Allstate Corp. is the nation's largest publicly held personal insurance company. It was founded in 1931 as a division of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and in 1993 was spun off from the retailer.

Based in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., Allstate employs 70,000 staff and agents.

The company's insurance products include auto, homeowners, renters and flood protection. It also offers insurance lines in Canada. The $33 billion company serves 16 million households. Its advertising campaign, in use since 2004, asks, "Are you in good hands?"

Legal team

Susan Lees became Allstate's general counsel last year after working for 24 years for the insurer. She supervises a 1,200-employee department that includes 635 attorneys, roughly 500 of whom work in 80 staff counsel offices around the country to defend customers in legal actions. The legal team is divided into seven general practice areas, including corporate, securities and governance; financial law; and industry relations.

Lees' department also posts attorneys in Washington and at business units in Nebraska and Florida.

Outside counsel

Global law firm Dentons supervises litigation, property-casualty and class actions. The relationship continues Allstate's long-standing ties to Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which is now part of Dentons with the completion of a three-way merger earlier this year.

Kirkland & Ellis handles litigation and other matters. Seyfarth Shaw assists with insurance litigation. Willkie Farr & Gallagher handles corporate governance and securities matters.

Lees is a firm believer in alterna­tive fee arrangements—"We're always looking for leverage," she said.

Daily duties

Lees is bringing in new technology to handle electronic billing, matter management and discovery, and she's taking a fresh look at staff development and training. She's also announced a restructuring involving the combination of two legal groups: property and casualty, and life and annuity. The new group will be called "Insurance operations."

"We're focused on customers and eliminating silos," she said. "We're trying to put the right work at the right level."

She reports to chairman and chief executive officer Thomas Wilson.

Route to the top

Lees holds an A.B. degree in political science from Brown Uni­versity and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, class of 1987.

She began her career working in maritime law for Exxon Chemical Co., but when her husband was transferred to Chicago she took a part-time job at Allstate.

"Twenty-five years ago, we were focused on being 100 percent at home and 100 percent at the office. There were no work-life balance conferences back then," she said. But she felt the part-time option at Allstate gave her room to grow.

Personal

Lees has been married for 33 years. Her husband is retired, and she has three adult daughters.

Born in Worcester, Mass., she is a lifetime Boston Bruins fan and enjoys tennis. "I'm a very competitive person and sports gives me an outlet."

Lees is a fan of first-time authors and of management books. Her book club recently tackled Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, but she admits she didn't get in a lot of outside activities this year during hockey season.