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Robert Lavet is senior vice president and deputy general counsel at Sallie Mae in Reston, Va., which he joined in 1992. A past president of the Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association, he will join the board of directors of the American Corporate Counsel Association later this year. Legal Times: What’s top of mind for you in your job right now? What’s piling up on your desk? Robert Lavet: Like many in-house counsel, I face a wide range of issues on a daily basis. On a more macro level, some of the larger folders on my desk include: � Resolving and managing significant litigation within our budget; � Developing legal expertise to properly advise the company in new business areas resulting from acquisitions; � Providing legal support to our sales and marketing groups on significant transactions and proposals; � Helping the company understand and comply with a host of new regulatory requirements in the areas of privacy (Gramm-Leach) and electronic signatures, as well as the new corporate governance rules; � Providing legal support on some of the company’s significant new technology initiatives; and � Providing legal assistance to our corporate development group. I also serve on the company’s credit committee and make regular reports on litigation and compliance issue to the audit committee of our board of directors. LT: Describe your nonlegal or administrative duties. How much time do you spend as a manager of lawyers and staff? What are the top issues and challenges you face in that area? Lavet: The attorneys who report to me are located in Reston, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. In addition, an operational group in Indianapolis that handles borrower bankruptcy issues and manages litigation on certain defaulted loans reports to me. Finally, the corporate compliance officer reports directly to me. My administrative duties include managing the legal department budget, as well as providing oversight and advice to the attorneys who report to me. I also serve on the company’s credit committee with several other senior executives. Approximately 50 percent of my time is spent as a manager, although I retain direct responsibility for a number of legal functions. Some of my key issues and challenges are deciding when and how to delegate effectively, how to leverage the strengths and capabilities of a lean staff in dealing with an increasingly complex and growing business, and how to retain and promote my talented direct reports. LT: Which law firms do you regularly turn to in various substantive areas? Lavet: Our primary outside counsel and the areas they provide support in are: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for specialized securities advice; Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft for structured finance transactions; Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Holland & Knight, Dickstein Shapiro, and Howrey Simon Arnold & White for nonroutine litigation; Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering for mergers and acquisitions; Miller Chevalier for employee benefits; and Venable for government contract work. While we don’t have one primary law firm for employment work, we have used Hunton & Williams with good success in Virginia. In addition, we have used Thompson & Hines in Cincinnati and Krieg Devault in Indianapolis for certain specialized student loan transactions. LT: What kind of work do you send out? What do you keep in-house? Lavet: Our general counsel, Marianne Keler, and I share the philosophy of trying to do as much work as possible in-house, while recognizing that certain matters require outside resources. Our two in-house securities lawyers generally handle the bulk of the legal work on structured finance/asset securitization transactions and securities filings. In addition, our in-house lawyers handle the vast majority of our legal work in employment issues, trademarks, real estate, insurance, e-commerce, private credit, and what I call core business contracts, namely numerous agreements with our lender partners and school customers in-house. We use outside counsel for most litigation, although we are actively involved in managing the cases and developing briefs and other pleadings for repetitive litigation. We handle most of our employment litigation in-house, with outside counsel serving primarily as local counsel. In addition, we have used outside counsel for some of the larger acquisitions we have done, as well as large real estate transactions, although we have done some acquisitions in-house and have managed legal due diligence in-house on all of our significant transactions. We recently acquired two collection agencies and were fortunate to inherit an attorney with expertise in that area who can handle all of the regulatory issues in that business division. In my view, any in-house department must develop expertise to efficiently handle the legal work that relates to the company’s core business functions. Since the in-house lawyers have far greater opportunities to interact with their business clients, they should be cheaper and more efficient than outside counsel in supporting the core business. At the same time, there are particular functions that are more appropriately handled by outside counsel. It is very difficult to handle significant litigation in-house because in-house departments, for the most part, do not have the resources or the time to devote exclusively to litigation. For routine, repetitive-type litigation, we are looking for smaller, more cost-effective firms.

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