Beth Chandler says she didn’t graduate from the University of Georgia School of Law aiming for a career as an in-house attorney, but that’s what she’s built.
She was a partner at Troutman Sanders but worked exclusively for the firm’s longtime client Southern Co. when the energy giant prepared to spin off Mirant Corp. Chandler became assistant general counsel and corporate secretary at Mirant, then went to serve as Atlanta’s city attorney under then-Mayor Shirley Franklin. Then, Chandler was general counsel, vice president, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer at Asbury Automotive Group Inc. before taking a sabbatical, at the end of which she became general counsel at Rollins Inc., the Atlanta-based pest control stalwart.
After five years at Rollins, the company in January added the title corporate secretary to Chandler’s nameplate. She oversees a legal department of eight lawyers and three paralegals, plus 35 others in the companies risk and audit groups.
Throughout her in-house career, Chandler says, “I liked the having the exclusive relationship” with a client.”
Her in-house group handles small transactions, contracts and employment work outside of litigation.
She said the company uses outside counsel for specialty matters involving large acquisitions, employment litigation, franchise, foreign expansion and securities compliance. All litigation is handled by outside counsel, she added.
Chandler didn’t want to list all of the firms that Rollins uses, fearing she’d forget one.
Asked what she’d tell a law firm lawyer seeking new business from an in-house counsel, Chandler says, “Pitch a product.” That means showing the potential client how the firm can help the company with a specific problem—on a fixed fee basis, if possible.
Outside firms, she says, “are doing more of that” but getting away from billable hours is hard.
While city attorney, Chandler says, some firms did well with “menu pricing,” charging flat prices for each deposition, for example. She says this can work also where there are “repeatable” areas of activity, such as in employment litigation.
For bigger deals, work in new countries and particularly complex litigation, she says, “We manage that with a budget and assumptions.”
“We’re very focused on budgets” and expect firms to monitor costs accordingly.
Chandler noted that Rollins recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of being listed on the New York Stock Exchange. According to a press release, R. Randall Rollins, chairman of the board, and Henry B. Tippie, lead director, were the only two directors present for a company’s initial listing and its 50th anniversary. One banged a gavel, and the other pushed a button to end trading on the celebratory day, Chandler said.
Chandler’s reading illustrates her interest in leadership, as two books she’s recently completed are Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Leadership in Turbulent Times” and Sally Helgesen’s and Marshall Goldsmith’s “How Women Rise.”
One tip on how women move up in society, she learned, is “not constantly apologizing.”