The Top Corporate Lawyers in Dallas-Fort Worth 2015

The 31 counselors in this year’s program are the cream of the crop.

The day-to-day life of corporate counselors hasn’t slowed much over the last year. And many of Dallas-Fort Worth’s top in-house attorneys are still juggling workloads that include everything from complex debt restructurings and initial public offerings to compliance initiatives and setting precedents in the realm of intellectual property licensing. These were some of the perspectives expressed by the winners of our sixth annual Corporate Counsel Awards, brought to you by the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel and D CEO. The winners and finalists profiled on the following pages were selected by a distinguished panel of judges: Gary Kennedy, former general counsel, American Airlines; David Kilpatrick, associate general counsel, Contran Corp.; Chris Luna, chief counsel, MetroPCS; Dena DeNooyer Stroh, general counsel and ethics officer, North Texas Tollway Authority; and Leo Wegemer, vice president and general counsel, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Without their time and valuable insight, this year’s awards program would not have been possible.

Outstanding General Counsel (Solo)

Chris McRorie

Highlander Partners LP

Chris McRorie not only serves as general counsel for Dallas-based Highlander Partners, he also wears that hat for eight of the private-equity firm’s portfolio companies. It’s high-level multitasking at its best, but McRorie says the experience offers much more. “When I’m doing general counsel work for our portfolio companies, we get a level of insight into the company that’s deeper,” he says.

McRorie began counseling corporations in 2001 at law firms Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City and Andrews Kurth in Dallas, where Highlander Partners was a client. He joined Highlander in 2008 and enjoys the moving parts and creativity in putting together the company’s merger and acquisition deals, which focus primarily on the manufacturing sector.

Highlander has been particularly active lately, closing a deal nearly every month for 15 consecutive months. (It typically closes six or seven deals a year, McRorie says.) “One thing is we hit our stride, in a sense,” McRorie says. “We’re still a relatively young firm. … We’ve staffed up over the last two to three years to expand the team, and last year we kind of had it all working.”

Finalist:

Mary Jane Broussard, At Home

 

Outstanding General Counsel (Small Legal Department)

Jay Tobin

Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc.

Each year, Jay Tobin channels his passion for comedy as the master of ceremonies for Dave & Buster’s general manager conference. “If the managers can watch senior leadership … making light in a professional way, we become more human and approachable,” says Tobin, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary who was part of a comedy troupe with Bob Saget while in college in Philadelphia.

Although having fun at work is a perk of working at a hospitality company, the last year has been no laughing matter. Tobin and his two-attorney team have worked on five significant transactions, including two debt restructurings, a $100 million IPO, and two secondary stock offerings. The company’s (NASDAQ: PLAY) stock has risen more than 125 percent from the October 2014 IPO price.

Then there’s the real estate growth: nine new stores in the past 12 months, four under construction, and 15 leases signed. Tobin, who joined Dave & Buster’s in 2006, is able to apply his more than 26 years of in-house experience. “It has been a roller coaster ride, but a great ride,” he says. “We’ve had tremendous growth and also tremendous opportunities.”

Finalists:

Jason Cohen, Dallas Cowboys Football Club 

Wesley Schlenker, Roofing Supply Group 

Del Williams, Hillwood

 

Outstanding General Counsel (Midsize Legal Department)

Scott Ellington

Highland Capital Management

Scott Ellington’s model for managing institutional money such as the Dallas Police and Fire Pension and Texas Teacher Retirement System funds is inspired by his grandmother, a school teacher. “I’m like a zealot about protecting these people’s money and when they entrust it to us, I fight like an animal,” says the partner, chief legal officer, and general counsel who oversees 10 attorneys.

Prior to joining Highland in 2007, Ellington served as in-house counsel for Countrywide Financial Corp. and Wells Fargo Bank. Last year culminated in one the largest pre-trial settlements in the country: For six years, Ellington managed and oversaw a trial resulting in $115 million paid by Lake Las Vegas investors including Texas billionaires Sid and Lee Bass. About two months later, Highland won a $40 million common law fraud verdict against Credit Suisse for an inflated real estate appraisal on the luxury Vegas resort.

The David vs. Goliath case was a major coup. In early September, Highland was awarded $287.5 million in a ruling against Credit Suisse—the largest breach of contract claim yet in Texas this year.

Finalists:

Raymond Ferrell, Dex Media 

Janet Weil, WorldVentures 

Stephanie Zapata Moore, Luminant Energy

 

Outstanding General Counsel(Large Legal Department)

Jim Baldwin

Dr Pepper Snapple Group

When cadbury schweppes decided to exit the beverage business in 2008, Jim Baldwin was working as its general counsel and had been standing by to see if the credit markets would support a private equity buy or a publicly held spinoff. Either scenario would be a learning curve, as much of Baldwin’s career involved commercial litigation for three Cadbury Schweppes subsidiaries.

The spinoff won out, creating Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a $6 billion Plano-based company. “It was a fantastic opportunity, and an incredible amount of hard work,” says Baldwin, executive vice president and general counsel.

His legal team consists of seven attorneys in the U.S. and seven in Mexico. One of their challenges is battling U.S. obesity trends. They’re helping to guide initiatives to stay ahead of trends and battle criticism that isn’t always fact-driven through label and regulatory review, marketing and PR, and ongoing R&D.

“It’s exciting to see the level of influence my team can have working with the commercial teams, seeing the industry changing, and how [we] as a team respond to these competitive challenges,” Baldwin says.

Finalist: 

Carey O’Connor, Flowserve Corp.

 

Outstanding Up-and-Comer

Karen Delaney

GameStop

Gamestop’s senior counsel Karen Delaney likes to solve problems, whether that means providing legal or business advice. “I like being embedded with the business and supporting the organization as a whole,” she says.

Her four years at the video game retailer haven’t been without high-profile issues to solve. The Target data breach in December 2013 brought the need for retailers to be better prepared, she says. In the wake of the incident, Delaney led an effort to develop a robust data breach response team at GameStop.

“We are still actively engaged with that plan, making sure it still fits the needs of the organization,” Delaney says. “We do exercises to test the plan.”

Some of her recent work has been more upbeat; Delaney recently launched GameStop’s college scholarship program, Power to the Scholars. Through an employee-sponsored charity, the program provides academic financial support to GameStop workers and their dependents. The first scholarships, totaling $100,000, were awarded this summer. “It has been so enriching and rewarding to be a part of the scholarship process,” she says, “because you are literally changing lives.”

Finalists:

Michael Capone, Senior Care Centers LLC

Kelly Frazier, Sharyland Utilities

Justin Gobert, HollyFrontier Corp.

 

Outstanding In-House Counsel

Steve Roth

Parkland Health & Hospital System

When Parkland decided to spin off a healthcare data analytics department, it was entering uncharted territory. Steve Roth, senior vice president and senior deputy general counsel at Parkland, led the effort to create what is now the nonprofit Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation. Roth serves as its chief counsel.

The organization’s president and CEO, Dr. Ruben Amarasingham, “is really one of the thought leaders in healthcare right now in terms of healthcare analytics,” Roth says. “I enjoy leading the legal team as well as being a trusted partner from a business perspective.”

According to Amarasingham, “PCCI’s formation and growth has been nothing less than a legal marvel and would not have been possible without the brilliance of Steve Roth. Steve is a master healthcare and technology lawyer, strategist and operator.”

Healthcare law is where he was meant to be, says Roth, who holds a master’s degree in public health. “There’s diversity,” he says. “Whatever you see in healthcare is what you do in the corporate world. There’s tax, nonprofit and for-profit issues, corporate law, governance, mergers and acquisitions. You are not limited.”

Finalists:

Chris Dunstan, Ericsson inc. 

Hope Shimabuku, Xerox Business Services LLC 

Chasity Wilson Henry, Dr Pepper Snapple Group

 

Outstanding Deputy or Associate General Counsel (Small Legal Department)

Janie Perelman

Michaels Stores Inc. 

Janie Perelman opted for a career as an in-house attorney in order to be on the front lines. She had seen too many matters turning into litigation that could have been resolved before reaching that status or avoided altogether.

Perelman has spent about 15 years of her 23-year legal career as in-house counsel in a variety of industries, including aviation, financial services, and retail. She handles all of Michaels’ litigation, including wage and hour class actions, consumer class actions, patent troll cases, employment discrimination matters, multiple plaintiff matters, all labor and employment law matters, and general liability/workers compensation claims.

Her focus is on reducing the company’s legal expenses by finding ways to prevent litigation or settling before it goes to court. Perelman also is aggressive about keeping expenses in check when it comes to choosing outside counsel and often asks them to stick to a budget.

“We won’t settle based on lawsuit expense,” she says. “But when we do settle, we do it early. We’re not fans of paying counsel to go all the way to court, then settling on the courthouse steps.”

Finalists:

Ann House, Quicksilver Resources Inc

Melissa Winchester, TransFirst Holdings

 

Outstanding Deputy or Associate General Counsel (Midsize Legal Department)

Jeffrey Melucci

Kimberly-Clark Corp. 

Jeffrey Melucci is a deal junkie. For him, there’s no thrill quite like being in on a deal from inception to execution. “I really like being part of a business leadership team,” he says. “When you participate fully in the process from beginning to end, that’s gratifying. I also like working within a community of lawyers.”

Melucci, vice president, deputy general counsel, and corporate secretary, joined Kimberly-Clark Corp. two years ago. Prior to that he was with General Electric for nine years, and has been in various general counsel roles since.

At Kimberly-Clark, he has become a world traveler. “We are in 175 countries, and we have the No. 1 and No. 2 slot in 80 countries,” he says. “More than 50 percent of sales come from outside the U.S., so we needed to launch an ambitious transformation initiative to dramatically improve our global capability and regional deployment.”

Over the past 18 months, 40 resource moves were made on Kimberly-Clark’s legal team that focused on the addition of key capabilities in important markets.  “We also invested $10 million in strengthening ethics and compliance globally,” Melucci says.

Finalists:

Peggy Hintergardt, Essilor of America Inc.

Frank Vecella, Ericsson Inc. 

 

Outstanding Deputy or Associate General Counsel (Large Legal Department)

Julia Simon

Mary Kay Inc. 

Julia Simon’s initial foray into in-house law was brief, but it taught her something important. She was recruited to Mary Kay as a labor and employment lawyer in 1995, but she returned to her law firm eight months later because she realized she needed additional skills if she wanted to be a well-rounded corporate lawyer. “I needed to fully be able to judge the risk,” Simon says. “I needed trial experience, so I went back to get that and I did some more commercial litigation.”

In 2000, she was ready to return to Mary Kay. Simon enjoys both in-house and law firm roles, “but in-house, I feel invested in the business all the time,” she says. “I see the business grow and develop.”

Simon’s many career accomplishments include the creation of Mary Kay’s global data privacy compliance program. In 2011, when she took over responsibility for international issues in the Europe region, she realized that, although data privacy compliance had been left to markets around the globe, the company’s technology and systems solutions were moving toward centralization. In order to ensure compliance, Mary Kay needed a global strategy, and Simon took on the task of creating just that.

Finalist:

Kip Poe, Children’s Health System of Texas

 

Outstanding Community Service

PJ Putnam

Global Business & Commerce Inc. 

As the chief operating officer and general counsel of a growing company with international business relationships, PJ Putnam is busy. Still, he makes time to give back. “I think we have a calling, that we are here to help other people.”

Putnam has been volunteering throughout his whole life, but one of his most memorable projects occurred during his first year of law school. He had to deal with the death of his father, not long after a broken neck ended Putnam’s Air Force career. “I didn’t want to succumb to a pity party,” he says.

Instead, Putnam, then a certified surgery technician, went to Ecuador at the Colombia border to volunteer in a field hospital in the midst of rebel fighting. “We were operating on a 4-year-old boy … when the lights went out,” he says. “We closed the surgery using flashlights.”

Here in the states, Putnam volunteers with Vet to Vet, a nonprofit that assists veterans. He’s also the treasurer of his son’s Cub Scout Pack and promotes conservation as a board member of the Tres-Neches Forest Landowner Association. Says Putnwam: “I’m fortunate that I work with great people—in my career and in my community service work.”

Finalists:

Whitney Lewis, Carlson Capital LP 

Rebecca Niederstadt Palm, Essilor of America Inc.

 

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