- An interview with an in-house counsel at Zurich North America.
Edward T. Paulis III is vice president and senior assistant general counsel for Zurich North America, a leading commercial property and casualty insurance provider and part of the Zurich Insurance Group. In this role, Ed provides daily support to senior management and business partners on corporate transactions, employment, compliance, privacy, and data security issues. Since joining Zurich in 2007, Ed has held positions and roles of increasing responsibility, including managing complex corporate non-claim litigation and investigations. Before joining Zurich in 2007, Ed was in private practice in New York City handling commercial litigation and corporate matters. He is the chairperson of the board of First Eagle Federal Credit Union and is on the boards of Junior Achievement of Chicago and the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
Dawn V. Sheiker (DVS): What career path would you have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
Edward T. Paulis (ETP): I can picture myself cultivating a small vineyard and winery, though I think I would miss the excitement and energy of practicing as an in-house lawyer.
DVS: Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on your career. Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
ETP: I believe any success I have experienced in life is due in no small part to the support and generosity of many people. Although the full list is long, I would note three individuals who served as role models and mentors as I began my professional career: Eric Rundbaken, Ted Poretz, and Howard M. Jaslow.
I worked for Eric (who was in provide practice) and Ted (an administrative judge) over summers before completing law school, and then with Howard’s firm the summer before graduation, and continued full-time with the firm after. These three individuals gave me their time, guidance, and support, providing me a solid foundation to build upon as I embarked on my new career.
DVS: What is one issue that keeps you up at night?
ETP: Privacy and data security continue to be a significant issue. At the same time, innovative and digital solutions to traditional models are expanding the opportunities to pull value from data, and processes are becoming disaggregated and sourced to multiple third parties, requiring increased sharing of data. Laws and regulations have become more protective as to the collection, retention, security, and use of data. Not to mention the wild card, malicious third parties, who are becoming increasingly sophisticated and disruptive.
DVS: How do you select outside counsel? What can an attorney do to get selected?
ETP: Many factors are considered when selecting outside attorney to handle a matter. In some matters, experience with a legal issue or knowledge of Zurich’s business practices are important considerations. In others, the need for counsel familiar with the local court can provide the most value. We also use a quantitative method for evaluating outside counsel at a matter’s conclusion, which provides a data point on future retentions. We do this by assigning ratings across several categories, including efficiency, expertise, and responsiveness. But if I had to make my decision based on only one criterion, I’d have to go with trust. Trust is often the overriding consideration that, along with other considerations, tips the scale in favor of choosing one law firm over another.
DVS: What do you think are the benefits to private practice, if anything?
ETP: Growing up, I believed that lawyers have the skills and knowledge to help others in need, and to be a positive advocate for change. Lawyers in private practice have significant tools and influence at their disposal to impact such societal change through the courts and the laws that are written.
DVS: What is the biggest difference between being the in-house counsel and being in private practice?
ETP: Zurich North America is a great place to work. I get to collaborate every day with incredibly talented individuals on challenging and leading-edge issues. But there are trade-offs between working in-house and private practice. For instance, although I do not keep time records like I used to as outside counsel, I do keep regular office hours and account for my time on the job. Also, as a lawyer with a law firm, I had multiple clients and had some flexibility in accepting work assignments. In-house, I have just one client. Every day is different, and I have no idea what will come knocking on my door. It is a very fast-paced environment.
DVS: What about the handling of legal matters by outside counsel gives you the most headaches, concern, or dissatisfaction? What are the things outside counsel does that make your job easier?
ETP: Not keeping me adequately informed of the progress of a matter is dissatisfying. I internally report matters and frequently field questions from management or the business. If I don’t know what is going on, that’s a problem. And it is more than just the frequency of reports and updates. I look for outside counsel that can partner with me in representing the company’s interests and can anticipate not only my needs but the needs of my business clients.
I want to work with law firms who know the law, know the business, can balance the frequency of updates between too many and too few, and who are not overly reliant on in-house counsel to do the work for them.
DVS: What is the highest value activity that outside counsel brings to you? What is the lowest?
ETP: Strategic advice from counsel that knows our business, risk tolerance, and the law is incredibly valuable, though often not needed. For most work going to outside counsel, value is achieved in providing expertise on significant legal issues or navigating courts in unfamiliar jurisdictions. Much of the routine and repetitive legal work should be delegated to lower-level attorneys or paralegals or outsourced altogether to an LPO. In some cases, it may even make sense to retain a second law firm with a lower cost structure to handle the more routine legal tasks.
DVS: In a typical matter, what is more valuable to you—the predictability of the outcome or result and cost?
ETP: From my point of view, predictability of outcome and costs are related concepts. In evaluating a new matter, the business side wants to know upfront the costs associated with pursuing each potential outcome. After receiving the budget and recommendations of outside counsel, the business and legal department then weigh the costs of achieving each outcome and decide on an appropriate course forward. Once the strategic direction is decided, outside counsel should not then ignore either the budget estimate or the desired outcome.
DVS: What processes and technological tools would you expect/want outside counsel to offer?
ETP: Companies are increasingly placing greater emphasis on data security and privacy, and that includes the vulnerability of our law firms. I think it is generally recognized now that law firms have joined the growing list of targets for cybercriminals. Many firms are proactively addressing this issue, though some are not. I see it when we interview a law firm about its IT and security protocols. My recommendation is that any law firm that has not prioritized data security needs to do so. It has become an unfortunate necessity in our business.
DVS: What do you expect/want from outside counsel with respect to innovation, collaboration, and transparency?
ETP: Just as businesses and our law department work continually to improve the delivery of goods and services, law firms are expected to keep pace and continually improve. It is not just about cutting costs, but increasing efficiency, raising productivity, and improving quality. We all know that some lawyers, both in-house and in private practice, struggle with change. When I started practicing law, legal departments and law firms alike dedicated floor space to law libraries with shelved and frequently updated books. Remember those? Embrace change.
DVS: Where do you see services, approaches and delivery models used by law firms progressing in the future?
ETP: Although the traditional firm model was one-size-fits-all, I do not think that is the right approach today. It is crucial to understand various delivery models offered by competing vendors and be able to leverage the right ones at the right time to solve a specific problem. Having just one or a few tools in the toolbox is better, but it is no longer the path to the best outcome. I’d borrow an idea from marketing companies who often use “traffickers” to coordinate, monitor and manage product introductions. I can see the benefit to having a specialized practice area working with both the law firm and in-house lawyers whose role for any specific matter is to leverage and select from a portfolio of delivery models and vendors to efficiently and effectively address client needs.
DVS: What does the legal profession need to do to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers?
ETP: For any organization, the success of a diversity initiative depends on a commitment from top leaders, who must be unwavering in their communication, time and resources. With that said, a lot can and should be done both short- and long-term to improve access and opportunities in the legal field for diverse candidates. Some ideas that readily come to mind include searching for candidates in non-traditional venues, such as minority associations or resource groups. Keep data around hiring and retention; what gets measured gets done. Be intentional about mentorship programs and provide access to senior leaders and work that is stimulating and challenging. For longer-term solutions, the profession needs to attract qualified diverse candidates to apply to law school. Invite high school youths to job shadow and intern. Encourage your lawyers to visit elementary and middle schools to discuss the opportunities that are available in the legal profession. Volunteer in underserved communities. A child that grows up with no positive experience with an adult who is a lawyer, either as a role model, mentor or parent, has no reason to consider the legal profession as a possible career.
DVS: What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
ETP: I’ve just gotten around to reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. The book provides a good framework on how to break the status quo and bring about change. For a little fun, I’d highly recommend The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner.
DVS: If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be?
ETP: Walt Disney. As a futurist, I’d want to hear about the sources for his inspiration, what he predicted or did not predict of today’s society, and where he sees us going from here.