For outside counsel, Interstate's modus operandi is unique compared to how other companies work, says Walter James, a Colleyville solo. The company is always looking for the right way to do things in a moral and ethical sense, he says.
"It is different, too, because there are certain times where you would love to advise them and do advise them that, "Look, if you do it this way, it may save you some money,' or, 'You know, it may do this, or it may do that," James says. "And, you know, they always come back to, 'Is it the right thing to do? Is it the moral thing to do? Is it the ethical thing to do?' "
When picking outside counsel, Holmes says, the lawyer must understand and be able to work within the standard. Holmes asks: Can they listen and hear what Interstate is saying, and can they get on the same page with the company?
"We want our outside counsel to join with us in really hitting the objectives and not necessarily winning the way many people might deem winning," Holmes says.
Ultimately, Holmes says, practicing the Golden Rule makes economic sense, too. Having access to courts is "awesome," but it's "generally not the most cost-effective way of resolving folks that have different perspectives," Holmes says. The company works on the front end to stay out of court, he says.
"So, we spend a lot of time really working with all of our business groups on trying [to find] the right way from the beginning. And, where we do have difference of opinions, we try to work to get resolutions done before we have to get into the litigation arena, whether that's through arbitration or litigating in any court dispute.
"So that's, for a long time, shaped what we do," he says.
Toward that goal, Willis says, Holmes has "done amazing things" in his leadership role at Interstate and within its corporate standard.
"What he's done from a culture perspective around servant leadership and living our corporate mission and philosophy has been amazing," Willis says.
Best Practices: Blending Business and Law
Walt Holmes joined Interstate Battery System of America Inc. in 1995, and since then he has taken on a number of business roles as he has risen through the ranks to become senior vice president and chief legal officer.
Texas Lawyer reporter Thomas Phillips emailed Holmes some questions about best practices. His answers are below, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: What do you see as the most important legal role you play for Interstate Batteries?
Walt Holmes: It is essential that any one of us performing the legal functions within Interstate Batteries get into the business to understand the business drivers for any issue presented. The value we can deliver for the organization isn't in saying "don't do that" but in crafting solutions that meet the business need while mitigating risks associated with the initiatives/issues.
TL: What are some things about working in-house you didn't know when you worked for a firm?
Holmes: I think there are several. Very few folks are really impressed with legal knowledge. In fact, that legal knowledge can be a barrier to working alongside folks. The challenge is . . .having the legal knowledge (which is essential) but being able to work with the people who are truly driving the business success. I think I had a bit of an over-inflated view of what my role was and needed to be when I first started. Also, there is a lot of scrutiny that happens: How is "this lawyer" going to work with everyone? How responsive will "this lawyer" be? Although those questions will occasionally be verbalized, they are happening internally all the time.