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The Black General Counsel Project: Flowserve’s Lanesha Minnix

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:00 AM

Lanesha Minnix, the chief legal officer of industrial machinery company Flowserve Corp., said that choosing to work with law firms through a diverse partner has helped build outside legal teams that are less homogeneous.

“In instances when I am hiring a new firm, I make every effort to identify a diverse partner as the ‘relationship partner’ to allow origination credit. I find when a diverse partner is lead, they tend to assemble diverse teams to work on matters,” Minnix told Bloomberg Law in a recent 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.

Minnix joined Flowserve, based in Irving, TX, in 2018 as senior vice president and chief legal officer. Prior to that, she worked for BMC Holdings, Inc., ABM Industries Inc., and Royal Dutch Shell/Shell Oil Company and Sprint Corp. She began her career in private practice.

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?

Lanesha Minnix: We have recently implemented a contract lifecycle management system to automate and streamline the entire contract review process and governance. We have also been working on enhancements to our global compliance program, including a new integrity campaign launch and simplification of our communications, policies, and procedures. Finally, we are implementing a performance management process for our law firm providers that includes measuring and reviewing key metrics that align with our company values and objectives.

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

LM: If opportunities present themselves and you are in a position where you can take on those opportunities, don’t be afraid to take calculated risks in your career. About 10 years ago, I took an international assignment in the Middle East with Shell Oil Company and the experience I gained was unparalleled. To this day, that experience has influenced how I think about legal issues and helps me build stronger, global teams.

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

LM: Going in-house is not for every lawyer and I often tell people that you have to bring a commercial and business-oriented mindset to your legal practice. Companies are looking for business partners, not just lawyers. We don’t have the luxury of merely offering options to a business and then letting business leaders pick from a buffet of legally compliant options. We have to be willing to roll-up our sleeves and help solve business problems, execute on strategy, and drive financial results.

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

LM: When I graduated from law school, I was singularly focused on learning how to be a good lawyer and building my subject matter expertise as a transactional, merger and acquisitions, and corporate lawyer. And frankly, that was absolutely the right thing to do because it’s hard to progress in the legal profession without being technically sound in your legal practice. However, I believe the best general counsel and senior in-house leaders are the ones that have a broad range of experiences across a variety of legal disciplines and not just deep expertise in one or two areas of law.

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?

LM: I think there has been an increase in the pipeline of ready-now candidates to be general counsel, enhanced in part by organizations that are providing development opportunities. For example, I participated in the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Next Gen General Counsel Summit program, which is an in-depth leadership development program focused solely on preparing diverse senior in-house lawyers for the general counsel role. The program’s faculty is comprised of current or recently retired general counsel of Fortune 1000 companies and partners at executive recruiting firms.

Additionally, there is an increased recognition by companies, chief executive officers, and boards of directors regarding the value of building diverse executive teams and how that can drive more profitable business growth.

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

LM: Law firms are businesses and their business model dictates that the rainmakers are the revenue generators and thus are more highly compensated and have more influence in their management structure. In instances when I am hiring a new firm, I make every effort to identify a diverse partner as the “relationship partner” to allow origination credit. I find when a diverse partner is lead, they tend to assemble diverse teams to work on matters. In instances when the relationship partner is already in place, we ask for our firms to consider diversity in the teams that work on our matters. If we want to continue to see the pipeline of diverse lawyers improve in the legal profession, it’s not just a recruiting issue—it’s also an issue of retention, engagement, and development. Most in-house lawyers have some experience in a law firm and as a result, law firms are [some] of the best training grounds for future in-house leaders.

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

LM: Because we were deemed an essential business, most of our facilities around the world stayed open throughout the pandemic. As a result, for the better part of the first half of 2020, my team focused on helping the company respond to the pandemic with the priority of keeping our associates safe around the world while also ensuring business continuity and delivering for our customers.

In some respect, the pandemic has provided us with opportunities that we hadn’t previously explored. For example, my team has been highly engaged and productive in a work-from-home environment and in some ways is more connected with our teams globally because we are deliberate about it. We are learning how to work in a virtual world and that has been the silver lining.

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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