With the alluringly large salaries that traditionally have been tied to positions at law firms, it’s unusual for a law school student to immediately pursue an in-house career after graduation. But Mark Jaeger wasn’t a typical grad.

Prior to law school, Jaeger had studied business and economics—two subjects he greatly enjoyed—at the University of Iowa. So when his career goals took him to law school, he recognized these interests could be applied to law. And because he soon realized he preferred business-oriented work over litigation and trial work associated with law firms, he felt a legal position within a company would be ideal for him—so he immediately went in-house.

After graduating from Southern Illinois University School of Law, Jaeger worked as an attorney at Roper Corp., a Fortune 500 lawn-mower manufacturer. Focusing on products liability, litigation and labor law, Jaeger worked at Roper for two years. In 1986, he became senior staff counsel at Northrop Grumman Corp., a global security and aerospace company, where his work involved government contracts and employment law. 

By 1993, Jaeger was married with two young children. He began looking for new career opportunities with the goal of playing a larger role in a smaller company. He joined Jockey International Inc. as a senior attorney, and two years later, he became the company’s general counsel. In addition to GC, Jaeger also is now senior vice president and secretary.

Q: Tell me about Jockey’s legal department.

A: Our staff is centralized here in beautiful Kenosha, Wis. We have four attorneys, four paralegals and we also oversee our compliance function, which has three staff members who mostly focus on customs and trade compliance.

It’s a tight department. One of the reasons for that is that we don’t generate a lot of litigation. Underwear is a pretty benign product compared to others, so we mostly handle transactional, IP and compliance work.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job? 

A: Jockey’s product itself is pretty straightforward and simple—compared to lawn mowers and B-2 Bombers, it’s not a complex product. But apparel and retail are competitive industries. The global logistics of moving millions of pairs of underwear, T-shirts and garment items around the world is complex. Jockey buys and makes products globally, and it sells and licenses products around the world. Those challenges are interesting and keep the job fresh.   

Q: What do you like about working at Jockey?

A: I enjoy working on the international trade aspects at Jockey: the buying and selling of goods, understanding customs laws and import requirements, and understanding trade policy as it affects tariffs and trade rules. Jockey products are available in about 120 countries, either directly by sale from Jockey or from our partners and licensees. We have off-shore production in Honduras and Costa Rica, and we have offices in Hong Kong and southern Germany. I periodically get to visit these locations, and it reminds me that it’s a complex, global marketplace that we do business in.

I also enjoy working on protecting the Jockey brand—that’s an everyday challenge. The brand is registered in many countries around the world. It’s a famous trademark, and we spend a fair amount of our time in the legal department making sure that it’s protected and defended. 

Jockey is unique as compared to other places I’ve worked. We’re a 135-year-old family-owned company, and family values really permeate the company culture.

It’s nice to work at a place with such strong brand identity. Jockey’s products are ones that you can understand, touch and use every day. I couldn’t say the same when I worked at Northrop with respect to B-2 Bombers. I might be one of two in-house attorneys in the country who transitioned from B-2 Bombers to boxers.

Q: Is Jockey involved in any community work or diversity initiatives?

A: Diversity at Jockey starts at the top: Our CEO is a woman, Debra Waller, and she’s a third-generation family owner. Through Debra’s initiatives, Jockey has a foundation called Jockey Being Family, which is a corporate citizenship initiative that supports adoption.   

Q: What goals do you have for Jockey’s legal department, and how will you achieve them?

A: We align our goals with the business goals of the company. We also have department goals and metrics. In addition, I think it is important that the law department approaches its work with a view to helping other departments achieve their own goals. By doing so, your lawyers will earn a seat at the client’s table where they can apply their legal skills more effectively. 

Q: Do you think you’ll remain in-house for the remainder of your career, or will you explore options at law firms?

A: I enjoy working in-house, and I expect I will continue to do so. I’ve been in-house my whole career now—27 years. 

Q: Do your children have any interest in becoming involved in the legal field? Would you encourage them to become lawyers?

A: My girls, who are 20 and 21, are not interested in law at this point, as they are pursuing social work and education. If they were interested in law, I would advise them that becoming a lawyer takes three years of your life, is very expensive and that the job prospects for most law school graduates are dim. That said, if you have the drive, talent and resources, a law degree can lead to a satisfying career.  

Q: What advice would you give to a young lawyer who wants to pursue an in-house career?

A: Understand the basics of business, and understand the business of your business. We’ve hired a couple of attorneys who were relatively junior in the past few years, and we intentionally targeted individuals with business and financial backgrounds. I find that you have to be able to talk the language of the clients and earn their respect on that level before you can really give them advice on the legal level. 

Q: What is your proudest moment?

A: I can’t favor the birth of one child out of four, so I’ll focus on my proudest career moment. In 1997, along with several other companies in the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Jockey formed Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), a non-profit organization that helps to identify and prevent sweatshops. I represented Jockey in that initiative and have served on the board of directors for the past six years.

WRAP was formed at the time when the Kathy Lee Gifford sweatshop allegations were all over the news and she got into hot water with a line she sold at Wal-Mart over the use of child labor. Coming out of that, the industry put together a program that later became WRAP, an independent, not-for-profit organization that does factory certification globally.

Q: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would your dream job be? 

A: I’d like to be the public address announcer at Wrigley Field. I’m a big Chicago Cubs fan. The idea of being in a low-stress job where you get to watch ballgames every day in a fun place appeals to me.