Meet the General Counsel: Kelly Slavitt

Kelly M. Slavitt is vice president and area general counsel of Reckitt Benckiser LLC’s North American Hygiene and Home business unit of Reckitt Benckiser plc, an FTSE Top 10 London Stock Exchange company with 37,000 employees, based outside of London. RB’s best-known hygiene and home brands are Lysol, Finish, Air Wick, Woolite, Easy-Off, Resolve, D-Con, Old English, and Glass Plus. 

Kelly is a member of the Global Legal Leadership Team and the North American Management Team and reports jointly to the BU global general counsel and the area president. Kelly is one of RB’s 400 top executives (T400).

Before joining RB, Kelly was counsel at General Electric and ran the legal department at The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Before moving in-house, she was an associate at Skadden Arps and at Thelen Reid in New York City and a solicitor at Allens Arthur Robinson in Melbourne, Australia.  

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Andrea Malone (AM): What career path you would have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?

Kelly Slavitt (KS): Not necessarily a career path that I truly would have pursued, but I would have loved to be a travel photographer! Getting paid to take photos and travel to exotic and interesting places… it would be like getting paid to go on vacation!

AM: 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?

KS: My mom. She is amazing. She had me at 19 and was a stay-at-home mom until I started high school. It never occurred to me that I had any limitations in life because she always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. She would say the sky is the limit and if you worked hard there was nothing you couldn’t do.

AM: How do you select outside counsel? What can an attorney do to get selected?

KS: Price and expertise are always important, but to me, it comes down to creativity in analyzing issues to find solutions. A canned answer tells me you aren’t a creative thinker. I understand that not every matter or litigation is the same, but help me find a solution that I can present to my management that’s not only a legal solution but also a business solution with my company’s goals and objectives in mind. Cookie cutter responses mean you aren’t that creative or you really don’t want this particular piece of business. I want someone who cares about my company’s issues and is enthusiastic to work with us.

AM: What do you miss about private practice, if anything?

KS: I really enjoyed learning about a variety of industries and companies, particularly the different business models. Depending on where you are in-house you may only be following your particular industry and competitors. Also, when I was at the ASPCA, I was the only lawyer and I missed the camaraderie of brainstorming with attorneys who had different areas of expertise and perspectives to draw on. I’m fortunate that I’m part of a nice-sized team at RB and we can bounce ideas off one another.

AM: 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?

KS: When I call my outside counsel about a legal issue, I want them to be practical about it. I don’t want them to just recite black-letter law, I want to know what it means in real life—what’s going on in my industry, how is the law being applied, etc. I need someone who is going to be a true partner and help find a practical business solution. Also, the inability to make a recommendation on the likelihood of success. I’m often working in the gray area so I need someone to join me there and work through the risk factors with me so I can make a recommendation to my business.

AM: In a typical matter, what is more valuable to you—the predictability of the outcome or result and cost?

KS: I hate to say it depends, but it depends! One of the things the legal team at RB does is takes our business leaders on the journey. So in a litigation, we tell them what the case is about, the plusses and minuses, the risks, and what we think the outcome will be based on what we know at that time. By going on the journey with us, the challenges along the way as well as the costs and end result do not cause a surprise because we’ve been communicating with them along the way. I rely on outside counsel to help me keep my business updated as an issue develops so I can counsel management on strategy adjustments.

AM: What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

KS: I read Play Bigger by Dave Peterson and Christopher Lochhead over the holidays. It was all about how to create and dominate different business categories by being disruptive—the Ubers and the Amazons of the world. It was interesting and it made you think bigger than just getting through your day to day stuff.

AM: If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be?

KS: I started watching reruns of 30 Rock and I am reminded of what a comedic genius Tina Fey is; lunch with her would be entertaining!

About the Author

Andrea Malone is the marketing and business development manager at White and Williams LLP and is editor-in-chief of Law Practice Today. Contact her on Twitter @andrea_malone.

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