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Corporate Law Departments

In-House Counsel Q&A: “Our outside counsel are an extension of us,” says Emily Johnson, Deputy GC at UPS

Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Litigation (PLJ) recently spoke to Emily S. Johnson, Deputy General Counsel at United Parcel Service (UPS) about emphasizing litigation prevention, the value of empathy, and how to be a continuous learner.

PLJ: What is the total number of attorneys in the company worldwide, and how many focus on litigation?

Johnson: UPS Legal is leanly staffed with approximately 200 legal professionals globally. There are approximately 12 attorneys in the Corporate litigation group, and additional attorneys in the international and business units that coordinate with the Corporate team on litigation matters.

PLJ: How typical or unique is the scope of responsibilities for the company’s litigation attorneys?

Johnson: UPS has a large portfolio of litigation, which is typical for a company of our size, complexity, and nature. How we manage this portfolio might be out of the ordinary, however. We do not just focus on effectively defending lawsuits, but also emphasize litigation prevention. To that end, we analyze the root causes of the lawsuits and institutionalize these learnings to help the company avoid costly disputes in the future.

PLJ: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the way your department operates?

Johnson: Most of the legal team is currently working remotely. We have increased our use of video conferencing, leveraged remote continuing legal education and other training and professional collaboration opportunities, and even conducted some mediations and court hearings virtually.

PLJ
Emily S. Johnson, Deputy General Counsel at United Parcel Service (UPS)

PLJ: What types of issues will cause you to turn to outside counsel?

Johnson: Our outside counsel are an extension of us. We turn to them in a wide variety of scenarios, sometimes for subject matter expertise, sometimes based on internal bandwidth, and sometimes as a collaboration partner.

PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?

Johnson: A law firm should demonstrate:

  • Empathy — I often say that I would have been a better outside counsel if I had been an in-house counsel first. Outside attorneys really stand out if they understand our business and strategic needs.
  • Knowledge management — Some firms are better than others at harnessing the knowledge that they develop on our behalf and making it accessible within their firm, to us, and to other firms that represent us. This helps avoid duplication of efforts or costs and reinvention of the wheel.

Read the full interview in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Practical Law The Journal: Litigation


  • Goodwill — For example, we recently asked one of our firms to provide some training to one of our junior attorneys on issues relating to attorney-client privilege. The firm went above and beyond by offering to put her through the entirety of their new associate training program. Wow.

PLJ: What advice would you give to prospective in-house litigation counsel?

Johnson: I would give the following advice:

  • Choose a company that walks and talks the values that you think are most important — Use your profession and position to uphold those values as long as you are there.
  • Be a continuous learner — The willingness and ability to learn new things is more important than expertise, as is the humility to realize that you will always have a lot to learn.
  • Be intentional about developing leadership skills — They can be of critical importance as an in-house attorney. If leadership capabilities do not come naturally, put hard work and effort into learning them.

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