Counsel. He was named among America’s 50 Outstanding General Counsels by the National Law Journal and was recognized by Ethisphere as one of 75 Attorneys Worldwide Who Matter. Mark received his law degree from the George Washington University School of Law, and his MBA from the University of Washington. 

Welcome, Mark, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.

Mark: Thank you. I look forward to our conversation.

Helping Legal Execs Succeed 

Chris: Mark, you came highly recommended by General Counsel, so thank you for your time today. Please share with my listeners your history and what you are currently doing for Perkins Coie.

Mark: Happy to do that. Actually, I retired from MassMutual in April of 2019. MassMutual has mandatory retirement at age 65, and I was age 64. It was a logical time to move on, so I stepped back and thought, what would I really like to do next? How would I like to spend my time? What I really enjoy doing is helping other lawyers and in-house counsel be successful. So, I reached out to several law firms to see if they would have an interest where I could work with them and partner with them in a way where I could help general counsels and their leadership team think about how to deal with the business of practicing in-house law, and how to deal with leadership issues. When I approached several firms, I had the thought that I would only do it if I would be offered to clients for free. Second of all, that I would not have to bill hours. Third, I would not get any client credit, or be compensated for helping get work for Perkins Coie because I wanted to really help the clients as compared to trying to generate business. I didn’t want to do full-time with lots of flexibility in my hours and location. Perkins Coie was interested and so off we went.

A Brief Career History 

Chris: Mark, thank you. Let’s dive into your history as General Counsel, starting with your most recent role at MassMutual?

Mark: We’ll go backward beginning from MassMutual. For the last two years, I was the Chief Technology Officer. I had been the General Counsel there for 11 years. And frankly, my belief is that probably five years in a leadership or an executive role is about enough. I had great successors in place, and so I told my boss at the time that it was time for me to retire and that would have been at about age 62. He asked me to head up the Technology Group at MassMutual, and I took that role. So for two years, I was the Chief Technology Officer at MassMutual. Prior to that, I was the General Counsel at MassMutual, but I picked up more responsibilities than just law so I had the legal group,  corporate secretary role, compliance, internal audits, government relations, real estate, the facilities of the aircraft, and so really had most of the administrative functions at MassMutual. Prior to that, I was General Counsel and Secretary of Fisher Scientific in Hampton, New Hampshire, and was there for a very short period of time. But there again, I had the legal function, the corporate secretary function, and compliance function. Prior to that, I was General Counsel at Storage Tech, and there again, was General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, together with government relation activities. Before that, I was a US West where I, again, was General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. In addition, I picked up basically all the administrative functions, but for the CFO function. I had, for example, human resources report to me. So I would say, from my career at US West and onward, my skillset may not necessarily be a strong or good, technical lawyer, but I do know how to think, identify and lead high performing administrative teams.

Leadership is Not Necessarily Innate

Chris: Mark, is it safe to say that you were selected for your leadership strengths, more so than your legal acumen initially, in your career?

Mark: Actually, it’s not safe to say. I started out as a litigator, a trial lawyer, and tried a lot of regulatory cases then got a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Washington.  I understood business and did a lot of litigation for US West in the various regulatory jurisdictions in which they worked. And I was picked by the General Counsel of US West at that time to head up all of the litigation for US West. And I have to be honest with you, I didn’t know much about leadership. I didn’t know much about leading a team, but Charlie Russ was a great mentor. And that’s why I truly believe that leadership is not necessarily innate, and can be learned, can be developed, and can be improved. And that’s one of the reasons I like my role with Perkins Coie because I believe that I can give people pointers on how they can be better leaders, and put together teams that will get significant, positive results for their corporations.

Embrace Self-Realization

Chris: Mark that has to encourage and inspire my listeners that you weren’t an instant leader and that leadership was something learned. Would you share how one learns and develops leadership skills?

Mark: The most important skill you can have is self-realization. You need to accept input, even if you don’t agree with the input, because how you are being perceived is so important, even if you disagree with that perception. Then, you’ve got to react to it, change, and continue to improve. From a leadership perspective, whether it’s law or human resources, the four key things that you really have to focus on are number one, your people. You’re only as good as your people. It’s all about diverse talent and teams. You’re only as good as your people so you’ve got to identify and put in place the best people. The second thing you need to do is focus on really putting together objectives for the organization. What are you going to try to accomplish with these people? There you’ve got to work with the Board of Directors if you’re at that level, or with your CEO and your peers to understand what they’re trying to accomplish from a business perspective. You got to work with your team and with legal or subject matter experts and they will tell you the best ways to get there. You’ve got to meld those two together to create clear objectives for the organization. I’ve always been amused as I’ve gone through my career that if I asked somebody to do good work, in the year, I’d rate them a B because their definition of good work in mind clearly is different. If I ask somebody to do 10 things, I’ve been shocked because I get all 10. Plus, I usually get two more. Being clear on what you expect of the team is absolutely critical. Number three is to help the team get there. So, you provide them the resources and the ability to, frankly, get the job done. And then number four, you’ve got to recognize and reward those that got it done. You give promotions and compensation and you must also have the fortitude to make the changes for those who frankly, are not getting it done.

I am a Raging Introvert 

Chris: Mark, how did you continue to develop your leadership throughout the years? Who helped you?

Mark: Charlie Russ was a great mentor and then, I read a lot. I went to seminars and conferences and I’ve had people that have coached me along the way, both formal and informal. So mentoring and coaching, plus spending time with other general counsels has real value as well. Continue to learn along the way from various people and from self-realization. I am a raging introvert. For me to be comfortable is to be in my office with a closed door. I am more comfortable where I am alone and thinking. So, how do I come across? I come across as cold, non-caring, and as somebody that doesn’t interact well with the team. So, I had to find ways to overcome that, because that was the feedback that I was getting. What I would do was on Fridays, I would stop and load up two trays of doughnuts, and take them into the lunchroom. I put the donuts out, and the whole team would have those donuts. And all of a sudden, Mark’s a nice, caring, good guy. Another thing I did was go down to the cafeteria, get a cup of coffee, and go for a walk. I could have gone back to my office, but I did not allow myself to do that. So I had to finish the coffee before I went to my office. I could either stand in the hall and drink the coffee all by myself, or I could go find people to talk to. These are things you can do to overcome those various perceptions that people have to become a better leader. Listen, listen, listen, get the input from people, accept the input, even if you don’t agree with it, and then modify your behavior as appropriate.

Surround Yourself with Diverse Perspectives 

Chris: Mark, I so appreciate your embracing of self-awareness, you use the word self-realization. This is a gift for my listeners who think that the gift of leadership is something innate that you’re born with. Rather from your story, it’s something that you had to press through, learn, adapt, and grow to be really good at it. This I think should give everyone hope and inspiration.

Mark: And believe me, I made a lot of mistakes along the way. You learn from your mistakes. You pick yourself up and off you go again. There have been many days where I’d go home with the feeling of I can’t believe I did that, or I can’t believe it came out that way. But then, you just pick up and go forward. And by picking up and going forward, it goes back to the point earlier, it’s all about the people you surround yourself with. If you have good people, they’ll tell you what to do. It’s just absolutely critical to surround yourself with very impressive, diverse people. If they all look like you, if they all have the same background as you, you’re going to miss so much. And so I have always wanted my team to be diverse from a gender perspective, from a people of color perspective, and from all other diverse perspectives, including LGBTQ, because all of those individuals are able to give me guidance. Listen, listen, listen, and then go forward.

Chris: Mark, thank you for bringing up diversity. You wrote a leadership piece for the ACC Docket called Leadership Lessons, and you mentioned diverse teams are more productive and get better results. Then you said diversity is a noun, inclusion is the verb. Would you speak more about that?

Mark: First of all, diversity has two aspects to it. You could say there are both the actual numbers or who or what people are, and the inclusion piece is getting the value of that. My belief is the value of diversity and inclusion really has six factors. First of all, if you want to get the best talent and if you want to win, you’ve got to go after everybody. I mean about 56-58% of undergrads now are women, and 50% of the law school grads are women and other diverse groups that continue to be a big piece of the US population. So, if you want the best team, you can’t go after people that all look like just you. You’d be going after less than half the population. In the year 2042, whites are going to be a minority in this country, never to be reversed. So, if you want the best talent, you’ve got to focus on diversity. Number two, think about your clients. Your clients are diverse. If you want your clients to understand you, to feel comfortable working with you, and to think that you really understand their issues, your team has to be diverse. Those first two factors really go to the numerics of diversity, but then you need to have more than that. Because you have to have an inclusive environment, so you can get the value of that diversity. If you listen to the individuals, get their input, and get their thoughts, you will have four more good factors. Number three, you’ll make better decisions. Studies will show up, down, and sideways that you make better decisions when you get diverse input. As a matter of fact, there was an individual that did a study using mock juries, and he basically had non-diverse and diverse mock juries. What was interesting is the diverse mock juries came up with more questions and came up with more ideas. It empirically proves that diverse teams actually make better decisions. Number four, you are more innovative and creative with diversity. If you read Walter Isaacson’s, The Innovators, it’s the combination of the mathematician with the person that reads history that comes up with the more innovative and creative ideas. At the end of the day, you will just be getting better decisions, but also get much more innovation, if you have a diverse team, and listen to all that input. Also, you will have more productivity with a diverse and inclusive team. Why is that? Just think about it, if you come to the office, and you have to hide who you are, or you feel you have to accommodate everybody else, you can’t be your full self. How productive are you going to be in the office place? You’re not going to be productive at all. So frankly, people are more productive. And so, number six, my belief is that diverse and inclusive teams get better results. It’s always worked for me. I ain’t changing. I’ve had a great career, and this has been part of my success. And back to your question, diversity is the noun. Inclusion is the verb, you need both because you need the numerics, but then you need to have an inclusive environment where you get the value and draw upon that diversity.

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What are General Counsel looking for? 

Chris: Mark, please share with my listeners what general counsels look for when adding talent to their team?

Mark: In the in-house environment, look for people that are good thinkers that have good judgment, that are creative, and that are innovative. I do like people that are hard-working, but that doesn’t mean butts in chairs. Be careful on that point. That doesn’t mean you have to be in the office 10-12 hours a day, but it does mean that you’re thinking about your job, and thinking about ways that you can do things better. I like people that are team players. I love the person that wants to work hard, get great results, and wants to win the race, but if you ever try to trip one of your team members, you’re off the team. It’s as simple as that. I just don’t accept that. Those are probably some of the key things that I’m looking for in people. I like people that are ambitious and that want to change the world. Because there are so many ways by being innovative, you can really add a lot of value to the business focus. It’s incredibly valuable when you are in-house to understand your company’s business because then you can use your legal skills to advance the business objectives.

MBAs are Valuable 

Chris: You also mentioned and highly recommended that in-house attorneys should consider getting their MBAs. Can you speak to that?

Mark: I was a math major undergrad and I didn’t know what a balance sheet was. I didn’t know what an income statement was. I went to law school, started as a litigator, and frankly, had no clue about business or how business people talk to one another. I found huge value in getting an MBA at the University of Washington for several reasons. First of all, it gave me the key elements that business leaders talk about. I’m talking about income statements, balance sheets, or the way that businesses operate. So that gave me those skills. But also, I’ve always wondered what else you really pick up in business school, that’s different than law school? It’s interesting, in law school we are taught to identify the issues or problems. In business school, you’re taught to identify and advance the opportunity. And so to have both in your pocket is incredibly valuable. As I sat around the leadership table, with the CEO, and his or her leadership team, I added huge value to the extent I was able to communicate with them about business issues, understand their challenges, and be one of their team.

Train People to Leave

Chris: Mark, I love the topic of how you try to train people to leave, please speak on that.

Mark: Some of the things I’ve read, and I’ve had 16 people that have worked for me that have moved on to become General Counsel. I am a little bit different on this because I believe that when I hire people, they really have three opportunities. And I tell them this during the interview. Number one, they’re going to be incredibly successful and have more opportunities. For example, at MassMutual, they could advance in the law department or advance in the company. And by the way, a lot of the people that work for me in the department ended up with other roles in the company, too. So, that’s one opportunity. The other is that they will have opportunities on the business side. They will be viewed as such good leaders that they will end up being asked to do a role in the business. For example, Pia Flanagan, who worked for me, had enough experience in corporate tax and in the corporate secretary group, she is now the chief of staff to the CEO, Roger Crandall, with MassMutual. She moved out of the legal function to take that role. Dominic Blue, who I hired to head up the corporate function at the time now, is basically doing all the transformation work for MassMutual. So, you have those opportunities outside of law. The third one, my belief is if you are doing such great work, other companies or other entities will say, “Can you do that for me?” When people leave working for me for a better job, I don’t cry. I hold a party. Because they may have been good. But if I have a team where people feel there are opportunities, both within the company, but also better opportunities to be outside the company, they will want to work for me. Somebody may be good, but I may find somebody even better, based upon my view that I train people to leave.

The Hiring Process Should Be Quick

Chris: Mark, let’s talk a little bit about how you do the interview and hiring process. You mentioned in Leadership Lessons that you keep the interview process simple and fast. Please share about that.

Mark: Keep in mind during the interview process, that the interviewees are also considering whether they want to work for you. With that in mind, you want to show that you can make decisions. There’s no reason you ought to have to bring people back more than two times. You ought to be able to make a decision pretty quickly on whether you want them to join the team or not. If you very quickly, after two meetings or less, are able to make a decision, you’re sending a clear message that you want this person, that you can make decisions, and that is important to the individual. You want your interviewers always to be diverse because different people see different perspectives. So we always require that we both have a diverse slate, but also diverse interviewers. Also keep in mind, if you want to make sure to have no more than five interviewers. I’ve gone to companies where I interviewed with 10 people, and it becomes a mess, because, by the time you get too many people in the interview process, you’re going to go into analysis paralysis.

Learning Together

Chris: Mark, you also mentioned learning together is the best form of team building. Would you speak on that as well?

Mark: You can go out and play laser tag or go for drinks. It’s fun after a team event to go out and have a social time, but especially for lawyers who are generally inquisitive and like to learn, learning together is really one of the best ways to team build. So, find learning experiences that would have value to all the lawyers and all the paralegals in the whole department. What would those be? A classic is legal writing. It’s not just legal writing, it’s how to write an email, it’s how to write a note to a CEO, and you can get somebody like Brian Garner to come in and teach the whole group. He’s the Editor in Chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and he does presentations that teach the whole group how to better communicate and write and it’s a great experience to do together. Another one, everybody can negotiate better whether you’re negotiating or buying a new car, you’re negotiating on a contract, or you’re negotiating with another part of the company on who’s going to get resources. You all can learn negotiation skills together. We brought in Professor Craver from George Washington, who would teach the whole organization, and then we practiced negotiation together. The other subject I like learning about is judgment. Some people think judgment is innate, and can’t be taught. I do believe judgment can be practiced. And so we would work together on scenarios, and try to exercise our judgment together, learning how we could make better decisions. So, the team enjoys learning and doing this together. At the end of the day, when it’s all over, you can have refreshments and all chat about it. It really is the best team building and much better than playing laser tag.

People that Come to Win

Chris: Mark, can you explain certain types of people on your team, those that come to win, and others that come to play?

Mark: It’s very interesting because when we all look around, we really do see that. Some people come in to just do the job. They’re there to punch the ticket, and then go home. Other people are always looking for what can be done better, where we can add value, and are coming up with ideas and thoughts totally outside their area of responsibility. Those are the people that are looking to win, as compared to just play the game. And that’s why I put so much value in input from individuals outside their area of expertise. As the general counsel sitting on the leadership team, this adds incredible value, because you often don’t have any dog in the fight. And if in fact, you have a team that’s working together and listening to one another, you are getting all those different inputs. There is incredible value in input from others whether you are remodeling your house, and asking your painter for the ideas on where the furniture ought to be, or whether you are looking at potentially entering a new line of business, and you’re asking the CFO, what he or she thinks. You want to draw upon them because it creates a winning environment. By the way, people like to win. People like to be winners. When you are getting great results, getting things done, and part of a winning team, people are happy and having fun together.

You Can’t Pay Me Enough

Chris: Mark, let’s shift to compensation, promotion, and rewarding. You mention when people complain that there’s something that might be more underlying as an issue. Can you speak to that, please?

Mark: First of all, my core belief about compensation is to treat your people fairly. It is just awful if somebody comes in with an offer from another company and leaves because they are not being compensated well enough. You never want to chase that person. Bottom line, if you are treating them fairly, then they were compensated fairly. What you ought to do is shake their hand and wish them the very best. Often, you will find, and I have been in charge of HR, that HR departments will view part of their job as being as cost-efficient as possible. Or to be cheap on compensation. I don’t believe in that. I believe in treating people fairly, compensating them well so that they feel good about their job and feel good about their compensation. But to your question, when people come in and say I’m not being paid well enough, always listen. They may have data points that you don’t have, and you may not be treating them unfairly, but often they are telling you something else. They’re saying, “You can’t pay me enough to do this job.” And so you want to understand what that underlying issue is, and then try to address that. Again, I’m a true believer in really rewarding people and rewarding people handsomely. If you’re asking people to do a lot, you have got to reward them, and you also have to give them the tools to do a lot. Two other areas you don’t want to go cheap on are technology and education. My belief is if you’re asking people to do a lot, you never skimp on technology, you never skimp on training, and you never skimp on compensation.

Board Advice 

Chris: Mark, two questions about boards. First, how can attorneys serve on more boards? Number two, what’s your advice for in-house counsel as they relate to boards inside their company?

Mark: First of all, you will generally find it’s hard as a lawyer, a practicing lawyer, to be on a board. Spencer Stewart does a study every year on board composition, and generally, not that many lawyers are on boards, unless the lawyer has a different skill set. For example, Marc Racicot was on our board at MassMutual. He was a former governor and the state attorney for Montana, and he was somebody who was involved in public policy issues. We also have Patricia Diaz Dennis, who was formerly one of the commissioners of the Department of Labor. As a lawyer, if you want to be on a board, your experience should be more expansive than just a legal role. That’s something to focus on if in fact, you want to be on board. As far as interacting with boards, at the end of the day you want to really develop relationships of trust and respect. You don’t want to be just doing the legal work, but you want to be communicating with the board, spending time with the board, and you want to understand their concerns. Before a board meeting, we would have pre-meetings. And often I’d even go out to where the board member was to sit down with them and go through their thoughts about the materials, their thoughts about what we could do better from a governance perspective. So, spend time with your board members. Don’t just be reactive, but spend time with them. And to the extent they’re active CEOs or active executives, a great thing would be to get to know their general counsels. One classic example, one of our board members was the Chair and CEO of PPG. I spent time with the General Counsel there and found out exactly what Ray LeBoeuf liked and disliked about how he got his board materials. So, I think you want to spend time understanding your board members, understanding their concerns, spending time with them, and always getting their input on ways you can do things better.

Adding Value to Your Team

Chris: Mark, in Leadership Lessons you mentioned that the best path to personal success is giving, not taking. Would you provide some practical examples?

Mark: First of all, look at how you spend your time. Are you spending your time just doing legal work, which is good, or are you spending time adding value to other individuals and helping them grow and develop? Back to my point of accepting ideas everywhere, some of my best ideas I get from the people I mentor. You want to be mentoring individuals, sponsoring individuals, and writing for other people. On a side note, one of the best ways to learn is to write. Because at the end of the day, if you’re telling other people you ought to do it this way, you probably ought to know how to do it. And I often find as I’m writing, I realize I’m not doing it myself, even though I’m telling everyone else to do it. So then I have to go do it. So, whether it’s teaching other people, as a speaker, as a writer, as a mentor, or as a sponsor, this adds tremendous value to you personally. At the end of the day, what is so interesting is that all the great results belong to the team. All the bad results belong to you. People aren’t stupid. They know if you’ve put together a great team and that when you’re recognizing the team’s great results that you are clearly a significant part of it. So give all the recognition to them, and give all the great results to them publicly. It’s the right thing to do but also makes it better for you.

Career Advice for Those Stuck  

Chris: Mark, what’s your advice for in-house attorneys who feel stuck? Or they’re in a very flat organization, and they’re wanting to continue in their career?

Mark: Well, as I mentioned earlier, there are three ways to look at it. You can always progress within your legal department. Another is there are often opportunities on the business side. How do you get those opportunities? First of all, you’ve got to be a good partner with your business leaders so they realize that you are more than a lawyer. This would happen, where I get called into one of the executive’s offices and they would say, “Mark, I have this legal issue, and I need your help.” We go through the facts, and they tell me all about it. I’m thinking that they do have an issue, but it ain’t a legal issue. But they’re asking me for my help because I’m a good thinker and a good problem solver. When we, as attorneys, get that reputation, we will have opportunities. The third is looking outside the business at other opportunities. I’m a true believer that you always ought to be looking to see what’s out there for a couple of reasons. Number one, you might find something better that you want to do. As I say, train people to leave for a better opportunity. The other thing is, as you look around for what’s out there, you may say, “What I have I may not like that much, but it’s a lot better than what’s out there right now.” Those are three areas to think about. And so for the other two, you really want to get out there. Whether you’re speaking, writing, communicating with other general counsels, communicating with other people in other environments, or communicating with people in other business events. Don’t just go to the office, when normal life resumes, and don’t just work with your entity. Get out in the broader legal or business community, because that’s where opportunities will pop up because people will know and respect you.

What Do Lawyers Bring Now

Chris: Mark, how is the emergence of new legal service providers affecting general counsels, in your opinion?

Mark: It’s an area of opportunity. We always ought to be looking at how we can do things more efficiently and effectively. What used to be the value of a lawyer and/or an in-house lawyer has changed dramatically over the last 5, 10, 15 years. When I started out practicing law, one of the values I had was the knowledge that I carried around in all these form files that I had developed through my various activities. I had all this knowledge carried in my pocket that added value. Now, knowledge is almost free for everybody. So, what skills do lawyers bring anymore? It needs to be more than, “Gee, I wrote a brief like that two months ago, and I can write another one for you.” It’s a whole change of skill set, where I would say that the key knowledge is not as important. IQ isn’t as important as EQ, or emotional intelligence, where you can communicate with people, you can understand their issues, and you can work with them. So, what do lawyers really bring anymore? They bring judgment, they bring emotional intelligence, and they bring that teamwork together. And how do they best do it from an in-house perspective? I don’t care if a lawyer is doing the function, a paraprofessional is doing the function, a contract specialist is doing the function, or the computer is doing the function. Because at the end of the day, it actually raises the job when we all add the greatest value, which I would say is through that teamwork with the business, and also the good judgment we bring on decisions.

In-House & Outside Counsel Trends 

Chris: Mark, would you name any specific outside legal service providers that have caught your attention?

Mark: You know, there aren’t any specific names that jump to mind because there are so many out there. There are various niches I find interesting like the potential use of artificial intelligence in the contracting space. You can review contracts and even write contracts and they get better and better through artificial intelligence. I do find that some of the work that can be done by using people as needed as compared to staffing up all the time is a dramatic change. And there are several law firms out there that are doing that. We tried for a while, although it wasn’t all that successful, to outsource some of our work to India. We would have people do some of the legal research for us, in India, because it’s a common law area. And so there are various areas where service providers and outsourcing can prove useful. This means the job of the in-house attorney is much more exciting because you’re not only providing the legal services to your client, but you’re also trying to think about what is the best way to do it.

Chris: What advice would you give other general counsel and lessons you’ve learned from managing outside counsel?

Mark: Well, first of all, I’m a true believer that you need both in-house and outside counsel. The in-house rule has gone through three evolutions. If you go back 20 years, you would see maybe one general counsel, that might have been the corporate secretary too and everything was outsourced. That was the way law was practiced. Then, the big law firms started to grow and develop. The next phase was the in-house group saying, “Hey, we’re spending a lot of money on this,” and they created in-house law firms. I was a part of one of those when I first was at US West, where we tried to offer almost all legal services to our clients, as compared to using law firms. The third phase, which I believe we are still in and hope to stay in, is where you draw upon the skills of both in-house attorneys and the skills and expertise of outside attorneys. In-house attorneys know their company’s business, know their company strategy, and know what they’re trying to accomplish which is a huge skill set. External attorneys have multiple clients and they’re doing certain legal work for certain legal areas, whether it’s dealing with 409A or a particular type of M&A transaction. And they’re not doing it for just one client, but they have perspective across multiple clients, so they have better expertise. The technical issues of how to put the two teams or two groups together is a skill set that you need to have as an in-house attorney. You alone aren’t going to be able to do it all, outside counsel can’t do it all, and you’ve got to do it very much as a team. So I’m a huge believer in putting a team together of in-house attorneys and outside attorneys that work together to get the best results. Don’t turn the matter over to the outside attorney with a bow on it and expect it to come back with another bow on it. You’ve got to be working together as a team while you’re adding value from the in-house perspective. And the outside attorneys are adding their value from an outside perspective. By the way, one of the important skill sets an in-house attorney has is to be able to identify what outside attorneys you need, when you need them. Also, to understand what sort of arrangements, whether it be billing arrangements or other arrangements through which you retain them.

The CEO of Our Home 

Chris: Mark, I understand you’ve been married for 30 years, is that correct?

Mark: Married for 30 years as of last week. I am a very lucky guy. I got married late in life as did my wife. So, only marriage for both of us, and no children. We’ve wandered both corporate America, we wandered the country together, and now have decided that we want to live our life in Vail, Colorado. And so we’re going through a remodel there, and that’s going to be our primary residence.

Chris: Are you both retired?

Mark: Yes, we are. She was a bookkeeper, when I first met her in Seattle, Washington, and working for a law firm. And then she evolved to become the CEO of the home. She ran the home front and I ran the corporate front. Her job was just as important, if not more important than mine because if she wasn’t doing what she was doing, I couldn’t be doing what I was doing. And if I wasn’t doing what I was doing, she couldn’t be doing what she was doing. It’s very much a team, and together, it’s been our success, not my success.

Chris: You had mentioned that picking your spouse is a very, very important decision to make. Would you speak to that?

Mark: It’s probably one of the most important decisions that we make, maybe the most important decision we make. Obviously, as you hire people, you can’t be asking these personal questions or be talking about spouses. But I do think that an individual that shows stability on the home front, probably has good judgment and is somebody that can make very good decisions. 

History & Biographies

Chris: Mark, would you share with my readers recommended books or material that you think would be useful for them?

Mark: Most executives focus on business books. These books are being written by people that, frankly, have never done it. They’re telling you how to do it, but they’ve never done it. And you always ought to be scratching your head on that one. At least the business books that are written by Jack Welch or others are by people who have done it and you’re getting that perspective. So I’m sure I read those books because you almost have to read Good to Great or How Google Works. But I think the best way to learn leadership is to learn it from those who have done it. So, I’m a huge believer in histories and biographies. George Santayana said, “Those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” So I think there’s huge value in studying history and biographies. Because whether it was a bad person like Hitler, Mao, or Stalin, or whether it was a good person like Martin Luther King Jr. or Franklin Roosevelt, you can learn from all of them. You can learn from the good people and what they’ve done, and you’re also able to learn from the bad people the things that you never should do. So, I spend a lot of time with biographies and histories.

Surround Yourself with Incredible People 

Chris: Last question, Mark, and it’s a two-part question. The first part, what are your superpowers?

Mark: I’d say I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with individuals that have made me, made the team, and made the organization incredibly successful. It’s all about people in teams. And I’ve been fortunate, or maybe it is one of my skill sets, to find myself surrounded by really good people. I’m not the smartest guy in the book. I really am not. Back to the point earlier, you want to be a good leader, you can learn how to be a good leader, and you can surround yourself with good people. And frankly, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you have a weak team. At the end of the day, it’s all about the team.

Chris: Mark, the second part of the question, and this can be serious or even more playful. What is your kryptonite?

Mark: So, kryptonite, is that what I reach out or what energizes me? 

Chris: More like a guilty pleasure, you could also share.

Mark: I just love to be outside and doing things. I started the morning today digging out the cover over the septic tank and I like to do that sort of thing. Before we got to it, I had to go through the deck, which meant I had to get the power tools out and go through the wood. So I have to fix the deck after I finish talking to you. So, my guilty pleasure is just being outside. It could be exercising, working out, or working with my hands but it’s doing things that get me thinking about issues other than law. 

Chris: Mark. It’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for your time today.

Mark: Great. I enjoyed it. And again, I hope that any of your listeners will feel free to reach out to me to ask for my thoughts, advice, or comments. I’m doing this at Perkins Coie now, and I really like to work with general counsels and their leadership team. I hope I have an opportunity to work with some of your listeners.

Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.

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