ALM Properties, Inc.
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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 second installment of snapshots of this year's finalists.
The Trust for Public Land
With only 16 lawyers, the legal department at The Trust for Public Land manages to accomplish a great deal. The San Francisco–based nonprofit helps agencies and communities nationwide conserve land for public use. We were impressed that its lawyers, led by general counsel Holly Haugh, are able to handle an active portfolio of more than 500 real estate transactions, park construction projects, and other initiatives in 37 states.
Many of the lawyers have been on staff for more than 10 years and have had to develop expertise in real estate, tax, construction, environmental regulation, nonprofit and lobbying law, philanthropy, and municipal law. The fact that they rarely have to deal with litigation is a tribute to their skill.
For issues related to construction insurance, federal contracting, and trademark, the nonprofit often benefits from pro bono services provided by several law firms.
We also admired the organization's creative flextime arrangements for its in-house lawyers. They have also been able to take advantage of a plan that allows staff to donate some of their own vacation time to coworkers who are out on family leave and have exhausted their paid time off.
The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
The legal department at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. is charged with protecting the intellectual property of the famed cosmetics and beauty products company. We were impressed by the effectiveness of the 30 attorneys who lead this effort. In 2012 they obtained a $90 million default judgment against more than 100 Chinese websites selling counterfeit products, and were even able to recover about $180,000 from PayPal accounts linked to the defendants' infringing sites. This was the first time this recovery strategy had been used for counterfeit beauty products.
The company, based in New York, also developed "trustmarks" on websites in China to promote consumer awareness of authentic distribution channels. Faced with a variety of IP challenges, the department involved other divisions of the company to ensure that its trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets are protected from product development through marketing and sales.
General counsel Sara Moss encourages attorneys at Estée Lauder to perform pro bono legal services, and they have demonstrated an impressive commitment to a variety of causes. Lawyers provided legal services related to domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of abuse for the New York Asian Women's Center. They also worked on Estée Lauder's own initiatives combating AIDS and breast cancer.
FMC Technologies Inc.
Lawyers at FMC Technologies Inc., a global provider of technology for the energy industry, know how to use resources efficiently. The Houston-based company has only 12 in-house lawyers, but under general counsel Jeffrey Carr, they have managed to guide the company through litigation, acquisitions, and growth.
In 2012 the firm had two cases go to trial. One involved a Norwegian technology company that alleged that an FMC subsidiary stole trade secrets. The other involved a claim of patent infringement by another Norwegian business. Despite the fact that both cases were tried in Norway, under a different legal system and far from headquarters, FMC prevailed in both. This was a testament to the ability of its in-house counsel to collaborate with outside lawyers—no matter where those lawyers are.
FMC is not averse to resolving matters outside the courts—which we found refreshing. The company won $9.7 million in a breach of contract case. When its adversary appealed, the CEOs of both companies met face-to-face before oral arguments and resolved the dispute in a manner FMC says was favorable to the company.
We also admired the unique way the company streamlined its preferred provider network. Instead of a traditional RFP process, the company required firms to complete a one-page questionnaire and use Twitter to express in 140 characters why they wanted to work for FMC.