Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business (PLJ) recently spoke to Lisa Ann Cooney, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of Day & Zimmermann, about how the law department avoids being perceived as the “office of no.”
PLJ: What are the top goals or areas of focus for the law department?
Cooney: Day & Zimmermann’s business operations require it to on-board and off-board tens of thousands of employees and consultants each year in high-threat, blue collar, white collar, and safety-sensitive environments. Our attorneys must intimately understand these environments, be embedded in business operations, and partner with business leaders to identify, mitigate, and resolve legal risks quickly.
PLJ: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the way the law department operates?
Cooney: We experienced a significant increase in workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We provided nuanced advice on legislation and its impact on the company, particularly related to Section 3610 of the CARES Act, which allows federal agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave for employees who were unable to access worksites and unable to telework during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read the full interview in the Winter 2022 issue of Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business.
We also continue to manage vaccine and mask compliance through the constantly changing laws, regulations, and guidance that impact our sites across the country. Most of the law department has been remote since March 2020, so we make sure to stay in constant contact with business leaders to let them know we are here to support them.
PLJ: How does the law department avoid being perceived as the “office of no” while still ensuring it helps the client avoid liability?
Cooney: When I first joined Day & Zimmermann as a Division General Counsel, I inherited a team which was perceived as the office of no. I worked very hard to change that perception by mentoring my team to become constructive partners to the business, rather than an impediment.
As General Counsel, my team constantly hears me say that our business leaders are our clients and should be treated just like any law firm would treat a client. A law firm would never tersely tell a client “no, you can’t do that,” and nor should we. Instead, we collaborate with our colleagues to better understand their goals, while discussing the risks and sometimes proposing alternative courses of action, with the goal of reaching the best solution possible.
We also distinguish between real and probable legal risk, as compared to academic risk (the kind that you write about on a law school exam). Approaching situations in this way not only assists our clients in avoiding liability, but also encourages them to come back to us.
PLJ: What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Cooney: Advocate for yourself.
PLJ: What advice would you give to a prospective General Counsel?
Cooney: You do not have to be a subject matter expert in all areas of law to be a General Counsel. You just have to be a good leader.
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