Please describe your current role (eg, responsibilities, size of team, structure).
I am head of employment law for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in the Americas. I oversee all things relating to employment law on the retail bank side (eg, Citizens Bank and Charter One brands) and on the investment bank side (eg, RBS Securities Inc), as well as RBS Plc's and RBS NV's branches and representative offices in North and South America. Employment law related matters include such things as: managing employment litigation; overseeing human resources (HR) related policies; engaging with regulators such as the Federal Reserve on issues of incentive compensation; counselling on the employment law implications of strategic business decisions; advising on the employment law aspects of mergers, acquisitions and divestitures; counselling HR and the business with respect to disciplinary matters; and drafting and negotiating executive agreements and separation agreements.
The Americas employment law team consists of me, four other employment lawyers and a paralegal. The team reports to me and I report to the general counsel of the Americas.
What is the greatest achievement of your career thus far?
A great team achievement was receiving the 2012 ILO Global Counsel Award for Employment Team of the Year. That was truly an honour.
Individually, I am proud of having been able to help navigate RBS through some very difficult times, particularly at the end of 2008 moving into 2009. The financial services industry crisis occurred just months after I joined RBS. While I was still acclimatising to in-house life (previously, I was with Reed Smith LLP), I was asked to play a key role in advising on some significant restructuring that was about to take place and to manage the claims resulting from the restructure and the 'new world' within which banks were operating. I was able to handle the vast majority of claims in-house without the need to engage outside counsel and I managed to keep all but a handful of these claims from moving to full litigation. This provided some peace of mind to internal clients who were spared the time and energy of participating in multiple litigations during a very difficult time, and saved the company a great deal of money at a time when losses to financial services companies were unprecedented.
What is the most challenging situation that you have faced in your current role?
Taking a leadership role in managing the integration of ABN AMRO NV employees into RBS from 2008 to 2009 and merging what, in my opinion, were two very different cultures, while at the same time taking a leadership role in assisting with the restructure of RBS in the Americas and managing the resultant employment litigation.
Are there certain kinds of legal issue that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
Formal litigation in court or arbitration is routinely referred to outside counsel. With a total of five in-house employment lawyers providing guidance in relation to the nearly 30,000 employees we have in the Americas, we simply don't have the time to keep employment litigation in-house. Occasionally, we will use outside counsel for guidance on novel or particularly high-profile/complex issues that arise, but this is rare. We try to handle all other employment law-related matters in-house. We take pride in being a lean function which is largely able to service our internal clients without the need for outside help. Needless to say, the various businesses appreciate the cost savings this brings.
Which two/three law firms that you have recently instructed have made you smile, and why?
This past year a plaintiff's attorney made me smile when she made reference to one of our outside counsel. This plaintiff's attorney brought a claim against RBS but said that her firm and her clients were interested in early resolution rather than full litigation. As such, we agreed to attempt to mediate. The plaintiff's demands were high and Proskauer, which represented us, did a great job of holding our position firm. Ultimately, after two days of mediation, the plaintiff made a 'take it or leave it' demand. We called their bluff and left it - much to their surprise, we walked away from the table. They called us the next day and we resolved for roughly 1% of their demand - this was a great result for RBS and an extremely disappointing one for the plaintiff. Months later, the same plaintiff's lawyer called me to say that they had another client with similar claims and were trying to decide whether to pursue their case against us. The plaintiff's lawyer asked if RBS would be inclined to retain Proskauer to represent us again, to which I responded "yes". The plaintiff's lawyer then said, "In that case, I don't think we are going to bring the claim" and I have not heard from her since. That made me smile.
I know that other firms such as Reed Smith have given me reason to smile as well, I just can't recall the back story at the moment.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?
Although you want to be as responsive as possible, don't feel the need always to respond immediately. Be sure to take a step back and really think about the issue presented and then respond. Clients will appreciate that.
What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
It will be a challenge to keep up with the rapidly changing regulatory environment on the global front, particularly in the financial services industry. Regulators and governments in multiple countries seem to be promulgating rules, regulations and laws on a continual basis in response to the financial services industry crisis of 2008 and the variety of issues that arose from it in subsequent years. In-house counsel in global organisations must keep up with the changes, assist with compliance and assist with reconciling whatever is being promulgated abroad so as to ensure compliance globally, not just locally.
With regard to your industry, are there any recent significant developments worth highlighting?
New laws and regulatory guidance such as the Dodd-Frank Act and the Interagency Guidance on Incentive Compensation being overseen by the Federal Reserve Board will lead to significant changes in the way banks operate, manage risk and compensate individuals.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
I'd like to say a football player (American football, that is), but that is more the dream. I'd probably be a teacher and coach the school's football team.
About The Royal Bank of Scotland
RBS is one of the largest international banking and financial services companies in the world. It was founded in 1727 and is headquartered in Edinburgh. RBS serves over 30 million customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Asia.