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Pedal to the Mettle
The new head of legal at Orbitz Worldwide Inc. joins the online travel business after a considerable trek through corporate lawand across much of the country under his own power.
JIM ROGERS took his seat as the company's general counsel, senior vice president, and corporate secretary in mid-August, hard upon the heels of a bicycle trip in which he cycled 850 miles. The self-described "road warrior" turned the trip into a charitable event for nonprofit network Appleseed, the pro bono organization that he has contributed to throughout his career. While on the road he also tried out his new employer's services, booking hotels along the route using the Hotels by Orbitz iPad app.
Rogers arrives at Orbitz following a two-year stint as general counsel at TLC Vision. The company faced bankruptcy when he arrived, and affiliates of private equity firms Charlesbank Capital Partners LLC and HIG Capital LLC were in the process of acquiring it. Rogers initially agreed to work for TLC for one year, but he stayed on for a second.
Rogers had a long law firm career before he went in-house. But he always knew that he wanted to work directly with corporate clients, and he's excited to bring a pair of fresh eyes to Orbitz. "There's so much to learn here," he says. "Coming in cold to any industry gives you the chance to ask, 'Why do we do it that way?' " To start out, Rogers will focus on transactions, governance, and contract work, and will bring some new hires in to the legal department. ALICE GEENE, Orbitz's former interim general counsel, will serve as assistant GC under Rogers during a transitional period, then will leave Orbitz to take a position as general counsel of Trustwave, an information security provider.
Prior to going in-house, Rogers spent almost 29 years at Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C., leaving the firm as a partner. While at Latham he became involved in pro bono work, eventually becoming cochair of the board of directors at Appleseed. There he led two major initiatives, one of which, a project to reform immigration courts, brought together colleagues at Latham with other D.C.based attorneys from the firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. "Deals are exciting, and they pay the rent," Rogers says. But, he adds, "in the last couple of years, the immigration court project was what really lit up my eyes."
Rogers attended Columbia University School of Law and Princeton University as part of a joint program during which he earned his law degree and a master's of public administration. He then clerked for two judges, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when she was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He considered working in the public sector. But, he says, "you can be a corporate finance or tax lawyer and make a contribution, too. Here at Orbitz, I've spoken to the legal team about pro bono, and there is a lot of enthusiasm. It speaks to the caliber of the people here."
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Tag, You're It
A game of phone tag ultimately led to a position as general counsel at Mercer Inc. for RIAN MILLER.
PETER BESHAR, the general counsel of parent company Marsh & McLennan, had heard of Miller through consultants and employees at the company. When the position of general counsel at subsidiary Mercer Inc. opened upupon former GC CAROLINE CHENG's departure to work as deputy White House counselBeshar called Miller at Towers Watson, where she was the managing counsel for risk and litigation, and left her a voicemail. She returned his call with a voicemail of her own.
When they finally connected, Beshar told Miller that the GC position at Mercer was available and asked if she was interested in talking to him about it further. "I hadn't even known that the job was available," she says.
Miller began at Mercer in June, leaving her position at Towers Watson after a two-year stint. Since arriving at Mercer, she has been familiarizing herself with the company's leaders and the rest of the legal department, but she was no novice to the industry. "I had the advantage of coming to Mercer with a good understanding of the business that the company is in," she says. (Towers Watson offers advice on human resources, risk management, and financial management, among other services.)
About 50 lawyers work in the law department at Mercer, a human resources consulting and related services firm. Half of the attorneys are based in the United States, and the rest are sprinkled throughout more than 40 other countries. Two lawyers report directly to Miller. Miller reports to Beshar and to Mercer CEO Julio Portalatin.
One of Miller's greatest responsibilities will be dealing with changing laws and regulations. "Anticipating and preempting risk is a big part of what I do," she says. Miller's position at Mercer is much broader than her job at Watson was, she says. The work at Watson was primarily tactical, but the job at Mercer is more broadly strategic. "It's a different kind of challenge, and it takes a different mind-set," she says.
Beginning in 1997, Miller held multiple positions at Towers Perrin, a predecessor to Towers Watson. Prior to that, she was an associate in Pepper Hamilton's Philadelphia office. Miller earned her J.D. at Temple University School of Law, graduating magna cum laude. She also holds master's degrees from Indiana University School of Library and Information Science and from Indiana University School of Music.
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MELISSA SOBEL has jumped into the growing litigation finance industry with a move to Burford Group LLC, becoming its first-ever in-house general counsel.
Sobel went to Burford following an eight-year stint at Time Inc., most recently as associate general counsel. She says the new opportunity arose at a perfect time: "I needed a change," she says.
Sobel was also eager to get into a new and growing industry. When she heard about the job opening, she began reading everything she could find about litigation funding, she says. "Sometimes I'd talk to lawyers about it, and even they would say, 'What's that?' " After completing her research, Sobel made her move. The company continues to rely on Latham & Watkins for outside legal advice.
Burford opened its doors in 2009 and is now one of the largest companies in the field of third-party litigation financing. These companies invest money in lawsuits and collect a portion of any recovered funds.
Burford is listed on the London Stock Exchange. The company has committed almost $300 million to its portfolio in three years, during which time its work has included lawsuits involving contracts, real estate, trade secrets, and securities laws.
Since beginning at Burford, Sobel has focused on getting a handle on the company's diverse portfolio. Prior to joining Time Inc., she had focused on corporate work at Debevoise & Plimpton, and she says a lot of the skills she picked up there are helping her transition into her new position. Her experience as associate GC at Time Inc. comes in handy too, she says, since working in the upper echelons of an in-house legal department teaches you how to deal with "everything under the sun."
So far, Sobel is the only dedicated member of the law department, although almost everyone who works at Burford is a lawyer. She says that since the business and the industry are new and growing, the company is less structured than previous places where she's worked. "There's a real inclusiveness in how the development of the business is discussed and how decisions are made," she says.
Sobel graduated from Wesleyan University with an English degree in 1991, and earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1996.
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SunPower Corporation, the Silicon Valleybased energy company, has a new general counsel and executive vice president, LISA BODENSTEINER. She brings more than 16 years of in-house experience in the energy sector with her. "I've done a lotI started in traditional energy, then moved into work on the cutting edge," she says. "You name it, I've seen it."
Bodensteiner got her start in the industry when, as a partner at Thelen, Marrin, Johnson & Bridges, she took on a real estate client in the energy business. While Bodensteiner was more of a general transactions lawyer at the time, she was soon working exclusively for the client, Calpine Corporation.
Calpine's legal department brought Bodensteiner in-house in 1996. The company was small at the time, and Bodensteiner oversaw much of its growth, negotiating mergers and acquisitions and handling operations and development.
After more than 10 years with Calpine, Bodensteiner joined OptiSolar Inc. as general counsel. There, she learned more about manufacturing, as the company was in the business of building solar farms. Bodensteiner was at OptiSolar in 2008 when the recession dried up financial markets. "It was like the sky was falling," Bodensteiner says. OptiSolar put its project pipeline up for sale, and when First Solar Inc. acquired it, Bodensteiner went along.
First Solar already had a GC, and while there she worked specifically in project development. Then she stepped into a business role, becoming vice president for business development in North America. "It was different," Bodensteiner says, "a very externally facing role," but it was beneficial, too. "It was helpful to serve in a business position. In the energy sector, the lawyers are very much a part of the business team. Energy deals are so complicated, so big, and there's so much risk, that you have to come into the arena with a broad skill set."
Eventually, Bodensteiner was made general counsel at First Solar, and returned to the legal work that she had been missing: "In legal, you get to dabble in lots of different areas of business. I love that breadth in what I get to learn about."
Bodensteiner says that at SunPower, in addition to practicing at a global level, she has the chance to work with a broader array of products.
SunPower was recently acquired almost entirely by Total S.A., a multinational energy company based in France and known for its major role in the oil industry. Bodensteiner is excited to be at a company with a global reach. "It's not easy to walk into these markets," she says. "Total is already on the ground, so it streamlines new markets for energy. With SunPower, I will be doing more international work, so I have the opportunity to do something new."
Bodensteiner earned her law degree from Santa Clara University Law School after completing a bachelor's degree in business and accounting at the University of NevadaReno. Prior to joining Thelen, she worked at the California-based firm Hopkins & Carley.
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Search and Ye Shall Find
Not long after the big news that exGoogle Inc. executive Marissa Mayer had taken over as chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., the company ended its search for a new general counsel, naming RON BELL to head its law department.
Bell has been with Yahoo's legal team since 1999, most recently as vice president and deputy GC for the Americas region, for global products, and for law department operations. In a statement, Yahoo noted his contributions to the company in deals including a search alliance with Microsoft and the expansion of The Newspaper Consortium, Yahoo's digital adserving platform. Bell will report directly to Mayer.
Bell's promotion came on the heels of executive upheaval at the company. Shortly before Mayer's highly publicized move into the CEO's office, Michael Barrett came over from Google to be Yahoo's chief revenue officer. Former GC MICHAEL CALLAHAN submitted his resignation in June, after more than 12 years in-house at Yahoo. In his resignation statement, Callahan wrote that he had "nothing but affection for this amazing company and its incredible employees around the world." As part of the transition, Bell was named interim GC; Yahoo's interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, who was passed up by Yahoo's board of directors for the permanent job, said in an internal memo that Bell has "made his mark on many of our most strategic deals and initiatives over the years."
Callahan's departure was the latest in a parade of attorneys heading out of the company's legal department. By early 2012, the California legal team had shrunk by nearly 20 percent from January of the previous year, according to sibling publication The Recorder. Several of Yahoo's top in-house lawyers have since moved on to tech companies like Facebook, Airbnb, and Evernote.
Before arriving at Yahoo, Bell was a senior corporate counsel at Apple Inc. for two years; prior to that, he was an associate at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, specializing in intellectual property, media, and litigation work there for almost five years.
Bell received his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1992, after completing a B.A. at the University of California, Los Angeles.