Meredith Sidewater sees regulatory compliance and cost containment as GCs’ biggest challenges. (Handout)
Meredith Sidewater is senior vice president and general counsel for Lexis­Nexis Risk Solutions. In this role, she manages the company’s legal activities, including compliance with applicable laws, regulations and policies, investigations, commercial transactions, litigation management, acquisition and divestiture activity, intellectual property and employment matters.
Prior to assuming this role, Sidewater served as vice president and lead counsel for the Insurance Solutions division of Lexis­Nexis Risk Solutions, continuing in a similar role she had held since 1999 at ChoicePoint Inc., prior to its acquisition by Reed Elsevier in 2008.
A board member of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross, Sidewater is also active with the Bright Pink organization as a PinkPal, serving as a one-on-one supportive resource for young women at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank that focuses on issues related to transparency and data usage in the online ecosystem, and the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade association that represents consumer data companies.
Sidewater holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from the University of Michigan, and earned her law degree at the University of Georgia School of Law. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children.
Tell us about your department and your role.
I’m the senior vice president and general counsel of LexisNexis Risk Solutions. My department and I are responsible for all legal, compliance and regulatory matters pertaining to one of the country’s largest data providers of public and proprietary information.
As president of the Atlanta chapter of the General Counsel Forum, what do you think are the biggest issues and challenges facing general counsels today?
Regulatory compliance and cost containment continue to be the primary areas of focus and challenge for general counsels today. An increasing number of regulations and their growing complexity continue to dominate the landscape. The need to manage risk—to support regulatory compliance—dictates that organizations rely on subject matter experts, whether in-house, external or both. It can be difficult to manage costs under such circumstances.
Do you use outside counsel?
We use local Atlanta firms and national/global firms, depending on the discipline, the location of the matter at issue, the complexity of the issue and other considerations. We retain outside counsel for litigation, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory guidance, intellectual property and various other areas of law. With respect to Atlanta-based counsel, we use Troutman Sanders for M&A and IP work, King & Spalding for M&A and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore for complex litigation. We also rely heavily on attorneys in the D.C. office of Arnall, Golden & Gregory for regulatory compliance advice.
What cases in the courts are you following and why?
Mark J. McBurney, et al. v. Nathaniel L. Young, Deputy Commissioner and Director, Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement, et al., a case before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Fourth Circuit’s decision to uphold “citizens-only” access to public records. LexisNexis has a significant interest in protecting the public’s right to nondiscriminatory and free access to public records. We are in a unique position to recognize the impairment to interstate commerce, and to commerce generally, when this access is unduly restricted.
Federal Trade Commission v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp. et al., a rare challenge to the Federal Trade Commission’s allegations that the company failed to protect the personal information of its guests. This case is important in that it could set a precedent as to whether the FTC has the authority to enforce minimal security standards at private companies based on its “unfairness” authority. The decision will have a direct impact on businesses and could arguably change the competitive landscape for businesses going forward.
How is social media changing the way you do business? What is your opinion on social media and privacy?
From a policy standpoint, LexisNexis Risk Solutions is careful to comply with terms and conditions of social media websites governing the use of information contained on those websites. And the business of social media continues to thrive. For example, our social media for law enforcement business is a good opportunity for us to help law enforcement professionals detect criminals and thieves via the social media networks they use.
What are your biggest challenges in risk management?
Our industry continues to face growing pressures from regulators on local, national and international levels. Staying current on developing law, ensuring one’s business practices are modified to address relevant regulatory mandates, and educating the business so that they stay focused on compliance is a challenge. This is especially true in a time of resource constraints.
You were with LexisNexis when it was ChoicePoint, which experienced a very quick and public image and trust issue. What role should the legal department play in helping a company re-invent itself and restore confidence?
One of the best practices we have put into place is a rigorous credentialing process, which helps keep our company compliant with privacy laws and regulations.
As the general counsel of a company whose products and services involve the provision of information used to evaluate risk, we facilitate our customers’ ability to assess whether or not to move forward with a business transaction.
The legal department has the opportunity to identify areas of risk and to recommend mitigating measures to address risk. Ultimately, it is this ongoing effort that breeds trust in one’s company. We have an obligation to ensure that the data we provide is used for permissible purposes by legitimate entities and that is managed in a secure fashion. Data and privacy go hand-in-hand, and a company’s commitment in this area should never diminish.
What’s the best advice you would provide to someone coming into an in-house corporate counsel role?
Someone recently commented that an in-house counsel’s success is as dependent on his/her ability to “think like a business person” as it is on his/her functional expertise. I have found that to be true in my career. The business wants smart lawyers who understand business and who spend time thinking long-term.
So my first piece of advice would be to understand your business, its strategy, its financial performance and its challenges as intimately as possible.
Secondarily, view yourself as a problem-solver rather than merely an identifier of problems. It is easy to identify for your leadership team problems or potential liabilities that exist. However, your real value-add comes when you present your business leaders with options and solutions that address these liabilities.