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Lesley Marlin, with General Dynamics Information Technology Inc. Courtesy photo

Lesley Marlin, associate general counsel and director at General Dynamics Information Technology, has quite a big job—managing labor and employment issues at a very global IT and professional services company that serves numerous partners and stakeholders, from the government, to the intelligence community, to tech companies.

Marlin, who will be speaking next month at the Women, Influence and Power In Law Conference, held by Corporate Counsel parent company ALM, has been at Fairfax, Virginia-based General Dynamics IT for about six-and-a-half years. She came to the company from practicing employment law at Venable.

She recently chatted with Corporate Counsel about the transition in-house, her global responsibilities, and how she works with outside counsel. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Corporate Counsel: What are your responsibilities at GDIT?

Lesley Marlin: I would say that my work typically involves three different broad categories of responsibilities. So the first category is providing legal advice to our leadership, our management, our human resources team, on labor and employment matters. The second broad category is handling labor and employment legal claims that are made against the company. And the third broad category is providing training on labor and employment issues to management and human resources.

I know it probably sounds cliche, but there really isn’t a typical day. So on any given day I might be, for example, writing a response to a legal claim. I might be gathering information or documents for an investigation or some litigation that we’re involved in. I might be interviewing witnesses or preparing witnesses to be interviewed. I might be preparing or delivering training. I might be reviewing drafts of legal responses that are prepared by our outside lawyers, all the while filling the day-to-day requests for legal advice on personnel matters.

I know that you were at a law firm previously and that’s an interesting transition to make, suddenly you are the client. What was the change like for you?

So I found the transition to be pretty smooth and seamless. Just before leaving private practice, several colleagues had recommended that I really invest in learning the business once I moved in-house. I took that advice to heart and that has really served me well.

Learning the business for me is not a one-and-done experience—it’s an ongoing process of getting to know the work that we do and the people on our team who do it. So I am often listening to our team members, trying to get as much information as I can about who they are and what they do and asking lots of questions. If I can understand the how and the why behind what we do then I’m best able to give meaningful legal advice to them. Beyond just broadening my professional experience, the in-house perspective has undoubtedly helped me become more strategic and practical as I develop and then deliver legal advice to my clients.

 What kinds of legal issues and frameworks are catching your eye on a global sale?

Having employees working in different locations, including different companies, is certainly a challenge. We try and strive to be as consistent as we can in our policies and practices but we do need to have at times different approaches in place to ensure compliance with applicable laws in the different countries where we operate.

It’s always near the top of our minds to make sure that the managers of our employees in those different countries have awareness of the rules, but also the resources that are available to them with the company to assist them if issues arise. So we often have discussions with them about how employment at will is unique in the United States and the laws around employee termination and also severance are very different in other countries than they are here.

Have you seen the employment law landscape change since you started working in the field?

The labor and employment law landscape has changed quite a bit during my years of practice, especially recently. One significant change and trend has been an increase in state and local employment laws, especially when it comes to leave or wage-and-hour matters.

That trend has created a patchwork quilt of different entitles and rules which then creates compliance challenges for employers when they are trying to operate in various states and locations. Another change, I think, is the expansion of workplace accommodation issues. And that arises out of the change in the law [the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008] in terms of how the definition of disability is interpreted and also the increasing awareness about accommodation in the workplace more generally.

Can you share your approach to working with outside counsel?

I thoroughly enjoy working with our outside counsel because I see that our relationship is really a partnership. It’s important to me that outside counsel have experience with whatever legal issues we’re facing as well as the court or agency where our matter is pending. It’s also important to me that our outside counsel and I work very closely together to both develop and also implement the legal strategy in the matter.

I expect outside counsel to be responsive. I also expect their written work product, whether that’s a brief or a letter or a memorandum, to be well written and persuasive.

 

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