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Clorox Legal Chief Uses Outside Firms as Covid ‘Surge Support’

March 17, 2021, 10:00 AM

Clorox Co.‘s increase in cleaning product sales during the coronavirus pandemic showed how essential its outside lawyers can be, even prompting the company to bring some in-house temporarily, according to Angela Hilt, Clorox’s chief legal officer.

“Firms that can provide us with secondees at reasonable rates are going to have an edge in doing business with us going forward,” Hilt said.

Demand for Clorox’s disinfecting products jumped at the start of the pandemic and spiked by up to 500% last summer. The Oakland, Calif.-based company has worked with eight key outside firms to help manage the ensuing legal issues, but it taps a wider network as needed across over 100 countries.

Bloomberg Law is conducting a Q&A series highlighting some of the legal industry’s most important relationships: the often fruitful but sometimes complicated connections between general counsel and their outside law firms. We’re talking with general counsel across industries about how they select outside lawyers and handle issues like billing, fees, and tracking performance.

Hilt joined Clorox as senior corporate counsel in 2005 and was promoted to chief legal officer in December following the departure of her predecessor Laura Stein. Before that, she worked for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison.

Hilt spoke with Bloomberg Law about her recent promotion, the challenges her legal team faced as customers cleared the shelves of Clorox’s products last year, and how Clorox’s key outside firms stepped up to help.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: How was the transition between your previous role as deputy general counsel to chief legal officer in the middle of the pandemic?

Angela Hilt: I am absolutely humbled to take over the role of chief legal officer at The Clorox Company, especially at a time when the work that Clorox is doing as a health and wellness company is so meaningful to people all over the world.

What excites me the most, and what I’m most proud of, is the significant contributions the teams I lead have made in support of our business during the pandemic and in continuing the trust we build with our consumers. This includes all of our work ranging from managing our product claims and our regulatory analysis—which demonstrates that our disinfecting products are effective against Covid—to negotiating supply agreements as we focus on expanding our supply of disinfecting products, and even to negotiating some really exciting strategic alliances that support public health.

BL: Were there any significant legal challenges that you and your outside counsel have worked on because of the pandemic?

AH: This past year has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my career, and that’s probably true for a lot of people. The pandemic dramatically changed how we work and what we do, and this is especially true as Clorox became highly relevant because our disinfecting products are effective against Covid. In addition, as a values-driven company, we have a long history of supporting public health in times of crises, and so Clorox was thrust, to some degree, into the spotlight because of our role in public health.

The work that the legal team has done has been integral to supporting that role and the public trust we have in our health and wellness mission. This heightened attention and activity all over the world meant a lot more work and expertise required for both our in-house legal team and our indispensable outside counsel. There have been some long hours and short weekends for all of us, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team.

As you can imagine, we are laser-focused on meeting the unprecedented demand that has spiked during the pandemic. Among other things, my team is working very closely with our product supply organization in adding new, third-party manufacturers, supporting agreements to expedite getting products to retailers, focusing on products that can be made faster and really supporting us in expanding those relationships. Most of that work is done in-house in close partnership between our legal team and our global sourcing and product supply organization.

BL: What other pandemic-related legal issues have you been working on?

AH: During the pandemic, our IP and our litigation teams have been incredibly busy needing to address issues like third-party price gouging on our products as demand for them spiked, as well as lots of IP enforcement given the big focus on our products. We’ve taken down literally hundreds of websites related to these issues. The substantial majority of our work is done in house, and then there are the key areas we discussed where we lean heavily on outside counsel. Then there are other areas where we work more surgically with outside counsel for specific expertise in support of our team.

BL: How can firms best support you and Clorox during these unpredictable and overwhelming times?

AH: One of the themes that we’re seeing around outside counsel and how our firms can really, effectively partner with us is to help provide surge support during critical times, such as during the pandemic. Being able to provide us with secondees during these surge periods has also been very valuable to us. It’s also valuable for the firms as they have that opportunity to get to know us better through providing us with secondees.

Actually, I was seconded to Clorox when I was with Morgan Lewis, and then I joined Clorox as senior corporate counsel in 2005.

BL: How does Clorox’s secondment program work?

AH: It’s an informal program, and it is on a one-off basis with firms who are able to provide us with secondees. We simply need surge support at times, particularly during critical times, and this allows us to have a more flexible staffing and talent model. So it is something that we have used over the years, and I think it’s increasingly proving its value to us. In our long-term partnership with firms, firms that can provide us with secondees at reasonable rates are going to have an edge in doing business with us going forward.

BL: What other criteria do you use to evaluate your outside firms?

AH: In addition to, of course, looking for top-notch legal expertise and the ability to effectively partner with us and provide practical and business-focused legal advice, we’re also looking for firms to share our values. At Clorox, our core value is do the right thing, and we are also incredibly focused on the value of diversity.

It’s important to understand that Clorox is a consumer products company, and our consumer base is incredibly diverse. Our products are in nine out of 10 households, so we only win when we serve our diverse consumer base and when we serve our consumer base effectively. Half of our executive committee is women, and at the board level, we have five women on our board, and four people of color. Throughout our workforce, we focus on inclusion as well as on diversity metrics. We want our law firms to have a similar focus and to share our values.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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