Leslie Slavich says it’s important to be flexible in a business that moves as fast as Spanx does. (Photo by John Disney/Daily Report)
Leslie Slavich is general counsel for Spanx Inc., where she handles a variety of matters, including litigation, contract negotiation, trademark and patent filings, employment matters, customs matters, and advising Spanx on advertising and marketing issues.
Prior to working for Spanx, she practiced in the intellectual property group at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan for six years. While at Sutherland, her practice covered a range of technologies but primarily was focused on pharmaceutical patent litigation. Slavich is admitted to practice in Georgia and before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. She earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Florida State University and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
Describe your department and your role in it.
Spanx Inc. has grown very quickly, both in terms of sales and in complexity of the business. We started with a single product for sale in the U.S. We now offer hundreds of products for all body types and budgets. Spanx products are sold in more than 60 countries, and we have started opening our own retail stores in the U.S.
I am a department of one, and I work closely with our CEO and COO/CFO in managing, assessing and anticipating our business’s various legal issues, both in the U.S. and abroad. The work is challenging, but also deeply rewarding and always interesting.
I have also had the privilege to work with Sara Blakely [the founder of Spanx], who is a great leader and business visionary. And, of course, I work very closely with outside counsel, with whom Spanx has had several long-standing and successful relationships.
In what legal areas do you use outside counsel?
Our biggest needs have been in litigation, intellectual property and international issues.
What keeps you up at night?
I tend to be proactive about addressing issues where I have a measure of control, so I end up worrying the most about the things I control the least.
What questions would you like to ask other general counsel?
I always like to ask about their company’s business and how the legal department is organized to support the business.
You came from Sutherland to Spanx. What adjustments did you make going from a law firm to corporate, and a very entrepreneurial culture?
Entrepreneurial is a great way to describe the Spanx culture. The business moves extremely fast, and to be successful, it is very important to be flexible.
The biggest adjustment in coming from a law firm practice was learning to be comfortable dealing with many different areas of law in which I am decidedly not an expert. It has been both empowering and humbling. I have gained greater confidence that I can deal with whatever issue crosses my desk, but at the same time I’ve realized the enormous value in specialized outside counsel.
Spanx is growing at a rapid rate and in so many different directions (internationally, a second line at Target, opening retail stores). How does your department handle such rapid growth?
In a short three years, we’ve gone from having two brands to four, expanded into several new countries, and have created a bricks-and-mortar retail organization. As the company has expanded into these new areas, it has generated more legal and compliance needs than we’ve ever had before. I’ve been looking very carefully at creative ways to address these needs, such as alternative fee arrangements, bringing on a part-time attorney with expertise in one or more of these areas, or possibly a law firm secondment.
What part of your job is the most challenging? The most fun?
The most challenging part is balancing efficiency and risk; the tendency is to spare no expense and reduce every risk to zero, but that’s untenable for any business.
The most fun part of my job is working so closely with the business people. Being in the same room and negotiating a contract with seasoned salespeople has been a terrific education for me.
You recently were on a panel discussing best practices, strategies, successes and failures of M&A transactions and how intellectual property affected them. What was one best practice you talked about and what one best practice did you learn from the other attorneys?
The biggest takeaway for me from the panel is a greater appreciation for how important intellectual property is in M&A transactions. Keeping a focus on IP in due diligence and bringing in IP attorneys and experts to value these assets are essential in many transactions.
For my part, I discussed how intertwined social media and domain names are with trademark and copyright issues. These issues come up quite frequently in our business, and it has been our practice to maintain our rights to domain names and social media handles in much the same way we protect our rights to more traditional intellectual property.
What are your thoughts on e-discovery?
Any discovery solution has to fit the size and complexity of a particular case. In a larger or more complicated matter, we rely on outside counsel and outside discovery management firms to efficiently manage discovery. In smaller matters, it is possible to rely on our internal organization.
But no matter the size of the case, I have found that our IT team is my biggest ally when it comes to efficiently collecting and maintaining data. It is very important for legal to build a relationship with IT before a lawsuit is filed, and often the interests of legal and IT are aligned when it comes to managing risk and document retention issues.
Hometown: Slidell, La.
Education: Florida State University, B.S. in biochemistry, 2000; Georgetown University Law Center, J.D., 2003
Hobbies: Cooking, reading
Favorite law school course: Civil procedure