Category Archives: General Counsel Q&A

Brandon B. Smith, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Tenneco

Brandon Smith originally envisioned himself following in his father’s footsteps – and initially planned a career in business, having spent many of his early years watching his Dad grow companies and build high-performance teams. He excelled academically, and chose to attend Hiram College, a private liberal arts school in Ohio, where he majored in Business Management, with a focus on finance and accounting. Smith also took the not-so-subtle cues from his father to work hard and contribute towards the communities that you live in. During those high school and college years, he took on several jobs—working as a snowplow truck driver, pulling his weight as a farm hand, and even working as a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the city of Hiram, where you would often find him responding to house fires or medical emergencies.

After also working in a few short internships that ranged from a NASA lab in Ohio to civil and environmental engineering firms, Smith took on a role with National City Corporation—working in finance and accounting. There, he worked closely with the bank’s general counsel for its new insurance division. “I really liked the way he operated—mixing law and business to solve problems for the organization – and ultimately contribute towards profitable growth,” Smith says. “That experience opened my eyes to the legal profession as an interesting career path.”

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Chaka Patterson, Deputy General Counsel, Adtalem

Chaka Patterson spent much of his childhood surrounded by academics. He grew up in Evanston, Ill., with Northwestern University in his backyard. After his mom completed her PhD in History at the university, she was offered a position as a history professor. So the family set down roots for good in the near-north Chicago suburb.

As a history professor, Chaka’s mother educated her children about the most important aspects of American history—most notably, the Civil Rights Movement. While acquiring knowledge about this era of American history, Chaka grew a deep appreciation for the Civil Rights leaders he now refers to as his heroes: Thurgood Marshall, Charles Houston and William Hastie—all of whom were lawyers.

When considering his path to a legal career, Chaka looked again to his heroes. He noticed that many followed a similar path: Amherst College for undergrad, Harvard for law school. “I wanted to follow in their footsteps, so that’s exactly what I did,” he says. 

Chaka graduated from Harvard Law in 1994 and set himself on a path that would ultimately lead him to the DGC seat at Adtalem, a leading workforce solutions provider.

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A. Verona Dorch, General Counsel of Peabody Energy

Moving from the U.K. to the United States would be a tough transition for any middle schooler. But Robert and Estelle Watt—West Indian immigrants living in London with their daughter Verona—sought better opportunities than what London could provide at the time for their pre-teen daughter. They saw that opportunity in New York—so the family packed their bags and headed across the Atlantic.

Setting down new roots in Brooklyn, Verona made an effort quickly to fit in. “My neighborhood Crown Heights wasn’t as gentrified then as it is now, so I relied on American TV to help me pick up the accent, so I didn’t stand out,” she says. “Growing up in London and New York—the adversities I faced in those environments—really shaped who I am today, and I loved having that opportunity.”

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D. Cameron Findlay, GC at ADM

In middle school, D. Cameron Findlay got one of the most interesting assignments of his young life. His sixth grade teacher tasked her class with writing an autobiography. But the students had to write it from the future—looking back on their long lives and fruitful careers. Findlay didn’t hesitate when he scribed a few pages about his accomplished legal career, which included snagging a US senate seat, but only after successfully graduating from the revered Harvard Law School.

“I don’t know how I came up with it,” Findlay says. “I didn’t know any lawyers and I honestly have no idea how I had ever even heard of Harvard Law School. … And anyway, I was only half right.”

While Findlay may not have pursued a career in politics, he’s no stranger to success. Growing up in a loving Midwestern home, his parents—a dentist and former social services worker—encouraged Findlay to pave a path to happiness, both personally and professionally. After graduating from high school in his hometown (and mobile home/recreational vehicle manufacturing capital of the world) of Elkhart, Ind., Findlay headed to Northwestern University. More 

John Albright: Chief Legal Officer for Hub International

John Albright spent the early part of his childhood living all over the world. An army brat, he moved every few years—which forced him to be outgoing and constantly make new friends. Albright made his last childhood move from Australia to North Carolina when he was in the fifth grade, finally setting down roots.

As a student, Albright excelled in math and science throughout his formative years. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. Right out of school, he went to work for Shell Chemical Company, selling plastics into the automotive and transportation industries. It was there that Albright had the opportunity to work closely with and get to know some of the lawyers in Shell’s legal department—and he realized, he might find the work rewarding.

Having traveled a lot with his Shell job, Albright got to know—and fall in love with—Nashville. So when it came time to pick a law school, he set his sights on Vanderbilt. “It was a laid back city, and the school had a strong recruiting pipeline, so it made sense,” he said. More 

Luis Machado: A strong legal department leader at CTS Corp.

Luis-Machado-General-Counsel-CTS-CorpBorn in Cuba, Luis Machado came to the U.S. with his mother and sisters when he was only four years old. He and his family settled in Union City, N.J., where he spent his childhood—not only developing a love for Springsteen’s music, but also attending the local Catholic schools and then Saint Peter’s Preparatory School in neighboring Jersey City.

For as long as he could remember, Machado had always planned on becoming a doctor. After graduating from Saint Peter’s, he headed to the University of Michigan, where he began a pre-med program. But it didn’t take long for Machado to realize the medical profession wasn’t his dream.

“I realized one day I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I was confronted with that dreaded scenario: Break my mother’s heart and leave the pre-med program or continue studying for a career I knew wouldn’t make me happy,” he explained. More 

In his grandfather’s shoes: W. Scott Nehs paves a successful legal career

Nehs_ScottW. Scott Nehs had an idyllic childhood. He grew up in a log cabin along the Rock River in southern Wisconsin. He spent his winters playing hockey and focused on golf whenever the weather allowed. Both of his parents were teachers—so the family of five spent long relaxing summer breaks together playing sports, being active and traveling—often to Ohio to visit Nehs’ grandparents.

It was during those summer trips to Ohio—when Nehs spent as much time as he could with his grandfather, William C. Leonard—that shaped the career he would have later in life. Bill Leonard, a local attorney, was not only a well-respected pillar of his community, he was also an extremely proud and involved grandfather. He would let Nehs tag along with him to his law office, a gesture that made an enormous impression on his young grandson.

“In my mind, I thought I was helping him at work. I realize now, in his mind, it was more about showing off his grandson,” Nehs says. “But it was on those trips that I saw him interacting with his partners and clients. His approach was that law is a serious business, but it’s ultimately about helping people solve problems. He also felt it was important to keep a sense of humor.”  More 

Diana Chafey: An accomplished GC discusses her legal career

Chafey_Diana_TWG_944 (4)If anyone fits the description of being “self-directed,” it’s Diana Chafey. She grew up in a military family with no lawyers around her, but decided in fifth grade that she would one day practice law. In her young mind, a legal degree was as versatile as they come—she could likely apply a legal education to any field she may decide to pursue.

During her senior year at Arizona State University, Chafey made another firm decision—she was going to live in Chicago. She had always wanted to move to a large metropolis and -after visiting the Windy City with a friend her senior year, she found the perfect new hometown.

Chafey took a year off after her college graduation to work as a paralegal at a big law firm in Phoenix, then headed to Valparaiso University Law School, about an hour outside of Chicago. Not surprisingly, her career flourished upon graduation. More 

From a high school mock trial to the GC seat of Dyson: Jason Brown

JLBrown 2015By the time Minneapolis-area native Jason Brown was in high school, he already knew he wanted to be a lawyer. During a civics class his sophomore year, Brown participated in a mock trial, in which he served as lead defense counsel. From preparing for trial and creating presentations to participating in deep strategic thinking and gaining skills that could serve to help those in need, Brown fell in love with the work and the idea he could actually make a living doing it.

Around that same time, Brown’s mother introduced him to an old childhood friend of hers who was a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. After the professor gave the 16-year-old a personal tour of the Howard campus, Brown fell in love again—this time with one of the country’s prestigious colleges.

Brown’s destiny was set. After high school, he attended Howard University—where he excelled as a student—and immediately upon graduation, went straight to Howard University School of Law. “Being an African American kid from the Twin Cities, it was a huge and strikingly sharp contrast to go from there to an historically black college that is so rich in history as Howard,” Brown says. “I jumped at the chance to do something that would be different and challenging.” More 

Fast and furious: visionary and race car driver Jeff Carr continues driving change in the delivery of legal services

JWC OC picAs a young man growing up in Delaware, Jeff Carr was always hard at work. Whether he was fixing banged-up cars in his family’s body shop, refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture in his uncle’s artisan furniture store or preventing drownings as a lifeguard at the local pool, Carr was slowly and carefully developing skills that would become critical to his success as a legal department leader in the years to come.

Carr has a reputation among his GC peers as being a visionary in changing the way legal departments and law firms deliver legal services. “Innovators are only considered to be visionaries after they’re proven successful,” Carr says. “Before that, we were just thought of as crazy.”

In the early days, Carr’s out-of-the-box ideas may have seemed crazy, but before he retired after a long tenure in the GC seat of Fortune 500 company FMC Technologies, Carr worked for years with law associations and other forward thinkers to shape the way legal departments partnered with law firms and bought legal services—not only helping put the terms “alternative fee arrangement” and “fixed fee” on the legal services map, but also creating efficiencies within the legal department world that previously didn’t exist. More