We asked Kathleen Peterson, Vice president and senior employment counsel at Citizens Bank, N.A.  and the winner of the Employment Individual of the Year award at the 2018 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.

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

I am currently a senior employment counsel at Citizens Bank, N.A.I am part of a 65 to 70 person legal department and one of three employment attorneys in the employment law group. I have been at Citizens for 11 years.

What led you to a career in-house?

I worked for eight years in private practice and practising in-house always intrigued me.  I knew I wanted to be more involved with the business side of things versus reactive/defensive once matters are brought to the outside lawyer.  I also have a young family and wanted a better quality of life.   

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

The ability to listen, pivot and be open and adaptable to constant change. You also need to be able to wear your business and lawyer hats at the same time in order to establish trusted advisor relationships with your clients.

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

Don’t be a road block; try to be agile and creative in getting to ‘yes’ (or at least a “maybe”) in a way that protects your organisation from liability, but allows the leadership to accomplish their business goals.  Think creatively and come up with alternatives. If you are seen as a roadblock, the business will just go around you.

If not a lawyer, what would you be?

A professional golfer (I wish!).

What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?

The entire experience was simply unforgettable.  Being at such an amazing venue as Cipriani’s for a black tie gala, surrounded by my husband and colleagues as well as many talented in-house lawyers from around the globe, I was truly grateful and honoured to be in the room as a nominee.  When my name was called, it was my own Oscars moment, one which I will never forget.  Winning this award was very meaningful to me personally and professionally.  It is an honour and experience I will cherish forever. 

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.