ALM Properties, Inc.
Page printed from: Corporate Counsel
Select 'Print' in your browser menu to print this document.
Best Legal Departments 2013: Best of the Rest
In June we recognized the lawyers at four companies as Corporate Counsel's Best Legal Departments. We also found much to admire in other nominees. This is the first installment of snapshots of 2013's finalists.
Talk about a global footprint: Prologis Inc. is the largest owner and operator of industrial real estate in the world, with $45 billion of assets under management and 550 million square feet of facilities in 21 countries. General counsel Ed Nekritz not only leads a law department of 11 U.S. attorneys (21 worldwide), he also sits on an eight-member executive committee, helping steer strategy.
We were impressed with the systems that the department put in place to reduce overhead and curb risk. An online leasing system provides company sales associates with contract templates and preapproved provisions. These address about 85 percent of the legal issues, on average, that arise in negotiations. To keep litigation to a minimum, the in-house team conducts ongoing training for business partners, targeting potential risks down to the level of property management.
Given how much work Prologis keeps in-house, Nekritz likens his department to a "boutique law firm." For example, most of the company's leasing transactions last year—involving more than 145 million square feet—were handled by just three in-house lawyers. Major deals included facilities for PepsiCo in Dallas, for IBM in Guadalajara, Mexico, and for e-commerce firm Rakuten in Osaka, Japan.
The department pulled off another impressive feat in Japan, structuring a $2 billion Japanese real estate investment trust ahead of an initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
F5 Networks Inc.
The five-lawyer legal department of F5 Networks Inc., based in Seattle, prides itself on a work environment that promotes team spirit and individual growth. Associate general counsel Scot Rogers says that his colleagues don't get "pigeonholed" according to subspecialties, and new ideas gain traction. General counsel Jeffrey Christianson's goal, Rogers says, has been to help each lawyer develop the talent "to be a general counsel someday."
Department attorneys found themselves in interesting international territory last year. In order to acquire a signaling technology company based in Israel, F5 had to contend with restrictions from Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist. Nevertheless, by working closely with the product development team, and with outside counsel in Israel, the in-house lawyers managed to gain expedited approval of the transaction. Meanwhile, in China, F5 became one of the first U.S.–based businesses to complete the registration for an employee stock purchase plan with the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.
When it comes to their local community, members of the F5 law department are involved in a wide variety of service endeavors. Senior attorney Brian Bennett doubles as mayor of the city of Burien, where he's also served as deputy mayor and planning commissioner. And fellow senior attorney Diana Young is president-elect of the Asian Bar Association of Washington.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc.
The reduction in outside legal spending at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. was pretty sweet. For a company with stores in 23 countries, and just three in-house lawyers, they were still able to lower outside counsel costs by 19 percent between 2011 and 2012.
The secret, they say, is twofold: renewed emphasis on corporate compliance and efficient use of core outside lawyers. A change in top management, spurred by a long Securities and Exchange Commission probe, brought a fresh tone at the top. (Both CEO James Morgan and general counsel Darryl Marsch took up their posts.) At the same time, in-house lawyers have emphasized training on issues including employment discrimination, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and antitrust laws.
The law department believes that choosing outside counsel on the basis of personal relationships gives the company an edge. In-house attorneys assign matters to lawyers who know their business well; some outside counsel have worked with Krispy Kreme for more than two decades. These choices result, they say, in decreased preparation time, closer relationships between attorney and client, and more candor about billing and strategy. In turn, Krispy Kreme attorneys mentor their young outside lawyers, because they want lawyers who understand their company. (And, yes, outside counsel do get surprised with doughnut deliveries on occasion.)
We were also impressed by Krispy Kreme's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Two of their three in-house attorneys are African American women; one of them was promoted from paralegal to attorney after she passed the bar.