Allen W. Nelson has a wide range of responsibilities for Crawford & Co., the world's largest independent provider of claims management solutions to the risk management and insurance industry. From his office in the company's Atlanta headquarters Nelson oversees legal and other functions, including human resources, quality, compliance and training, corporate communications, vendor management and internal audits for the firm's offices in 70 nations. He holds the titles of general counsel, executive vice president, corporate secretary and chief administrative officer.
The company has offices in 70 nations and reported 2012 revenue of $1.17 billion.
Immediately before joining Crawford, Nelson served as chief compliance counsel for BellSouth Corp. He also practiced law with Hawkins & Parnell and Troutman, Sanders, Lockerman & Ashmore.
Nelson earned his B.A. and J.D. degrees from Duke University where he was recognized as a J. R. Parkinson Memorial Scholar. Earlier this year, he was selected to be a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and admitted to the International Association of Defense Counsel.
Nelson is chairman of the board of Atlanta Ballet, a position he has held since 2009, and is former chairman of the board of The Preschool (Peachtree Road United Methodist Church). He chairs the Global Firms Committee of Woodruff Arts Center's Annual Fund. He is a recipient of the 2013 Revolutions Award for Outstanding Nonprofit Board Leader awarded by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits for his work as chairman of the Atlanta Ballet. He also is a recipient of a 2011-2012 Charles R. Yates Award (Woodruff Arts Center) and the 2008 Camille Yow Award (Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation), both in recognition of his outstanding work as a volunteer for those organizations.
He co-chairs Duke Atlanta, serves on the board of the Duke Law Alumni Association, the board of the Atlanta Duke Law Alumni Club, the local board of the American Heart Association, the board of the Perimeter Business Alliance, the Corporate Leadership Council of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, and the board of advisors of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. Nelson also is active in the Peachtree Paddle League, Tophat Soccer Club, Northside Church's youth soccer and basketball programs, and Ansley Golf Club.
Tell us about your department and your role in it.
Crawford & Company's legal department has six lawyers based in Atlanta, one lawyer based in London, and lawyers in various of our subsidiaries around the globe. We handle legal issues for the company on a global basis. I am ultimately accountable for ensuring the successful handling of those legal issues.
In my general counsel role, I work very closely with our CEO, senior management team and our board on a wide variety of strategic matters. I also serve as our chief administrative officer. My responsibilities in that role include management of our human resources, corporate communications, internal audit, compliance, quality and training, and vendor management functions.
Do you anticipate any changes in the department?
I joined Crawford & Company in 2005 and have recently made some changes that make the department better reflect the structure of the internal clients that we support. We are also assessing our approach to domestic litigation, as we try to ensure that our model for handling litigation is as efficient as it can be.
Tell us about your use of outside counsel.
We use outside counsel for a variety of functions, including securities, general corporate matters and litigation, among other areas. In the past, we searched formally for firms to fill very specific roles for us. We have used RFPs developed in-house to support those efforts. Because of the critical importance of relationships in the attorney-client arrangement, I do not expect that cold calling would be effective.
In addition to leading your team you are responsible for other corporate functions. How does a GC approach leading, say, human resources or corporate communications?
The most important aspects of leading functions beyond the legal department are: a) having excellent leaders in each department, and b) knowing your own strengths and limitations. In my case, we have excellent people leading each group, so I am able to focus on more strategic aspects of those functions. As for strengths, certain areas are more familiar to me (e.g., HR, because I'm a "recovering" employment lawyer). As for the areas with which I am less familiar, it just helps to be a quick study.
What is the biggest legal challenge facing your department?
Because of the nature of our business virtually every single matter we handle has the possibility of turning into litigation. Our internal clients do a great job in handling our external clients' business; however, some claims morph into litigation. We handle those matters where they might arise.
Our biggest challenge is that we manage a global legal function, involving literally thousands of corporate clients in more than 70 countries. The team does a great job navigating the legal requirements facing our business, which vary from business-to-business and country-to-country.
What are the differences in handling major claims in the U.S., versus around the world?
The U.S. market is far more litigious than any other market in the world. Thus, the risk profile for handling major claims in the U.S. is higher than in other regions. Having said that, we do an excellent job of mitigating that risk through robust risk management, quality audits and peer reviews.
Sometimes mistakes are the best lessons. Can you think of one in your legal career that had a major impact on you as a lawyer and leader?
While I wouldn't categorize this as a mistake, I've learned a lot over the past years about leading different types of people. Some people want to be given directions, other people like to act autonomously. Some people like to talk through issues, others like to keep their own counsel. A key to success as a leader is understanding how to be true to your own leadership style while recognizing that people follow in different ways and respond to different types of leadership.
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