As the winner of the ‘Employment Team of the Year’ at the 2016 Global Counsel Awards, we asked Maral Kazanjian, global head of employment law at Moody’s Corporation, 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 global head of employment law within the Moody’s legal department. Until 2011, I was a team of one but am now part of an exceptional team of five, reporting to the deputy general counsel. We are responsible for advising and counselling all the business units globally on all aspects of labour and employment law.
What led you to a career in-house?
Working in-house felt natural for me. I first experienced the role of in-house counsel during a secondment from a law firm and it immediately clicked. People describe me as a natural teacher and a solution-minded partner, and that is what being in-house feels like for me. I find it particularly gratifying to proactively partner with my colleagues to address workplace challenges, as opposed to handling matters that have already ripened into disputes as outside counsel.
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?
Over the next few years, I believe it is going to continue to be challenging for employment lawyers to navigate the intersection between compliance with divergent local laws and adoption of uniform corporate policies and procedures.
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?
We try to be very principled in our decision making on matters that could lead to litigation, but we do farm out matters that develop into litigation. That said we remain active partners in the handling of our litigation matters. We handle virtually all advice and counsel and routine policy changes in house.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
Early in my career a mentor who I admire greatly told me that being successful meant helping my clients to find a legal and efficient way to achieve their goals. I ground my work on those principles, as well as my own commitment to doing so in a manner that ensures that my clients feel heard and are acting with integrity. Success for me is when my clients understand that my goal is their success, achieved at a high level of integrity.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
To quote Einstein, “If you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it well enough.” We add the most value to our senior leaders when we take a little time to understand the issues on which they seek our counsel. I feel truly lucky that I am able to experience relationships with business leaders where I am treated as a partner on a larger journey, as opposed to an adviser on a narrow topic.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
My colleagues in the Moody’s legal department are not only highly credentialed, great lawyers. but are also deeply grounded in advising on what is right, and not just what is legal. The team is compulsive in its quest to focus on the issues at hand and to serve the business in optimising its operation. As a result, I think we are generally regarded as key partners by our revenue-generating businesses.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
Our industry is facing an inherent tension between having to operate efficiently in a global environment and having to adhere to very different local laws. With events like Brexit, we are being forced to deal with those tensions in situations that affect people and business.
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
A high-school social studies teacher or a Diane Sawyer wannabe.
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
We were genuinely surprised to be nominated for the award and assumed that it would be impossible to be selected from among such well-respected peers. To be recognised by our law firm partners for the work we do is a great compliment. Our goal is to continue quietly to be one of the forces behind the success of our company. We are grateful to the ILO Global Counsel Awards team for the recognition and support.
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 2017 awards please click here.
For further information on the awards, please visit www.globalcounselawards.com.