chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
February 19, 2018 Articles

A Former Trial Attorney Shares Her Insights as an Outside Counsel Turned Company Executive

Alicia Wilson of Sagamore Development Company offers insights and advice on a host of topics from career advice for woman to diversity in the legal profession.

By Robert K. Dixon

Alicia Wilson is Vice President of Community Affairs and Legal Advisor at the real estate firm Sagamore Development Company. Sagamore is majority-owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who has charged the firm, in part, with turning the city of Baltimore into a hotbed for talent through the redevelopment of land in South Baltimore.

At Sagamore, Wilson oversees the implementation of community benefits agreements that were entered into between the city of Baltimore, Sagamore, and local communities in Baltimore. In particular, she was the lead negotiator of those agreements and with community groups, and now oversees the delivering on promises that Sagamore made to the community. She also gives strategic advice on complex crisis management and general public relations advice to the company’s corporate executives. Before joining Sagamore, Wilson was a highly accomplished trial attorney is currently a member of House of Delegates for the ABA.

Recently, Wilson shared her perspective on the following questions:

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Sagamore?
The highlights would have to include getting the largest tax increment financing legislation passed in the country, and the largest community benefits agreement signed and ratified in 6 months. Some of the challenges are really trying to pull together and sympathize with diverse groups, with diverse self-interest, and trying to find common ground. For example, if you are negotiating with 200 groups, you probably will not be able to get all 200 to agree to every detail in the agreement. So, I must negotiate in a way that everyone leaves feeling that they were part of the negotiation and had their voice heard and that they have a stake in the success of the development.

How has your previous experience as a trial attorney aided you at Sagamore?
There are several similarities between the work I did as a trial attorney negotiating matters and the work I’m doing now for Sagamore. In addition, as a trial attorney, you must know how to distill issues down to what really matters, which is an important part of my job at Sagamore. Further, as a trial attorney, you are a people person; you are selling people, whether it be to a jury or a boardroom, you are trying to convince people that the plan or the strategy you are proposing is the one that they should adopt. So, having to do all that as a trial attorney whether it be trying to craft a closing argument or negotiating an agreement that tries to settle a matter with multiple parties, all of that, nothing is lost in terms of utilizing help in moving things forward.

What was the biggest challenge associated with the change from being an outside attorney with going in house?
The biggest challenge is moving from being an advisor to also being an advisor and consumer of advice. As such, in this new role, I act upon advice I receive but I also give advice with a business mindset.

What advice can you offer to women who want to go in-house?
Attorneys interested in making the transition in-house should continue to grow in their practice, to take on tasks that others ordinarily would not do, so that they can get really rich experiences. They should make sure that they are getting the sort of experiences that are substantive. If they are doing document review but they are not having rich experiences, such as going to trial, negotiating settlements, and other opportunities that enable them to raise their profiles in the community, they are really going to miss out on developing and refining the skills that will enable them to get an in-house position. Simply doing the rudimentary work at the law firm isn’t enough.

What has been your role as a member of the ABA’s House of Delegates?
During the first year I really used it as a learning opportunity, to get an understanding of my delegation, which is the Maryland delegation, to understand the resolution process and how such resolutions could impact people on the ground. In this past session, we had resolutions related to, for example, law school accreditations and [President Trump’s travel ban]. During this past session, I learned to collaborate across delegations and how the public interprets what we do. I have been taking this opportunity to really learn the process inside and out.

Going forward, what do you want to accomplish as a delegate?
I would like to bring to the floor issues and resolutions related to assisting attorneys in the middle point of their law careers, attorneys of color, and millennial attorneys. I think the legal profession is shifting at such a rapid speed, so I want to propose resolutions that add value to these types of attorneys to make sure they have a richer, rewarding practice.

What are the biggest challenges facing the legal community in the next five years in your opinion?
I think the cost of legal services is a huge issue. It continues to go up and up and up at a rate that is not congruent with other parts of the market. I’m not sure if that is because firms want to increase profits or if they actually believe the services rendered this year are 10 percent more the next year. I think there is going to be a shift, probably led by in-house counsel, against the exorbitant rate that most firms charge.

What are the biggest obstacles for law firms in terms of delivering on their diversity and inclusion goals?
It’s all about the pipeline. I have heard, over and over, people complain, for example, that they can’t find talented black attorneys. But these same people typically do not employ a sufficient plan to seek out and obtain diverse talent. To get the best and brightest folks in the majority population they zealously compete with other firms to seek out such talent. But they do not employ the same tactics for obtaining minority attorneys. Instead, they take a more passive approach. Talented minority attorneys are out there; firms are just going to have to recruit them.

Robert K. Dixon is a partner at Wilson Turner Kosmo in San Diego, California. He also serves as editor for the Section of Litigation's Diversity & Inclusion committee.

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).

Robert K. Dixon – February 19, 2018