Jennifer Baumann spent her childhood surrounded by academics in Mid-Michigan. She grew up the youngest of four in Okemos — a community home to many of Michigan State University’s professors and other employees. Her dad, a lawyer, and her mom, an IRS agent, instilled in their children a strong value on education.
Throughout her early education, Jennifer excelled academically — even skipping second grade. She was also athletic. By high school, she was an avid golfer, having taken up the sport after years of tagging along with her dad and older brother on the course.
When she headed to University of Michigan, she walked onto the golf team. And by the following season, the school awarded her a partial golf scholarship.
As an undergrad, Jennifer studied political science and psychology. By then, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Not only did she watch her father enjoy a successful career in law, but her older brother was also entering the profession. And she believed political science and psychology would be critical to a successful legal career.
A Michigan soul through and through, Jennifer ultimately landed at her alma mater for law school, where she worked on one of the University of Michigan’s law journals and built up her resume with challenging internships.
Jennifer’s legal education and subsequent experiences in law ultimately led her to the GC chair at Hallstar, a specialty chemical company focused in both the industrial polymer as well as the beauty and personal care sectors.
Please tell me about your career path immediately after law school.
I had worked on a corporate espionage case involving theft of trade secrets during an internship in law school and that inspired me to pursue intellectual property law. When it came time for on-campus interviews, I sought out IP law firms and ultimately landed a position at Brinks Hofer, at the time a boutique IP firm in Chicago (now a part of Crowell & Moring). I was there for a couple of years before joining DLA Piper.
By then, I had realized I liked doing more diversified work. And while I joined DLA as an IP lawyer, I made a point to get exposure to different areas of practice. Eventually, my role morphed more into an IT transactional lawyer. In that role, I really learned how much I loved the business side of things.
A lot of folks in my group had attended business school — mainly because of the type of work we did – so I took advantage of DLA’s scholarship program for business school and earned my MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business. That was when I decided I wanted to go in-house.
How did you land your first role in a legal department?
I hadn’t really made an active effort to go in-house but I was paying attention to my clients, learning what they did and what their challenges were. Then I was approached about an in-house position at InnerWorkings. It was a company previously founded by the folks that eventually started Groupon, which I had done work for while in the law firm. Through that network, the GC of InnerWorkings found me and actively recruited me.
While there, I did heavy transactional work — a lot of commercial contracts. Having exposure to and being able to draft contracts is in huge demand in the in-house world. Law firms don’t lend themselves to commercial contract work so you have to seek out those skills. I was also doing a lot of employment law at InnerWorkings, which was new to me.
I wasn’t there long, but I got some really great experience that prepared me for eventually getting a GC role, and I worked with a lot of great people.
Where did you go after InnerWorkings?
At the time, I had become really interested in the e-commerce space. The cutting-edge technology, and the marketing and data privacy issues around it intrigued me as a lawyer. At DLA, I had already had some good experience working with online retail companies, so when an opportunity with FTD, the flower retailer with an online business, came along, I took it. I started there as an assistant general counsel, eventually becoming deputy general counsel, and handled all of the legal issues around the internet business.
Almost immediately upon my arrival, the company entered into a formative transaction that almost doubled its size. By 2019, however, FTD had entered a strategic review process. During that time, the then-GC took over as CEO and, as a result, I stepped in as interim GC. It was clear that following the strategic review, the resulting company would not need the type of legal support the prior company had but, by then, I was already open to a permanent GC position.
How did you end up at Hallstar?
Over the years, I had been figuring out what I wanted in the next company I worked for. I loved doing international work and I like working closely as part of a team with my colleagues, so I realized I wanted to find a growing company with an international footprint that I could grow with as well. When a recruiter brought the position at Hallstar to me, it seemed like a perfect fit.
I started in July 2019 as assistant GC but with the thought that I would eventually move into the GC role, as the only attorney in the law department. I was named GC in November 2020.
How has your role evolved since then?
This is a heavily regulated industry and risk management is very important to our business. Since I started, we’ve centralized our regulatory function — product compliance and environmental health and safety (EH&S) — to report to me.
I’m developing a more structured regulatory and compliance group and have grown the department to eight, including one paralegal and several regulatory professionals who are focused on environmental health and safety and product compliance. Essentially, they make sure the company complies with all state and federal laws both in the US and internationally.
What are some of your biggest priorities as GC?
Compliance is always top of mind — making sure our people are safe and everything we do is in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. The company itself is people-focused. Our core values include continuous learning and making sure we foster a positive environment around always improving. And, as part of our focus on ESG (environmental, social and governance), we’ve recently formalized our long-standing sustainability program and strive to make it stronger every day.
What do you love most about being an in-house lawyer?
Maybe it’s because of my sports background, but I love being a part of a team. When you’re outside counsel, you come in and work on an issue. You don’t get to see the day-to-day come to life or really experience close relationship building.
Did you have any mentors growing up in your legal career?
I’ve had quite a few over the years — in my law firm life and even now. I’m curious and I like talking to people because they all have different strengths. You can take pieces of those conversations and make them your own. Some are really good drafters and some are good about teaching you to be a trusted advisor. You learn pieces from these conversations and you create your own point of view and approach to your career.
Tell me about your life outside of work. What are some of your hobbies?
I’m married with two little girls, a cat and a dog, and we live in the Bucktown neighborhood in Chicago. We also have a small family farm in Southwest Michigan, where we have grapevines and a local farmer grows corn and soy beans. It’s a completely different lifestyle from our Chicago life — quiet and relaxing; a place to refresh.
The farm was previously a Welch’s juice grape vineyard. After we bought it, I completed an online viticulture certification. We then ripped out the juice grapevines and planted wine grapevines. It takes about three to five years to establish a good vineyard, so our goal is to sell those wine grapevines to local wineries in Southwest Michigan. If anyone likes wine and has not visited the area, I encourage it!
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be a GC someday?
My biggest piece of advice is to get the broadest exposure to projects and areas of law as possible. Increase the breadth of skills as much as you can. In an in-house role, especially at a smaller company, you need to be a generalist. Increase your capacity to learn. It’s not easy. You have to be intentional about it. Talk to the partner you don’t directly report to, take on a pro bono project, or join the board of a nonprofit. These are all great learning experiences.
Business is important too. Understand the business implications of your client’s needs. Ask questions beyond just the legal stuff. Find out what their challenges are overall — such as budget constraints — and how you can be of assistance with that.