Welcome

The Black General Counsel Project: Albertsons’ Juliette Pryor

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Juliette Pryor, executive vice president and general counsel of supermarket chain Albertsons Companies, Inc., wants firms to improve at elevating diverse lawyers to relationship partner roles, a key factor in giving these attorneys more clout.

Pryor said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey that when outside firms over her career have offered up a new relationship partner, they don’t put forward diverse lawyers.

“In every instance where I’ve had the opportunity to have a relationship partner who is female, LGBTQ+, Black, or another person of color, I sought it out. Always. I challenge firms to change that practice,” Pryor said.

Black general counsel now make up over 5% of all general counsel in the Fortune 1000, a significant milestone tracked by the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and first reported by Bloomberg Law. We reached out to over 50 Black legal chiefs whose companies were in the Fortune 1000 in 2019 or 2020 to learn more about their careers and diversity at the top of the legal industry and heard from 39 of them.

Pryor joined Albertsons, based in Boise, Idaho, in June. She arrived from Cox Enterprises, and prior to that, she spent over a decade at U.S. Foods. Pryor has also worked at Skadden. She is also a member of the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative’s advisory council.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What are some key matters you and your team are working on right now?

Juliette Pryor: Like so many others in corporate America there is an incredible amount of focus on the impact of Covid-19 on our business, our customers, and our employees. We have accelerated our transition into the digital, e-commerce space. We had to transform our stores and other operations. And, at the same time our organization, like many others, has had to determine our contribution to the nation’s discourse regarding social justice and anti-Black racism. In short, we’ve been pulled in many directions and forced to be more nimble and more effective in the midst of incredible uncertainty.

BL: What’s the best leadership advice you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?

JP: A key piece of advice I have benefited from is the importance of building trust as a leader. Trust is the accelerator for leading teams through challenging times and it is gained by being authentic and present and by engaging with and caring about the people you work with. That does not mean always telling people what they want to hear. But trust and authenticity enable you to have candid and transparent dialogue, especially when those discussions may be difficult.

BL: What advice would you give you lawyers who want to go in-house?

JP: The beauty of being in-house is that you get to be embedded in the fabric of an organization and work collaboratively with your business colleagues. As a result, you need to know more than the law. Obviously, you must understand and be able to convey legal concepts and advice. However, the real opportunity to bring value lies in your ability to help the business achieve its goals because you understand how the business works and where it wants to go. If that doesn’t excite you, then in-house may not be the best place for you.

BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?

JP: I wish I knew earlier in my career the importance of being my authentic self. In those early years, I attempted to play the role of what I thought a corporate lawyer should be. It turned out to be a draining and an unsustainable effort. Inauthenticity impeded my ability to build deeper relationships and to be truly seen for who I am and what I have to offer.

BL: Why do you think the number of Black general counsel has been on the rise? Have you observed any changes in the past few years that have contributed to recent increases in representation?

JP: I have been serving in corporate general counsel roles for the past 20 years, and it is true that the landscape has changed significantly. But it is a significant growth from a rather low baseline. My sense is that the general counsel role has been the C-suite role in the Fortune 1000 that has perhaps seen the greatest representation. I have wondered whether that is in part fueled by the high attrition of Black lawyers from law firms or whether it is because companies historically have been more comfortable placing Black leaders in the general counsel role than in other leadership positions.

My sense is that Black attorneys have been migrating to corporate law departments in larger numbers for a longer period of time and that more of us have advanced to these senior roles. I also believe that many of us have paid it forward by helping other lawyers in the corporate setting find their footing and move up to the general counsel rank. And, in some instances, Black lawyers have entered corporate America via the legal function and been able to go beyond that particular seat at the table all the way to the CEO spot.

I commend those who are doing the hard work to ensure that there are more opportunities for Black lawyers in our corporate legal departments and in our general counsel roles, but we have much, much more work to do across the legal profession and across the rest of the C-suite.

BL: When you’re looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?

JP: General counsel are uniquely positioned—and I believe we have a responsibility—to be intentional about hiring diverse lawyers for the legal work we obtain from external law firms. It is unfortunate that many law firms do not make meaningful progress on their own but are able to make progress when their customers tell them that it matters to them. I am never shy about asking law firms about their firm’s focus and actual progress on diversity.

Similarly, I want to know about the diversity of the lawyers who are assigned to our matters. And, most importantly, I look for opportunities to have a diverse relationship partner at the firms where we do business. The relationship partner not only gets credit for the work that their team does for your company, but by virtue of your business they have the clout within the firm to help inform opportunities for other diverse lawyers, and to help the firm improve its overall progress in driving more diversity and inclusion.

I have had the experience of firms coming to me and telling me that someone has left or retired, and the firm has identified the person who will step in as the relationship partner. I’ve never had a firm present me with a woman or person of color as the new relationship partner. In every instance where I’ve had the opportunity to have a relationship partner who is female, LGBTQ+, Black, or another person of color, I sought it out. Always.

I challenge firms to change that practice. And, I challenge general counsel to make those requests—and not just diverse general counsel because there are not enough of us to really make a dent.

BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?

JP: Today we use technology to connect meaningfully and effectively. I was initially reluctant about this remote world. After a few significant personal events that were forced to be virtual, I came to terms with where we are and how we have to shift. I made this job change entirely via a virtual process. Our company did our road show and IPO’d virtually. In almost every meeting or interaction I ask myself what it is I am missing by being in a virtual environment. And, while I miss the camaraderie, I am not sure that there has been a considerable trade off in efficiency.

Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.

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;
Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

To read more articles log in.

Learn more about a Bloomberg Law subscription.