Dennis Garcia is an assistant general counsel for Microsoft Corporation, based in Chicago. He practices at the intersection of law and technology, and provides a wide range of legal support to Microsoft’s sales, marketing and operations teams across the United States. Dennis received his B.A. in political science from Binghamton University and his J.D. from Columbia Law School. He is admitted to practice in New York, Connecticut and Illinois. Please follow Dennis on Twitter @DennisCGarcia.
Stephen Embry (SE): What career path you would have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
Dennis Garcia (DG): Like lots of kids, my dream was to pursue a career as a professional baseball player. While I was a very good ballplayer in my youth and the MVP of my high school baseball team, I realized early on during college that I did not have the necessary talent to earn a living playing baseball.
If I did not become a lawyer, I may have pursued a career in education, as I really enjoy writing, teaching and mentoring, and I come from a family of educators. In fact, I recently served as a guest lecturer at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s “In-House Counsel: Modern Corporations” class. As a kid I also loved to draw and sketch, so I considered becoming an architect.
SE: 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?
DG: I have been blessed to have been influenced by three remarkable women who have had a tremendous impact on my career and life: my mother, my grandmother and my wife Simona. My mother was an extremely strong person who battled a chronic disease called lupus for over 20 years, and still managed to be a great mom, wife, daughter, aunt and friend to so many people. She taught me about the importance of positivity, selflessness and never being too high or too low. My grandmother was born in Puerto Rico and instilled in me the traditional Hispanic values of faith, family, education and hard work. She is 97 years young with high energy, great enthusiasm, and is an incredible inspiration to me and my family. My wife Simona was born and raised in Communist Romania, immigrated to the United States after college, and arrived into our country speaking very little English and knowing few people. However, she worked hard to become a regional manager of a leading fashion boutique, a successful realtor and president of one of Chicago’s oldest philanthropic organizations—The Service Club of Chicago. She has more character, grit and resiliency than anyone I know, and has helped me transform from a hard-charging native New Yorker to a more empathetic and open-minded person.
SE: What do you miss about private practice, if anything?
DG: I do not miss anything about private practice, because I never worked at a law firm. I had the unique distinction of beginning my legal career in-house by joining the IBM legal department directly after law school. I was fortunate that IBM’s legal department had an excellent training program at that time for its new hires. I learned so much from some fantastic lawyers and I was provided the opportunity early on in my career to do highly meaningful work that enabled me to develop my lawyering skills and self-confidence.
SE: What do you expect/want from outside counsel with respect to innovation, collaboration and transparency?
DG: It is especially important for outside counsel to embrace leading technology and digital transformation, so they can better serve their clients. For instance, I believe that artificial intelligence will provide opportunities for outside counsel to transform how they deliver services to clients—especially those tasks which are highly routine and repetitive in nature. In addition, partnering with highly trustworthy cloud services providers enables outside counsel to improve productivity, collaborate better and be more cyber-secure.
As an example, my own legal department—the Microsoft Corporate, External & Legal Affairs (CELA) team—uses our Microsoft Office 365 cloud computing solution to achieve more. Our CELA team is like a large law firm, as we have approximately 1,400 professionals who are scattered across the world. All of us are using key productivity tools that are part of Office 365, like Skype for Business, OneNote, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, Yammer and Microsoft Teams to seamlessly connect with each other, share knowledge and better serve our business clients. We also have great confidence knowing that the large amounts of data and information that we share within Office 365 will be properly protected, as Office 365 is built from the ground up with world-class security, privacy and compliance features.
SE: What does the legal profession need to do to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers?
DG: All of us in the legal profession need to do much more to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers. Our profession would benefit from increased diversity, as studies have shown time and time again that diverse teams are higher performing than non-diverse teams. In addition, the growing legal needs of our increasingly diverse society would be better served by a legal profession that reflects such diversity.
Some of the initiatives that our profession can do to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers are as follows: (1) ensuring that a portion of the compensation of senior legal executives is tied to increasing and retaining diverse lawyers within an organization; (2) in-house legal departments offering financial incentives to the law firms they retain if they achieve certain diversity and inclusion metrics; (3) legal organizations providing mandatory, thoughtful and comprehensive unconscious bias training to promote a more inclusive work environment; (4) legal organizations requiring that a diverse slate of candidates be included as part of the job interview process (e.g., the Mansfield Rule); (5) actively supporting the various diverse affinity group organizations in the legal profession; (6) legal organizations recruiting law students from a wide range of law schools—and not just the top-tier law schools; and (7) being open to embracing new and creative ideas to advance diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
SE: If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be?
DG: I would like to have lunch with two people: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Professor Richard Susskind.
I feel a personal connection to Justice Sotomayor, because we were both born in the Bronx, New York City, we are both Puerto Rican, and we are both lifelong fans of the New York Yankees baseball team. It would be an honor and privilege to listen to Justice Sotomayor speak about her journey from the Bronx to becoming the first Hispanic justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. I would also be interested in hearing her thoughts on how lawyers can best serve others, and how we can make progress in advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
As the author of books like The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services and Tomorrow’s Lawyers, I would be interested in Professor Susskind’s perspective on the future of the legal profession and how my Microsoft legal colleagues and I can better serve the needs of our business clients in a fast-paced and ever-changing world.
About the Author
Stephen E. Embry is a member of Frost Brown Todd LLC in Louisville, KY and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board. Follow him on Twitter @stephenembryjd.