We asked Kate Hayashi, associate general counsel at American Airlines and the winner of the General Commercial Team of the Year award at the 2017 Global Counsel Awards, her opinion on what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise senior leadership and what winning the award meant to her and the team.

Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).

I am the associate general counsel, commercial at American Airlines. I have an outstanding team of six lawyers, three paralegals and an executive assistant.

What led you to a career in-house?

I began my career at a firm, and while I enjoyed working with a variety of clients, other than a few clients, it seemed as though the work I did was comprised of isolated matters and was not very connected to the clients themselves.

In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?

Approaching and managing the enormous workload triggered by an integration of two large companies has been my biggest challenge in my current role. I believe that advances in technology – particularly the use of artificial intelligence (machine learning) – will be an exciting and challenging experience for in-house lawyers in the coming years. In addition, the application and enforcement of the EU General Data Protection Regulation will, at least in the short term, pose challenges for in-house counsel.

Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?

American Airlines outsources substantially all of its contractual work. To do this, we maintain close partnerships with select firms. The work is tiered and our goal is to have similar work done by the same firm. However, where there is crossover, our outside firms also interact and work together on certain matters.

What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?

Successful in-house lawyers must be well reasoned and pragmatic. They must also have strong communication skills.

What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?

Senior leadership tend to be pressed for time, so boiling the concepts down to crisp, clear messages is a must to ensure that your point is communicated. 

How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?

Our legal department partners with business units in an effort to efficiently assess and provide legal guidance on matters and to support the business in advancing the company’s strategic initiatives in a wide variety of areas, from seeking regulatory consents for joint business applications and negotiating and documenting transactions to defending the company’s rights and assisting with the implementation of programmes designed to keep employees engaged and healthy.

With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?

Had I been able to predict developments in the aviation industry over the past 10 years, chances are good that I would have been thought mentally unstable. Having said that, I believe that artificial intelligence could have a substantial impact on the industry in the coming years.

If not a lawyer, what would you be?

An investigative reporter.

What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?

Every member of my team enjoys their work, aviation in general and our company’s place in the industry in particular. But winning this award was truly a gift that forced us to stop and examine our role in our company’s progress and permitted us to take time to celebrate our contributions to the successful integration of US Airways and American Airlines.

The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions. To make a nomination for the 2018 awards please click here.