- An interview with the general counsel of Arch MI Holdings.
Sara Millard is executive vice president and general counsel of Arch MI Holdings (Arch MI) in Greensboro, North Carolina. Arch MI is a mortgage insurance provider offering risk management and financial services expertise to mortgage lenders. As general counsel, Sara oversees a team responsible for all legal, regulatory and compliance services across Arch MI and its subsidiaries. Before joining Arch MI, she served as senior vice president and general counsel of United Guaranty Corporation, which was acquired by Arch MI at the end of 2016. Previously serving as the deputy general counsel, Sara had legal responsibility for advising all operational areas, including loss management, national production, servicing, marketing and communications, contract management, training, and project management. Sara also serves on the board of Community Housing Solutions, a Greensboro-based nonprofit that provides home repairs and disability modifications for qualifying low-income homeowners, and as board chair for Guilford Education Alliance, a nonprofit that builds commitment to educational success for all Guilford County citizens, with emphasis on the success of the Guilford County schools.
Afi Johnson-Parris (AJP): What career path you would have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
Sara Millard (SM): If I were not a lawyer, I would have pursued being an executive director of a nonprofit organization. Since my teenage years, I have aspired to make a positive impact on my community, which is what ultimately lead me to the practice of law. I chose to go to law school because of the career optionality it provided, thinking initially that I was going to use my degree to work for a nonprofit and to further social justice. I did not realize when entering law school how much I would enjoy the practice of law! And as an executive of a company that is committed to supporting the communities in which it does business, I have been able to organize colleagues and corporate resources to create a positive community impact while practicing law.
AJP: 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?
SM: My mother had a tremendous impact on my life and career. A stay-at-home mom until my parents divorced, my mother went back to school and obtained a master’s degree in counseling and became a medical case manager for vulnerable populations (first, abused children, then HIV patients). She identified and galvanized community resources to meet the needs of the clients she helped.
But more than that, she invited her clients and their families into our home and often took me with her on visits to their homes. Maintaining the confidentiality of her clients, the underlying medical issues were never the driving reason for the work she did. She was helping community members find the resources they needed, including medical services, transportation, food, and utility and housing assistance.
AJP: What is one issue that keeps you up at night?
SM: One issue that keeps me up at night is the risk of a cyber attack. My company takes security very seriously and has deployed top-notch security tools, protocols, and training to protect its information. However, cybercriminals are coming at companies with increasing sophistication, and it could only take one click on a link in a malicious email to create an issue.
AJP: How do you select outside counsel? What can an attorney do to get selected?
SM: I select outside counsel by considering the following factors 1) required expertise; 2) amount at risk and sophistication of the legal need; 3) jurisdictional and/or relationship considerations; 4) cost; and 5) referrals from colleagues. For more routine legal work, i.e. immigration and visa filings, offering a competitive alternative fee arrangement is a good way for outside counsel to get selected.
AJP: What is the highest value activity that outside counsel brings to you? What is the lowest?
SM: The highest value activity that outside counsel brings is technically excellent advice that is also pragmatic. Understanding the client’s operating environment, and providing advice that is actionable within the confines of that business environment, distinguishes good counsel from great counsel. On the flip side, advice that is too general, or advice that is given in a vacuum, can be a waste of time and money.
AJP: What does the legal profession need to do to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers?
SM: Law firms and employers of in-house counsel need to make concerted efforts to hire diverse lawyers, and then create inclusive environments that support the development of their entire workforce. Creating an inclusive environment is not done by policy, but by creating an inclusive environment where employees feel safe and encouraged to take a professional risk, which is often associated with opportunities.
AJP: What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
SM: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.