Meet the General Counsel: James Rizzo

James G. Rizzo is executive vice president, corporate secretary, and chief legal officer for the National Association of Home Builders, a federation of more than 700 state and local associations with more than 140,000 members. He oversees the NAHB’s legal advocacy program, litigation, all contracts, and other legal matters; serves as counsel to the board of directors and management of human resources. Before joining NAHB, he was a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, and before that was a partner at Carr Goodson Warner and an associate at O’Melveny & Myers.

Stephen Embry (SE): What career path you would have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?

James Rizzo (JR): Ideally, I would have been the general manager of the New York Yankees. Once that appeared to be an unlikely outcome, had I not chosen the legal path, I would have gone to Wall Street.

SE: What is one issue that keeps you up at night?

JR: It’s hard to limit it to one issue due to the scope of my job responsibilities. As head of HR, I worry about the employees and want to make sure we have a healthy—by any definition—environment for them to succeed. As corporate secretary, I worry about our affiliated local associations. As chief legal officer, I worry about protecting the business interests and professional reputation of the association.

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

JR: If you practice long enough, you get to know lots of lawyers and law firms by reputation. I also have had the privilege of working with some very smart and talented lawyers. I tend to look at those firms that can provide one-stop shopping, i.e., a diverse cross-section of services, and competitive rates for bundled services.

SE: What is the biggest difference between being in-house counsel and being in private practice?

JR: The biggest difference is being a consumer of legal services rather than a provider.

SE: 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?

JR: The legal fees are out of control. Outside counsel makes my job easier by culling through the bills before they are sent and writing off/down services that did not provide “value” to their client.

SE: What is the highest value activity that outside counsel brings to you? What is the lowest?

JR: I try to stay informed on a panoply of issues that impact our industry and our association. However, I can’t read everything because I wouldn’t get through my daily to-do list. Outside counsel can provide the highest value by keeping me abreast of legal issues, lawsuits, regulatory filings, etc. that impact our industry/association. The lowest value? Not keeping me abreast of legal issues, lawsuits, regulatory filings, etc. that impact our industry/association.

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

JR: I’m not sure you can separate one from the other given that most decisions hinge on a cost-benefit analysis.

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

JR: Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. (Life of Tom Petty.)

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

JR: Anyone? It’s a short list: Jesus (of course); my father (deceased); my wife (still going strong); Bruce Springsteen; Paul McCartney; Winston Churchill; Harry Truman; Abe Lincoln; Thurman Munson (deceased).

About the Author

Stephen Embry is an attorney focusing his practice on mass tort and class action litigation and is the publisher of TechLaw Crossroads, a blog devoted to law, innovation, and technology. Contact him on Twitter @stephenembryjd.

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