A Path to General Counsel: Trials & Lessons Learned | Lisa Ann Cooney

Episode 15 | February 17, 2023

00:00:00 00:00:00
Show Notes

Tim Haley and guest host Michelle Culligan speak with Lisa Ann Cooney, Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and Corporate Secretary at Day & Zimmermann, listed by Forbes as one of America’s Largest Private Companies. For Lisa, leadership and business are personal, and she shares the lessons she’s learned about advocating for herself and her career goals, inviting and responding to constructive criticism, adapting leadership styles to varying situations, and giving back through coaching and mentoring.


Lisa Ann Cooney 00:00

You know how they always said that phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s business?” Actually, if I had a tagline, I would say the opposite. I think that leadership and business is personal. If you treat people the way you want to be treated, you leave such a mark on people that they’re loyal and they want to stay and they want to do a good job, and they want to be productive.

Candice Reed 00:23

This is Leveraging Latitude: Cultivating a Full Life in the Law, and we are your hosts, Candice Reed.

Tim Haley 00:30

And Tim Haley.

Candice Reed 00:31

Please join us on our journey as we discover how to leverage the hard work of becoming a lawyer to achieving success and leading a rich and fulfilling life in the law.

Tim Haley 00:46

Hi everybody, this is Tim Haley. Hey, Candice, how are you doing?

Michelle Culligan 00:51

Actually, it’s Michelle, Tim. I am Candice’s stunt double today.

Tim Haley 00:55

Stunt double? Yeah, you don’t sound like Candice, this is a new voice. Well, Michelle, what brings you here today?

Michelle Culligan 01:04

Well, I have a wonderful star in the general counsel world who I’d like to introduce and to bring into this. But honestly, I just wanted the chance to see how Candice lives and figure out how to do this whole podcast thing. I’m going to admit I’m a rookie, but excited to be a part of this.

Tim Haley 01:24

Well, Candice is going to have a run for her money, I think, because you’ll find it’s a lot easier than it looks, especially when-

Michelle Culligan 01:30

That’s not what she said. She said it’s really hard, other than to keep Tim on track.

Tim Haley 01:35

That’s right.

Michelle Culligan 01:40

That’s our thing. If I do anything today, keep Tim on track.

Tim Haley 01:40

Well, good luck with that. We do have a magician in Sergio, our producer, who will make us sound brilliant and that should be good. So Michelle, tell us about yourself.

Michelle Culligan 01:48

Well, I am the partner, I’m the Tim in Minneapolis, so I run the Minneapolis market for Latitude. I joined a year ago, started in January of 2022, and love being a part of the company. My background was many years in private practice and then I have been a general counsel with also some businesses on the side. So kind of bring a full perspective. And yeah, I have really enjoyed being able to provide another platform for lawyers. And like I said, just trying to be Candice Junior.

Tim Haley 02:21

So Latitude Indy, Latitude Minneapolis. Latitude Midwest is taking over. We’re going to get Carol from St. Louis here and we’ll just have a full takeover of the podcast.

Michelle Culligan 02:31

I think that’s a great idea. I mean, again, sorry, Candice, but I think it’s a great idea.

Tim Haley 02:37

Well, Michelle, I look forward to showing you the ropes here and we’ll have some fun. So let’s get into our first guest.

Michelle Culligan 02:45

Yes. And again, thanks for letting me be a part of this and I’m really excited to introduce Lisa. Lisa is senior vice president and general counsel and the corporate secretary for Day & Zimmerman. And what’s impressive about Lisa, she’s the first female GC in her company’s 120-year history. And the company was founded in 1901, it’s a family-owned company, but it’s a huge company with a workforce of over 51,000 and they specialize in construction and engineering, staffing and defense solutions for leading corporations and governments around the world. They operate from over 150 worldwide locations with 2.7 billion in revenue, and they’re currently ranked as one of the largest private companies in the US. Lisa is also the chair of the Ethics and Compliance Committee. She’s a designated senior official for the company’s insider threat program, and she’s a member of their nine person leadership council.

Michelle Culligan 03:37

So Lisa plays a very large role in the C-suite for this company. She has a team of over 30 that she leads and manages in the law department, and Lisa’s also an advocate for diversity and inclusion and is executive sponsor of the company’s LGBT+ Allies Employee Resource Group. So really a full plate, an amazing person, but even more impressive is that Lisa’s a wonderful business person, so she’s been able to blend the legal side and the business, and just excited for everyone to meet her.

Tim Haley 04:08

That’s fantastic. Now, Michelle?

Michelle Culligan 04:10


Tim Haley 04:11

I don’t know that you’ve pulled your weight here because I feel like Lisa’s just a legal all-star, not a legal mega all-star. I’m kidding, of course. This is amazing. Lisa, welcome to Leveraging Latitude.

Lisa Ann Cooney 04:31

Hi everyone. Thanks for having me.

Tim Haley 04:33

This is exciting. I’m trying to remember if we’ve had a general counsel before. I know we haven’t had anybody that’s in charge of as much as what you have on your plate, at least not that I can remember. So I’m excited just to hear about your job and what makes you tick and what your passions are. To get us kicked off, Lisa, I’m wondering if you could tell us your career arc. I mean, this is a podcast for lawyers, so most of our audience is lawyers, and we all sat at the same stage in law school and got our law degree and went to the bar and then everybody went different ways. And the most fascinating thing to me is to hear everyone’s story. So what got you to where you are today?

Lisa Ann Cooney 05:13

Well, if I had to do one word, I’d say work ethic. But the longer version to that answer is born and raised in New Jersey, middle class family. Unfortunately, right when I was hitting junior or senior year in high school, my dad kind of lost everything. And sheriff’s sale, foreclosure, pretty traumatic. And I had aspirations. I went to Catholic school and I wanted to go to Villanova because that’s where everyone was going. But instead I went to Rutgers, our state school, because they offered me money. And then I went to Rutgers Law School because I was on my own since I was 17 and I was getting another scholarship. And so I graduated, a great state education, did well in law school such that I could go big firm when I got out, and was big firm for 13 years, and then went in-house to Day & Zimmermann and have been there ever since.

Tim Haley 06:16

That’s amazing. That’s great.

Lisa Ann Cooney 06:17

Yeah, it’s funny. But going back to the work ethic, always a little bit of a chip on my shoulder from the blue collar background when I’m surrounded by the Harvard… The big firm, everyone went to Harvard and Yale, and I’m like, “Rutgers!” But I think that always made me work harder and distinguish myself, and the same applied once I went in-house.

Tim Haley 06:39

That’s great. So Michelle gave us a little bit overview of Day & Zimmermann. You’re obviously a lot closer to the ground, but what is Day & Zimmermann, what do they do, and what’s your role in the company, in your own words?

Lisa Ann Cooney 06:53

Day & Zimmermann is one of the largest closely held or privately-owned companies in the United States, and has been for years and years and years. And setting aside the legal entity or the legal entity chart, there really are four businesses. Two are government businesses and two are commercial businesses. There is overlap in them, but they are separate on purpose for diversification. So the two government businesses deal with government clients. We do architect, engineering, we provide protective services, we build embassies. You name it, we’re in the government services business. And then on the commercial side, we have really different businesses. We have a staffing company that’s been around forever, specializing in mostly IT kind of white collar professionals. And then we have a construction, maintenance, and design business that targets different sectors, but including the nuclear industry, the fossil fuel industry, solar industry. So we do a lot. The scope of the company is quite large.

Tim Haley 08:04

So you started, if I’m remembering, in 2007?

Lisa Ann Cooney 08:08

2007, yes.

Tim Haley 08:09

2007, Day & Zimmermann, architecture, engineering, protective services, construction. These are traditionally, going back 20 years at least, about the time you were starting, entirely dominated by men in the industry. And you stepped in and you were the first ever female GC, is that right?

Lisa Ann Cooney 08:28

Yes. I became GC when I… Strike that, when I joined the company in 2007… See, this is my litigation background talking.

Tim Haley 08:35

Yeah, that’s right.

Lisa Ann Cooney 08:37

I was a natural fit. I was essentially the divisional general counsel for the staffing company. And my area of expertise is labor and employment law. I was in labor employment and a litigator and counselor. And so that was a really natural fit if you think about staffing, because staffing firms, their product isn’t a widget or a gadget, it’s people. And so when you are supplying people to your client, there’s a lot of employment law that goes with it. So it was a natural fit there. The other three businesses are, as you said, Tim, really male-dominated. And that’s not Day & Zimmermann’s fault, that’s just a lot of societal issues. If you think about government services, that’s a lot of former military that then leave the military, join a company, work in the private sector, so on and so forth. I also, in my role then was also kind of labor and employment lawyer for all four businesses. So a simple single plaintiff discrimination case I didn’t necessarily handle, but the labor and employment proactive advice to prevent lawsuits, if there were big class actions, complex cases, I would get involved. And through that I got to learn and prove myself to the other businesses.

Tim Haley 09:56

Oh, that’s great. Is that still true that those are male-dominated industries today?

Lisa Ann Cooney 10:00

Yes. They’re getting better, but yes. And as more and more companies recognize that there is such a business case for diversity and inclusion, a lot of time is spent on thinking about different ways to bring in diverse. I mean, I’ll give you an example. One of our businesses, the commercial side, the maintenance and construction, they partner with unions, trade schools, to fund diverse candidates to go to school. Instead of going to college, hey, come learn a trade, get in the building trades. And so to increase diversity, not just women, but minorities, disabled, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, it’s still… But there’s a ways to go.

Michelle Culligan 10:47

Actually, Lisa, I’d love to hear a little bit of your story on… Because obviously you started in ’07, you’re running a division, but just the steps and challenges, but also the benefits of mentoring and how that helped you progress through. Because obviously, while you started there, you’ve now achieved the top seat. I guess it’s always interesting to hear how that happened and what some of your challenges were, but also the benefits you had from those ahead of you.

Lisa Ann Cooney 11:16

I think that once I got there, I spent the first several years proving myself in my core role. And I don’t know what it’s like at other companies. They may be more siloed than Day & Zimmermann is, but we have a very entrepreneurial culture. So if you’re good, you can take on more and different assignments, which really benefited me because I came in as a straight labor and employment litigator background, not M&A, for example. And the company was and is terrific. They saw something in me. So for example, I took on more and more M&A work. Started with due diligence, running due diligence projects for an acquisition and then continued and continued. The company sent me for many MBA classes so I could understand profit and loss statements and cash balance, and concepts that as a lawyer you’re not taught, but you really do need once in-house to really understand the business.

Lisa Ann Cooney 12:19

If you don’t understand the business, you can’t be a good lawyer to the business. I think what gets you in-house is that you have an area of expertise that the company wants, but then once you are there, take on more and more work that’s different, that shows that you can be, one, a good corporate citizen, two, a teacher, coach and mentor, whether that’s looking down to more junior peoples, to peers and, three, a leader in the organization. If you reach certain levels in the organization, you’re not just a lawyer, you’re a leader. My CEO really stresses that and encourages that with me. And all of us, frankly. I mean, I remember when I first joined the leadership council, he said, “Great, you’re a lawyer, but you’re also, you have a seat at the table as a leader of this organization. Tell us what you think.”

Tim Haley 13:16

Lisa, what does that mean to you, to be a leader? And where I’m trying to steer you a little bit, this is a leading question, so when you object, it’s totally leading. But where I’m trying to steer you is you mentioned the company did this for you and the company did that for you. Well, the company’s a legal entity and it has no feelings or heart or anything. But what you’re really talking about are the people within the company and the culture that they create. What I’m curious to learn about your experience at Day & Zimmermann is now that you’ve been elevated to this status, how do you pass that culture down, and what does that mean to you in terms of your day-to-day interpersonal relationships with your coworkers?

Lisa Ann Cooney 13:56

Well, you know how they always said that phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s business”? Actually, if I had a tagline, I would say the opposite. I think that leadership and business is personal. And it’s so apparent to me that if you treat people the way you want to be treated, you leave such a mark on people that they’re loyal and they want to stay and they want to do a good job and then they want to be productive. So I benefited from that. I had mentors that treated me with kindness, but also gave me constructive criticism, had frank conversations with me, would allow me to come and vent, like walk in, make the time, not, “Hey, make an appointment.” And I try to do that too and give back too. “Is this an off the record conversation?” “Yes. Need a little… Sure, come on in.” Right? And so there’s a lot of time spent doing that. And that’s okay, that’s what it should be.

Tim Haley 14:56

That is business, you’re right. Absolutely.

Lisa Ann Cooney 14:58

So personal. Business is so personal when you’re leading a team, without a doubt.

Michelle Culligan 15:02

And not necessarily skills that are always taught in law school, but that can be so incredibly important for your career, and for the ability to, like you said, constructive criticism and to really work through with those you are leading. Especially on the women’s side of things. Sometimes there are things that can be more complicated or the path might be a little more difficult, but also sometimes there just needs to be that constructive discussion on how to maneuver. And I think you clearly have those skills. So it’d be interesting to hear any stories from that or any… We all have the stories, but if there’s anything that really sticks out.

Lisa Ann Cooney 15:42

Yeah, I mean, you said it’s almost like a two-part question, again.

Tim Haley 15:45


Lisa Ann Cooney 15:48

…My litigation skills.

Tim Haley 15:49

I’m a transactional one, so you’ll have to excuse me.

Lisa Ann Cooney 15:51

That was the two-part question. Let me take the first part. In terms of the skill, you said it best. They don’t teach you this in law school. I don’t think they teach you this in your MBA classes. I think that what makes people successful, first of all, you have to be a good lawyer or a good accountant. But you have to have, I think, managerial courage. And for managerial courage, I’ve always had that. I’ve always been allergic to bullies. I’m the one that speaks up, and says it professionally, says it with humor, but you have to have managerial courage. You have to have empathy. We talked about that a little bit. And you have to teach, coach, and mentor. Like I said, someone did it for you, make the time. They don’t teach us that in law school. And I don’t know where I got it. A lot of it’s natural. A lot of though came from people who mentored me. I saw what was done for me and you want to be able to give back.

Tim Haley 16:54

Let’s talk about that too. Who are your mentors, your teachers, your coaches?

Lisa Ann Cooney 16:59

I had two mentors in the practice of law when I was in big firm. One, a male, he was the head of the department, a gentleman named Steve Wall. He’s a big-wig at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. He taught me how to be a really good lawyer. He was intimidating, but he cared. I mean, if you asked questions, “Why are we doing this? I don’t understand,” he would answer. He didn’t kick you out of your office, he would spend the time. So once you got kind of past that wall, you’re like, “All right, I drafted this, but I really don’t understand this, this or this.” And he would teach you about strategy.

Lisa Ann Cooney 17:37

I also had a female lawyer at Morgan Lewis when I was very young. Her name is Jill Jachera. And she’s the one that really said to me, you need to advocate for yourself because no one else is going to do it. And she told me a story, my first or second review at a law firm, and I never forgot it, and have used that in different variations throughout my career. She said that someone told her this. She said, “Men go into their annual review and they’re told, ‘Oh, Tim, you got, if it’s a scale of one to five, you got a four.'” And nobody ever gets a five, right? “‘You got a four and here’s your bonus.’ Tim as the male is going to go, ‘Why didn’t I get a five?'” And again, say it professionally, say it this, say it that. But essentially send the message, okay, what do I need to do next year to get a five? Because I’m not happy with this. In contrast, women get a four and they go, “Oh, thank you very much.” And they take the bonus handed to them and they don’t ask questions like, “Was this the biggest bonus of all the associates? Did I get the biggest bonus? Who got a bonus ahead of me?” And we’re generalizing here, but when Jill told me that story, my reaction was, “well, I don’t do any of that.” And so I put that in practice year after year. And again, not confrontational, although I can be, as you get more confident, but certainly back then it was, “Oh, thank you for my review. Next year I want it to be higher. What are the two or three things that I should work on? Because for me, I want to keep moving forward. What are the two things, three things that I should be working on? Because I want to make partner.” Saying it out loud, as a third year, a first year, “I want to be a partner here one day, what should I be working on?” And so you’re inviting constructive criticism. Again, we’re generalizing. That wasn’t something that I would’ve done until a mentor told me, “you should do this.”

Michelle Culligan 19:39

That’s very true. And that’s great advice. I had a similar… Was it luck of the draw? I don’t know. But I had a wonderful mentor when I first started practicing, and never questioned when I would have things I needed to talk about. But I agree, that’s a great way to phrase it. It’s a good thing to continue to teach younger lawyers. But there’s also that balance. I mean, when you say going forward, but there’s a style and a balance, and I feel like you have a definite style of management and leadership that has benefited those working with you. How would you describe your style?

Lisa Ann Cooney 20:15

Well, it’s interesting, and this goes to the second part of your question. So my natural style is to be direct, and concise and direct. And who knows where I got it from, again. And my constructive criticism that I have, and I’ve gotten better and then I get worse, and I know this, is that I can be impatient. So that’s where I’m getting direct. And so that leads me to my third mentor who was the former general counsel at Day & Zimmermann, for whom I worked 13 years before he retired. And his name is Bill Hamm. And he was and is so wonderful to me. And he is the exact opposite of me. He’s so polished, Harvard Law grad, 6’5″. And this man just took a shining to me. And he doesn’t like conflict. I like conflict. And through the years, though, he basically said, “You have to learn to soften your edges. You have to learn to soften your edges,” and which I did. And so that directness is a tool in the toolbox, but you have to have other tools in your toolbox, because you have to know your audience. So sometimes you don’t want to come across intimidating. Sometimes you do. Sometimes if you know that someone doesn’t like conflict, being direct is going to make them blush and shut down. So I had to soften that style. And I still struggle with it. My default is to go into directness and I have no poker face. So my default, if I’m going into a certain meeting, put your game face on because you don’t want to alienate the people with whom you work. So did I answer your question? I might’ve been babbling.

Michelle Culligan 22:11

Yeah. No, that’s great. And appreciate that. I guess, in learning how to bring more tools in your toolbox, did you have other resources? Did your company provide you with resources? How did you round out that and make sure that you had the other tools in an effective way?

Lisa Ann Cooney 22:31

So, again, my company has always really supported me, so this is a two-part answer again. I feel like I’m setting it up for… I might be babbling, so keep me on track. But it goes back to how we talked about how to maneuver. And ultimately, I asked for a coach, an executive coach.

Tim Haley 22:54

You did this at Day & Zimmermann?

Lisa Ann Cooney 22:57

Yeah. And if we go back maybe, I don’t know, I want to say maybe it’s close to 10 years before my boss retired. It goes back to this concept of advocating for yourself. I, in a review, I said, “Bill, when you retire, I want to be considered for your job. I think I can do it.” And I just put my cards on the table. That’s a lot, right?

Tim Haley 23:21

That’s big.

Lisa Ann Cooney 23:21

In a way. And I had that relationship with him. No promises. But, “Bill, when you retire, I want to throw my hat in the ring to be considered. What should I start thinking about now?” And so that led the discussion where he could give me constructive criticism about rounding my edges, taking on different areas of law, being a leader. So you’re kind of going check, check, check, check. And then, though, this idea about softening your edges, as the years went on, you’d hear that a little bit. And so this is for all the young women out there. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but sometimes on any given day, if I was in a bad mood and I was told, “You can be a little too direct. You can intimidate people.” And I’d sit, and I’m in a mood, and I’m going, “Betcha you wouldn’t say that to Mr. Smith whose hard-line, cursing in meetings, banging his fists on the table to get it done.” And I often had those thoughts. So basically, am I a bitch? Is what we’re saying? I can be a bitch. But am I going to fester on that thought or am I going to turn around and say, some of that is true. I know that to be true. My personal life, my husband or my sister or my friends are like, “Calm down. You can be a little too intense.” So it’s not untrue. It’s just would they say that to a man? Maybe, maybe not.

Lisa Ann Cooney 24:47

So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to complain or are you going to do something about it? So I did something about it instead. So I didn’t file a complaint and say, unconscious bias, no. I was like, it’s probably true. I can work on this. And I did. And I then said, “Can I have a coach? Can I have an executive coach?” And the company said, “Yeah, we’ll pay for an executive coach for you.” And so I had a great coach for a year, and I mean, she was awesome. And I think she gave me some really good tools. Again, I always use that. I think, is this is a metaphor or an analogy? I mix it up. But the tool in the toolbox, pulling out different tools. And she was awesome. And I don’t think I would be the general counsel without having had an executive coach. And I went in and asked for it myself, though. “I think that you guys should pay for me to have an executive coach. Here’s why.” And they did.

Tim Haley 25:44

That’s great. I think it’s a metaphor the way you used it there.

Lisa Ann Cooney 25:46

Is it a metaphor?

Tim Haley 25:47

I think so. I don’t know. It’s been a long time since ninth grade English. But one of the things that struck me while you were talking, and you’ve said it a couple times, opening yourself up to constructive criticism. That is, at its base, yes, productive, but it’s still criticism. And I think a lot of people struggle with opening themselves up to any kind of criticism at all. It takes a great deal of self-awareness, but also a great deal of humility to be willing to hear something that maybe you don’t want to hear. Was that a process for you or is that something that came naturally?

Lisa Ann Cooney 26:24

An absolute process. I mean, I’m in my fifties. So I started practicing law, I think I got out of school at 26, so really started practicing late twenties, early thirties. And if anyone gave me constructive feedback, except for the senior partners when they did it in a way of, “This was good, but, let’s make it better,” I was okay with that. But generally speaking, it was really hard for me because I’m such a perfectionist that my head would automatically go to, “I’m failing, I’m not doing this right.” And so that hamster wheel would spin around in my head of, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I made a mistake, I made a mistake. And that was just substantively, in terms of how to be a good lawyer, how to write a good brief, how to do an oral argument, how to take a deposition. But if it came to soft skills, I don’t know that people did it back then.

Lisa Ann Cooney 27:24

I can’t actually recall in a business setting getting that constructive feedback until much later in my career. But I’ll tell you, if that was given to me then I would’ve been defensive. Absolutely would’ve been defensive. And I look back and I go, what mistakes? Where I alienated relationships, or…I saw things as very black and white. What a mistake. Never burn a bridge. And I did, I burned bridges, I think, in times over my life. It was only when I came to this company. Now again, I was here 15 years. This company is very into learning and professional development. And it was absolutely tough, because having a coach meant that you do 360 reviews from all people in the organization. And it’s anonymous, and they tell you what you’re good at, and they tell you what it’s like to sometimes be working with you. And you have to sit and you look at it and you want to get defensive, or you might want to cry in private, but deep down inside, they’re pretty accurate. And you go, okay, okay, so how do I make this better?

Lisa Ann Cooney 28:34

It is absolutely a process. It’s a long-winded way of saying, yes, that’s absolutely a process. And if you’re not open to constructive criticism, you’ll never get better and I don’t think you’ll be a leader.

Tim Haley 28:43

Yeah, okay. That’s great. And I mean, the follow-up question is, okay, how do you prepare somebody, especially somebody starting out, to go through that journey? And it is a journey, but it’s something you necessarily have to do by yourself. And I’m thinking back in my own career, and I could’ve given that exact same answer. And I’m sure Michelle could’ve given that exact same answer too.

Lisa Ann Cooney 29:04

And even in your personal life, right?

Tim Haley 29:06

Right. Oh, totally. Yeah. Let’s not go there.

Lisa Ann Cooney 29:06

Lot of mistakes, right? Yeah.

Michelle Culligan 29:12

Well, that’s the beauty and the benefit of hindsight. And so to your point, Tim, out of the thirty you manage, do you have different processes or is it more ad hoc when you provide the mentoring that you do and leading people? And then there’s a lot of things that newer lawyers, younger, mid-level lawyers have to fit in. They have to be good lawyers. They’re trying to balance workflow. They need to understand the business. And then you try to add in overall wellbeing and benefit them. That’s a lot to try to accomplish for them, but also for you to manage and lead. Do you give them, “Here are the top three things I need from you,” or do you have a process that you use to help them in their journey?

Lisa Ann Cooney 30:02

Well, we don’t have very, very junior lawyers because we’re a company. So if we’re bringing someone in-house, we want at least seven years experience. So they’ve been through that initial wringer of the shock of what it’s like when you first start practicing law. But that said, we really believe in, or I really believe in scheduled one-on-ones and scheduled team meetings. So you’ll have team meetings with the group, but then you one-on-ones where you’ll follow up and you give real-time feedback. We all say, “How are you doing?” Just, “how are you doing? What’s going on?” And then, “Is this a struggle?” And then that will open up if they… Not complaining, that’s not the right word, but, “I can’t get this done, I can’t duh, duh, duh, duh.” And then you try to turn it into some advice, some coaching. I can think of examples right now, which I often give the law department, that I give people in the law department. The number one thing that operators don’t want in their law department are police officers, telling them, “no, you can’t do that.” That is not helpful.

Michelle Culligan 31:12

Don’t want to be the Department of No.

Lisa Ann Cooney 31:14

They do not want to hear that. What they want to hear… And the skill, what the skill is for the lawyer is, how do you influence others who do not report to you and that are not in your reporting relationship? That’s the competency. That’s the skill. And then we’ll talk about that, where we’ll talk about, for example, I had a lawyer during the pandemic, just very stressed. And this person said to me, and fairly senior, “I don’t know if I can continue to work here. I might have to go somewhere else.” And I replied and said, “Whatever you do, you need to do what’s best for you. You know I’ll support you. However, I want you to think,” so this is where the business is personal. “You remind me of me when I was in my late twenties and early thirties. I tend to be an anxious person.” And I opened up and shared, I said, “Listen,” I said, “I once did this personality test, this Enneagram.” And I said, “Not for nothing, you might want to go take it.” I said, “I’ll betcha you’re the same score as me.” P.S., he was. And I said, “My number one thing, they say, my strength is my weakness. I tend to have anxiety. It makes me a great lawyer. My worst case scenario, plan everything. I spot everything that could possibly go wrong and come up with a plan. Now, it’s also my kryptonite because I then can ruminate and stress and worry. And so I just suggested, “you go where you need to go, but understand, I think for you, it’s not the job. Whatever job you’re in, you’re going to struggle with this. So I’d rather have you stay, because I think the world of you, and let’s work through that.” So I don’t know, did I answer your question?

Tim Haley 33:12

Perfect. So I have a follow-up comment when you’re talking about anxiety. I’m going to admit, I’m not a prepper, but I have a pantry in my basement, and once a week I go down and look at it and think to myself, if something serious happens, I’m a goner. There’s not enough here. We’re just not going to make it a week.

Lisa Ann Cooney 33:32

You have Cheetos. That’s it.

Tim Haley 33:33

That’s right, yeah. And I’m like, oh man, we need to go back to Costco or something. But talking about the transition, you’re bringing in law firm attorneys in-house at a seven-year mark. The practice of law in-house and the practice of law at a firm are two very, very, very, very, very different things. How do you manage that transition? Are people coming into it eyes wide open, or is it something you have to experience to learn?

Lisa Ann Cooney 33:58

I think you have to experience to learn. When I got promoted, we brought in my replacement, who was a partner. And it is very different. When you’re at a law firm, the only people you talk to are people who want to talk to you. They’re paying to hear you talk and to give your sage advice. When you come in-house, they roll their eyes. Lawyers are coming in. And you have to have humor about it. You have to find a way to connect with them. So you have to be a really good lawyer for sure. But you also have to, again, be a leader.

Lisa Ann Cooney 34:41

Whether you’re the general counsel or divisional general counsel or a vice president, I mean, you’re a lawyer, you’re a role model in the organization. So you have to be a leader and you also have to learn the business. And learning the business is a change of personality because you are the student, not the teacher. So don’t alienate those people and come off as arrogant, because guess what? They’re experts on what they do.

Tim Haley 35:10

That’s so true.

Lisa Ann Cooney 35:11

So that is the transition. And again, I look back on my first couple years and I go, oy vey. Very bossy. No, they don’t have to do anything. We have to convince them to want to do stuff to mitigate business risk. So it is absolutely a transition. You need a little more humility. They’re your peers. They’re your peers. You’re not up here and they’re down there, they are your peers.

Michelle Culligan 35:44

It’s definitely a different dynamic, right?

Lisa Ann Cooney 35:46

Oh, yeah.

Michelle Culligan 35:47

And so much more of what they’re looking for is not what you are expected to do in the law firms when it’s really to vet out and go through every possible scenario. It’s I want to get to this solution. How do we do it and balance the risk? So it’s really helping make decisions too. And that’s a different skillset to fairly quickly evaluate all the risks and provide a solution that achieves the business result. So that’s to your point of just really being business-centric, but your perspective is the legal one.

Lisa Ann Cooney 36:19

Correct. And Michelle, I don’t know if you also would agree with this when you were in-house. The other big thing is, again, as you said, giving options, but also giving your opinion. That is a struggle when people come in, they go, “It’s a business decision.” And I go, “Yeah, it’s a business decision but you can say it like this. You have four options. If I was king of the hill for the day, I would go with option one. But let’s talk about all four.” So you are using humor to influence because you think this is the best, but you also say how easy or hard would it be to implement the option that I am suggesting you do? So you facilitate the discussion and come to a solution. And then in addition, you help implement the solution.

Lisa Ann Cooney 37:03

So I think project management is a huge competency that you need if you’re going to be a stellar in-house counsel. And in my company, it could be because compliance and legal, it’s in my department. So we’re expected to be compliance professionals. So there’s a new law. The traditional lawyer role is to publicize the new law, talk it through. How are we going to implement? Then we don’t hand it over to the compliance department. We have to partner with HR, ops, let’s get it done. And that is sometimes a struggle for lawyers too. Not so much I think for litigation lawyers, because I did class actions and big discrimination cases. So you’re project managing, basically.

Michelle Culligan 37:50

I agree. And it’s the challenge, but it’s also the fun of it, I thought. I mean, it’s really fun to get that integrated into the business that, yes, what you bring to the table is the legal aspect, but you have your CFO, you have the technology, everything. You’re working together, you come up with a solution. And then implementing was fun. And I was transactional, I had the benefit of being taught early on, there’s always a way to get it done. I mean, that’s within the realm of the different legal, and that’s where you push yourself, and the better the lawyer, the better solutions you come up with. I always thought that was really fun.

Tim Haley 38:23

And Lisa, I could talk to you all day, but I won’t because I know you have a real job. So I want to thank you for joining us today, thank Michelle for sitting in, and yeah, have a great day. We’ll see you again soon.

Lisa Ann Cooney 38:34

Thank you for having me. It was so fun, waxing poetic about my legal career. I’m happy to help young women. I have very firm opinions about that, so reach out.

Tim Haley 38:48

That’s great. Yeah. I’m glad we got to share those here.

Lisa Ann Cooney 38:51

Well, thanks for having me. It was nice to meet you.

Tim Haley 38:54

Nice to meet you.

Lisa Ann Cooney 38:55

Okay. And Michelle, we’ll talk soon.

Tim Haley 39:04

Michelle, that was such a great conversation with Lisa. I really appreciate you bringing her to join us today.

Michelle Culligan 39:09

You’re welcome. I enjoyed it very much as well. I think she’s an incredible role model for not just women attorneys, but all attorneys who strive to be in that GC level.

Tim Haley 39:19

How did you two get connected?

Michelle Culligan 39:20

We actually were connected by a mutual colleague that I know through Chief. I’m a member of the Chief organization, which is the only private women-only member organization in the US, which now has over 20,000 members. So we were introduced through that and then started talking with Lisa and just incredibly impressed with what she has accomplished. And not just what she’s accomplished, but her style and the way she leads, I think, can really provide examples for those who are looking to become GCs or move-in house.

Tim Haley 39:53

Yeah. The big takeaway for me was for someone who claimed to be very direct and very thriving in confrontation, there was also a very obvious sense of humility and willingness to grow and eagerness to grow, which sometimes you don’t see in the same person. So I thought that was fantastic.

Michelle Culligan 40:13

I agree. And I was really impressed with how the blend of that humility, but also being an advocate for herself to really, in a way that illustrated she’s ready to grow and willing to, to get to the next stage, but for example, to ask for an executive coach or to let the constructive criticism feed in and process that and then take steps to improve. So I think that balance is what makes her successful.

Tim Haley 40:39

Yeah, that’s great. Strengths and weaknesses and weaknesses and strengths, and I think there’s something there for everybody here, all of our listeners, to take away. Well, and to our listeners, thanks for joining us this time. Feel free to reach out to me or Candice or Michelle anytime if you have topics, if you want to just chat. We’re here for you guys, so we’ll see you next time.

Michelle Culligan 40:58

Sounds good. See you.

Tim Haley 41:03

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