Wade Turner says he felt like he was coming home when he became general counsel of Academy Sports + Outdoors. He already was a loyal customer of the Katy-based sporting goods company, buying basketball, football, running and biking equipment there.
“I’m a sports nut,” explains Turner, who now holds the title of executive vice president and general counsel. He plays basketball, softball and flag football through city-, church- and YMCA-organized leagues. “I do spend quite a bit of money at Academy. It’s great; I love it.”
Turner says the ever-changing retail environment creates new tasks each day for him, another lawyer and the seven paralegals in his department. He supervises many aspects of Academy’s day-to-day business: regulatory compliance, risk management, store operations, loss prevention, customer service complaints and employment issues.
He also oversees behind-the-scenes business operations such as contract negotiations with vendors, intellectual property protection and management of outside counsel handling litigation.
Turner earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Dayton in 1989. He earned his master’s in business administration from Ohio State University in 1992, while simultaneously working as manager of regulatory and pricing services at an energy company, DPL Inc.
Always interested in the law, he thought the speaking and writing skills that good lawyers need played to his strengths. In 1997, Turner earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law, then worked on commercial litigation as an associate with Houston’s Liddell Sapp Zivley Hill & LaBoon, which eventually morphed into Locke Lord.
Turner’s in-house career began in 2005 at Home Depot, where he was senior corporate counsel in charge of litigation. He says he had always wanted to work in business, because his father enjoyed a 40-year career in the retail industry. His father was tickled when he learned about the in-house job, because Turner had never volunteered for home-improvement projects.
“He laughed out loud at the thought of me working with Home Depot,” says Turner.
In 2009, Turner joined Academy as general counsel, a more natural fit for the athlete.
Turner’s legal department is in charge of ensuring that Academy’s 137 stores comply with federal, state and local regulations. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates product safety for some Academy goods. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates hazardous materials such as boat oil, Sterno and mosquito repellant. Because Academy sells firearms, Turner oversees compliance with a bevy of regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He and his legal team also review local ordinances and inform stores about how to comply.
Many of Turner’s duties involve Academy’s daily operations. His department makes sure stores are safe for customers by training employees, performing store safety audits and ensuring stores are designed for safety. His department also ensures the company has the right insurance coverage. On the loss-prevention front, legal makes sure stores have the proper security personnel who interact well with law enforcement. The legal department ensures security personnel follow laws about stopping suspected shoplifters from leaving a store. Turner also supervises Academy’s customer service department, where customers can file formal complaints.
“We try to resolve customer issues without someone having to file a lawsuit,” he says, noting that the customer service department’s efforts to resolve the complaints are “simply another level of customer service.”
Because the company employs 18,000 workers, Turner also keeps track of the employment issues that arise from time to time, he says.
Turner plays a large role in Academy’s behind-the-scenes operations. The company contracts with vendors for office equipment, business services and private-label brands such as Magellan Sportswear and Austin Clothing Co., sold exclusively at Academy. Turner’s team files for trademarks and monitors the use of those brands.
Because his legal department is small, Turner says he relies on outside counsel for litigation involving slip-and-fall claims, contract disputes, real estate or construction disputes, and employment matters.
Turner becomes personally involved in vendor negotiations, contracts or litigation only when they involve high-dollar amounts or significant legal issues.
“It’s pretty rare we have a dispute with someone that requires my attention, but they do happen from time to time,” says Turner.
Outside counsel also help Turner with transactional work such as contract negotiations, finance issues and banking agreements, and intellectual property and construction matters, he says.
Steve Kuntz, a partner in Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston who handles tax and transactional matters for Academy, says Turner always gives clear directions and deadlines for projects, and he delegates tasks and communicates effectively.
“He always provides sound leadership on the matter you’re working with,” he says.
Kuntz says Turner also explains how an outside counsel’s work fits in with Academy’s ongoing business goals.
Kuntz says, “He does an excellent job of weaving together all the issues so you see the whole picture.”
Turner “demands excellence” and has “clear expectations” from his outside counsel, says Hanna Norvell, a partner in Locke Lord in Houston who handles Academy’s employment litigation.
“He’s very good to work with in that regard, because he lets you know where he’s coming from and what he sees as the risk to the company in the matter you may be working on,” Norvell says about Turner.
On a personal level, Norvell describes Academy’s GC as “friendly” and “fun loving.” This holiday season Locke Lord organized a party for 140 first-grade students in an underprivileged neighborhood. Academy provided presents and entertainment, and Turner and his legal colleagues dressed as elves and helped kids pose for pictures with Santa.
“It was really fun, and everyone had a great time. Wade really loved that party. He has a very giving heart,” Norvell says.
Best Practices: Great Lawyer, Great Business Partner
After seven years as an in-house lawyer, Wade Turner — executive vice president and general counsel of Academy Sports + Outdoors — knows how to manage his legal team. Turner joined the sporting-goods company in 2009, after serving as an in-house lawyer at Home Depot. Earlier in his career, he was an associate with Liddell Sapp Zivley Hill & LaBoon. He graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1997. Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris emailed Turner some GC best practices questions. His answers are below, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: Which things from your previous legal experience help you most on the job today?
Wade Turner: My litigation experience, combined with my big-box retail experience at Home Depot, have been invaluable to me in my current role at Academy Sports + Outdoors, because these prior roles taught me different areas of the law; encouraged me to develop relationships with clients, judges and other counsel; and helped me hone my writing and public speaking skills.
TL: How is your life different now that you’re general counsel of Academy, compared to your time as a private-practice commercial litigator?
Turner: Both require hard work and dedication, and long hours are sometimes necessary. I think the primary difference is that, as a general counsel, I am engaged in many other parts of the business outside of legal. For example, I am responsible for risk management, regulatory compliance and loss prevention. I also support other critical areas of the company, such as merchandising, marketing and operations. As a result, my goal at Academy is to try and be both a great lawyer and a great business partner for each functional area.
TL: For what types of legal work does Academy typically hire outside counsel?
Turner: Academy Sports + Outdoors relies extensively on outside counsel to support us in commercial litigation, general liability, intellectual property, labor and employment, tax, and financial/corporate work.
TL: What are the biggest factors you consider when hiring outside counsel?
Turner: Competence, responsiveness and value. We look for the best individual attorneys in their specialty, regardless of firm. We look for attorneys who can respond and adapt to our changing needs in the dynamic retail business. We look for attorneys who can provide a high caliber of work at a reasonable cost and that can understand the business and budgetary considerations impacting legal issues.
TL: What can outside counsel do to make you think they have performed beyond your expectations?
Turner: Be a reliable and responsive business partner that consistently achieves great results at a reasonable cost. One of the best indicators of outside counsel performance is compliments from our in-house staff and department associates who work with outside counsel.