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The Black General Counsel Project: Dominion Energy’s Carlos Brown

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Dominion Energy’s senior vice president, general counsel, and chief compliance officer Carlos Brown said his team tracks diversity of all its outside firms and wants firms to deliver in a significant way.

“Generally, depending on the specialization of the practice, we would target 20 to 50% of the work to be performed by women or people of color,” Brown said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey.

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.

Brown joined Dominion Energy, based in Richmond, Va., in 2007 as senior counsel and was promoted to general counsel and vice president in 2017. Before that, he worked as a managing partner at Brown Martin PC and president and managing member of the Obsidian Capital Group LLC.

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?

Carlos Brown: Our legal team is working on several state regulatory rate cases, resolving litigation related to the former SCANA Corp. [an energy company based in Columbia, South Carolina] new nuclear abandonment, and closing the divestiture of our gas transmission and storage businesses. We’ve also been working on the contracting and construction of the nation’s largest offshore wind farm, acquiring and constructing 3000MW of new solar plants, and managing the implications of Covid-19 on our workforce.

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

CB: You don’t get promoted because of what you can do, you get promoted because of how you lead. Leaders drive culture, set goals and expectations, and then empower and support their teams with resources, coaching, and encouragement to achieve those goals.

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

CB: To be a great in-house lawyer, you have to learn to be a good businessperson. Don’t think of your role so narrowly. You are not just there to provide legal advice. Your job is to help find solutions to help the company achieve its business objectives. You should always give your clients options.

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

CB: That it is okay to not have all the answers all the time. No one does. However, it is not okay to not have a plan to get the answer.

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?

CB: The legal function is an area in a corporation where individuals are able to have high exposure to senior leadership at a fairly junior stage in their career. This allows individual attorneys to distinguish themselves by developing an objective record of successes and becoming trusted confidantes of their clients. Whether you are a deal closer, a litigation guru, or simply a good business problem solver, everyone likes to keep winners close. The trusted relationship that is developed between a lawyer who delivers good outcomes and his client can create a sponsorship opportunity as that client is promoted through the organization. In many ways, the African American lawyers’ ascendance to the general counsel role has really been the result of the self-interests of their clients wanting to keep proven winners and advisors close.

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

CB: It is a criteria that is considered with every engagement. We ask both about the firm’s demographics and the actual team. Generally, depending on the specialization of the practice, we would target 20 to 50% of the work to be performed by women or people of color. We subsequently track that performance.

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

CB: Honestly, it has not changed my job much. We are obviously working remotely and so some of the informal brainstorming has to be done more intentionally, but our team has not missed a beat. During the Covid crisis, we have negotiated a $10 billion divestiture, won a Supreme Court case, and announced our CEO succession plan. As general counsel, I was already a part of our crisis management team.

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

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