The Hotel Monaco Philadelphia is the newest property belonging to the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC, a brand born in 1981 when Bill Kimpton launched the boutique hostelry concept by opening the Bedford Hotel in San Francisco. The company specializes in buying older properties and giving them stylish makeovers — complete with glitzy restaurants run by celebrity chefs. Guest rooms tend to be smallish, on the European model.
Kimpton aims to marry luxury with affability; at the Monaco, for example, guests can savor the skyline from the 11th-floor rooftop bar, bring along their pets or even request a goldfish in a bowl to keep them company in their room.
The chain owns 57 properties in 24 large cities spanning 16 states. The privately held company employs more than 8,000 people. Kimpton owns about one- third of the hotels and manages the rest for third-party owners. It also sponsors private-equity investment funds that raise money from third-party investors.
Kimpton’s general counsel, Judy Miles, oversees two attorneys, a paralegal and an executive assistant. “With a team as small as ours, everyone kind of handles everything,” she said. “It depends on what comes in the door at any given time.”
The two lawyers are responsible mostly for operations matters including problems involving employees, some of whom are unionized, and guests. “People sometimes behave in an unorthodox manner when they’re at a hotel,” Miles said, politely declining to elaborate. The paralegal oversees routine contracts, pulling in the lawyers when necessary.
Litigation, Miles’ least favorite aspect of general counsel work, is outsourced. “Happily, we have relatively little for a company of our size,” she said. She credits the company’s philosophy with keeping lawsuits to a minimum. Kimpton’s culture, she said, “is to approach everything we do from the perspective of ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ I think that really pays off and enables us to resolve most differences of opinion in an amicable way.”
Kimpton is a defendant in a class action filed in August that alleges price-fixing by online travel sites including Expedia Inc., Priceline.com Inc. and Orbitz Worldwide Inc., and hotel chains including Marriott International Inc., Hilton Worldwide Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit claims the defendants have conspired to fix room rates and limit competition online. “There is in reality no ‘best price,’ but instead there is a fixed uniform price,” the suit alleges.
Miles said she could not comment on pending litigation.
LEAN AND FRIENDLY
Focusing on cutting costs, Miles used several strategies to trim spending on outside legal services by 70 percent. She brought more work in-house “because it keeps life fun and interesting to handle as much as we can,” and takes on real estate matters herself when her schedule permits.
She trimmed the number of outside firms and developed closer connections with a handful of go-to firms that have developed detailed knowledge of Kimpton’s needs. “It’s like any other relationship,” Miles said. “When you know each other well, you can speak in shorthand.”
She said she’s less concerned about outside firms’ hourly billing rates than on the bottom line. Paying a higher hourly rate for the expertise of attorneys who understand Kimpton’s needs often results in lower costs than she’d pay for less expensive attorneys who lack that detailed knowledge, she said. Miles also uses retainer arrangements to hold down costs and negotiates rates.
Miles is happy to outsource litigation. “It’s an ineffective and unproductive use of resources” to handle lawsuits in-house, she said, “and it’s rarely the best way to get a positive outcome for everybody.” Gordon & Rees in San Francisco; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Sidley Austin take on Kimpton’s litigation.
Goodwin Procter’s Teresa Goebel in the San Francisco office helps out with transactions. So does Gary Axelrod of Latham & Watkins’ Chicago office and attorneys in SNR Denton’s Phoenix office.
While Miles was in private practice, she noticed that in-house legal departments either were valued as integral to a company’s operations or considered a hostile obstacle to closing deals and doing business. When she became an in-house attorney, she said, she dedicated herself to building relationships with Kimpton’s executives so she could further their objectives while protecting their interests. A sound legal department should be a business partner to the company’s executives, she said.
To make sure that message gets heard, Miles attends quarterly orientation and training sessions for new managers, introducing herself and letting them know how the legal department can advise them. “It’s all about making us real people and not the mythical, unapproachable, intimidating lawyer,” Miles said.
Her duties also include assisting the investment, development and finance group on third-party contracts and advising the senior executive team, including chief executive officer Mike Depatie, to whom she reports.
Despite Kimpton’s far-flung properties, Miles travels on business only once every four to six weeks, she said. When she does, she naturally always stays at Kimpton properties — and when she’s on vacation, she takes full advantage of the employee discount, she said.
ROUTE TO THE TOP
Miles earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford University in 1981 and her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1984.
Her first job after law school was in the San Francisco office of now-defunct Pettit & Martin, where she worked as a general commercial real estate lawyer. She joined Heller Ehrman in San Francisco in 1991, specializing in real estate work for clients including Four Seasons Holdings Inc., Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Kimpton.
Following Heller’s 2008 dissolution, she joined Kimpton and has been its general counsel since January 1, 2009. (She replaced Nir Margalit, now a partner in Foley & Lardner’s Washington and San Francisco offices who also serves as general counsel and chief operating officer for Avenir Culinary Systems Inc.)
Miles is a Pueblo, Colo., native who was raised in Southern California. She is married to Renata Sos, an attorney with PricewaterhouseCoopers. They have twin 12-year-old daughters.
LAST BOOKS AND MOVIE
The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton (on her daughters’ reading list); Madagascar 3 and The Incredibles.