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The Black General Counsel Project: Spire’s Mark Darrell

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

In-house attorneys should focus on the creation of trusting relationships across the corporation and on better understanding the business in order to be successful, according to Mark Darrell, the senior vice president and chief legal and compliance officer of energy company Spire Inc.

“The failure to build trust with in-house clients can be detrimental to the lawyer’s in-house career. It is also equally important that you learn the business and, specifically, what makes the business successful and profitable,” Darrell 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.

Darrell joined St. Louis-based Spire in 2004. Prior to that, he worked in various positions for energy companies NiSource Inc., Columbia Energy Group, and New Jersey Resources Corp.

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?

Mark Darrell: Like many companies, my team has focused much of its attention on legal issues related to the company’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, my team is currently working on a number of litigation and regulatory matters that either have a significant impact on the achievement of the company’s objectives or on the company’s bottom line.

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

MD: I was advised early in my career as an in-house attorney to avoid engaging in political conflicts that often occur inside companies. I have followed that advice and it has served me well in my role as general counsel/chief legal officer.

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

MD: I advise lawyers who take in-house positions to develop very strong working relationships with their in-house business clients. The failure to build trust with in-house clients can be detrimental to the lawyer’s in-house career. It is also equally important that you learn the business and, specifically, what makes the business successful and profitable.

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

MD: Considering that I ended up being the chief legal officer of a heavily regulated, publicly traded company, I was not aware of the extent to which I needed to be better educated in accounting, finance, and economics. I wish I had taken more college courses in those areas because I have had to learn those subjects on the job.

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?

MD: I think the supply of qualified candidates for general counsel has increased over time and companies are more amenable to considering Black candidates for these positions. Anecdotally, I heard a representative of a corporate recruiting firm make a similar statement when comparing the legal profession to other professions.

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

MD: The extent to which a firm is committed to diversity is a factor in determining which firms are used. I look at whether the firm has diverse talent in its partnership ranks who have significant management or other roles in the firm.

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

MD: The coronavirus pandemic has required our office-based employees to work from home. As a result, I have been more proactive about ensuring that the legal department continues to provide high-quality service to our business clients.

Collegiality within the department has suffered slightly since the pandemic started because of the inability to meet in person, but we rely heavily upon videoconferencing to remain connected and engaged as a 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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