X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Rudy Rodriguez Jr. wasn’t at American Airlines Inc. for very long before deciding he preferred working in-house to working at a firm. And now he is getting a rare opportunity to decide if he likes being a general counsel. Rodriguez, in house at American Airlines since 1997, in October became general counsel of American Eagle Airlines Inc., the short-haul subsidiary of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp. He expects to be in the job for two to three years, giving him the chance to expand his legal skills and learn the business side of an airline. “I couldn’t see a real negative to taking this job from a personal-growth perspective,” says Rodriguez, who was hired at American Airlines to do litigation. He succeeds Holly Stroud, a transactional lawyer who moved back to the American Airlines legal department after a similar term as general counsel. Rodriguez, 34, is the only lawyer at American Eagle. For assistance, he turns to the American Airlines legal department or outside counsel. Anne McNamara, senior vice president and general counsel of American Airlines, says the general counsel job at American Eagle is a spot where lawyers can obtain an experience broader than most of the other attorneys in the airline’s 46-lawyer department. “In a company our size, lawyers tend to specialize. This position lets the person filling it be a generalist and learn a little bit about different areas,” she says. “It’s like cross-training. I think it’s very valuable.” McNamara says she created the general counsel job at American Eagle because a similar arrangement was working at AMR Services, a company that’s since been divested. American Eagle, a sister company to American Airlines, operates the world’s largest regional airline system. It flies to 134 cities in the United States and elsewhere, and posted revenues of $1.5 billion in 2000. Rodriguez joined American Airlines in 1997, after working at Locke Purnell Rain Harrell in Dallas for six-and-a-half years. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Rodriguez worked as a briefing attorney for former Texas Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Doggett before joining Locke Purnell in 1991. He is a native of Denton who went to Texas A&M University before law school. He joined American Airlines as a staff attorney in the legal department’s litigation group. In an effort to save costs, the airline decided to hire some lawyers to “insource” litigation. Rodriguez says he was one of four lawyers assigned to that task, and he was assigned to general commerical litigation and employment suits. In three years on the job, Rodriguez says only one suit went to trial — one he helped successfully defend in February 1998 — so he also spent some time managing litigation. But Rodriguez manages much more than litigation at American Eagle. As the only lawyer at the airline, Rodriguez says, “what I’m supposed to be aware of is much bigger than what I do.” Rodriguez is a trial lawyer, but won’t have time to handle all litigation involving American Eagle. He is doing a small debt-collection suit and will defend American Eagle employees in some depositions, but other matters will be handled internally by American Airlines lawyers or by outside counsel under supervision of American Airlines lawyers. (American Eagle pays American Airlines for the services of its lawyers.) As general counsel, Rodriguez is learning the transactional end of the practice — not necessarily doing deals, but learning the “vocabulary” of the deal. He is reviewing contracts and handling human resources investigations and other matters like compliance with regulations from the Federal Aviation Authority and state agencies. He says it’s cost-effective for the airline to have him do some field investigations on compliance matters. Just as importantly, Rodriguez expects to learn a lot about the airline business at a company where lawyers have opportunities to move to the business side. He reports directly to McNamara, and on a dotted-line basis to American Eagle President Peter Bowler. Rodriguez attends American Eagle’s weekly staff meetings. He has met individually with Bowler several times in the four months he’s been on the job, but Rodriguez says they communicate most often through e-mail. “I am supposed to feel he is accessible to me,” Rodriguez says. While American Eagle offices are in the same building as those of American Airlines, Rodriguez is not officing with other lawyers. His modestly sized office is on a floor with American Eagle headquarters employees, including 10 vice presidents and executive vice presidents who are apt to pop into Rodriguez’s office with questions and concerns. Rodriguez says Bowler has an open-door policy as well, but “there’s often other folks inside that open door.” Bowler was in meetings on Feb. 21 and did not return a telephone message by press time. CORPORATE CULTURE Rodriguez left Locke Purnell just a few months before he would have been up for partner. If voted into the partnership, Rodriguez says he would have been the first minority lawyer to go from clerk to partner at the firm, which is known as Locke Liddell & Sapp since its merger in January 1999 with Houston’s Liddell, Sapp, Zivley, Hill & LaBoon. The responsibility of being a role model for minority lawyers is a serious concern for Rodriguez, and he wasn’t sure if the timing was right to go in house. “It was a big counterpoint to the positives that I saw [in] coming to American,” he says. “I saw it was important to set an example for others coming behind me that Locke Purnell would promote its minority associates to partner and the opportunities were there for them.” (Two of 14 new partners in Locke Liddell in 2001 are minority lawyers; Locke Liddell currently has six minority partners.) Two Locke Liddell litigation partners who worked with Rodriguez when he was an associate at Locke Purnell — Robert Beatty and Michael Powell — say he would have had a good shot at making partner. But Rodriguez says he left the firm because he saw greater opportunity at American Airlines, and family and career considerations won out. “I saw it as an opportunity for it to expand my horizons, to see more about what it means to be a lawyer, to get to know a particular industry very well and to get to understand the corporate culture. And to work on, I believe, exciting work more often,” he says. Before he joined American Airlines, Rodriguez, a former president of the Mexican-American Bar Association in Dallas, didn’t know about the legal department’s policy that asks outside counsel to use minority lawyers on its work. But he says he believes it helps the airline take advantage of the pool of attorneys available. The nearly 5-year-old policy is working, McNamara says. “We’re seeing a number of our firms — the majority of our firms — seem to be making a serious effort to do what we are asking them to do, [which is] to find talented minority lawyers and put them on our projects,” she says. But McNamara says the progress is imperfect. Some of the airline’s outside counsel were sent letters in late 2000 asking to arrange a “heart-to-heart” with an associate general counsel to discuss the firms’ lack of responsiveness to the minority-hiring request. She declines to identify those firms. “Like anything else, we’re the customer and the fact we believe we are not being listened to is troublesome to us,” says McNamara, who adds that no meetings have been arranged because in-house lawyers have been swamped with the airline’s planned acquisition of assets of Trans World Airlines. The success of minorities in the law is a big concern to Rodriguez, who is vice chairman of the Minority Involvement Committee of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. As a former co-chairman of the committee, he developed a minority pre-law symposium that’s been held at Southern Methodist University School of Law for three years and may be held at Texas Wesleyan School of Law this spring. He’s also mentoring an SMU student. THE CHALLENGE McNamara says she chose Rodriguez for the American Eagle job because she believes he will be good at it. Lawyers who have worked with him, like Doggett and Locke Purnell’s Beatty, say Rodriguez has more than legal talent. “He is the kind of person who could probably be handed just about any job American has, except being a pilot, and make you feel good about the company,” says Doggett, now a Democratic U.S. representative from Austin. “It’s a congenial winning personality and the ability to work with others in the team.” Rodriguez says he’s enjoyed being a lawyer more since he joined American Airlines. And it’s not just because he can usually carve out some time every day to spend with his wife (Stacy Jordan Rodriguez, a lawyer and the daughter of Hughes & Luce partner Darrell Jordan) and two small children. It’s also not simply for the perks like the reduced-rate travel the airline provides to its employees or the in-house benefit of stock options. It’s the challenge of the job, he says. He chose the law as a career because of an interest in politics. While taking political science courses at A&M, Rodriguez says he came to realize that many successful politicians are also lawyers. As an in-house lawyer, however, Rodriguez says he’s no longer active in politics except for voting. It’s an open question whether a political life is in Rodriguez’s future. “Politics? They’ve been subverted to my family priorities right now,” he says. “But that’s always going to be in the back of my mind.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.