Jennifer L. Shea is the corporate vice president of global environmental, health, and safety and regulatory law at Wabtec Corporation. Before embarking on her legal career in 2003, she earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Public Administration. Wabtec, headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, is a Fortune 500 company focused on creating sustainable transportation solutions that move and improve the world. With over 27,000 employees and operations in over 50 countries, Wabtec is the leading global provider of equipment, systems, digital solutions, and value-added services for the freight and transit rail industries, as well as the mining, marine and industrial markets. With more than 23,000 locomotives in its global installed base, Wabtec moves more than 20% of the world’s freight in over 100 countries.
Shannon S. Broome (SSB): It is great to have you as our Women Rainmakers’ spotlight focus because you have been on the law firm side and have held progressively senior roles at two major corporations. Before we talk about business development, let’s discuss your background. What has been your career path to your current role?
JLS: I started out with a typical law firm background at two different firms in Washington, D.C. After several years of regulatory and environmental practice, I wanted the opportunity to get closer to my clients and their products. I joined General Electric Company, first in its aviation business (manufacturing jet engines) and then proceeding to progressively more senior positions there. In 2018, GE decided to spin off GE Transportation to Wabtec, and this provided a great opportunity for me to step out from a large corporate legal team and make an impact as a leader on a smaller corporate legal team. Since joining Wabtec, I’ve been fortunate to combine my legal and compliance background with regulatory and policy advocacy, which attracted me to DC law firm practice in the first place. Now, I regularly travel to DC and discuss the ways Wabtec’s best-in-class freight and passenger rail technologies are enabling a more sustainable transportation network. I feel fortunate that I have been able to build a team (of both with internal experts and trusted outside counsel and consultants) to support these efforts and achieve the company’s goals and objectives.
SSB: From a business development perspective, what do you value the most in outside counsel?
JLS: Throughout my in-house legal career, I’ve been exposed to a range of challenging legal and policy matters, so I generally have a good understanding of the issues. However, I need outside counsel and other technical experts who can back up my instincts, solve more complex problems, and help see around corners to emerging legal and regulatory issues for the company.
We are accelerating advancements in technology to promote lower greenhouse gas and other emissions from our fleet of locomotives and other transportation products. We also deploy digital technologies that increase the efficiency and utilization of the transportation network. Our regulations do not always contemplate these new and emerging technologies. I value outside counsel that can help us deploy these technologies within the existing framework, while the regulatory process runs its course.
SSB: What strategies do you recommend to outside counsel that has an existing relationship with a client and wants to expand the relationship to other practice areas at the firm? In other words, how does a woman expand her reach to break into other areas and become a true “rainmaker” providing work for other attorneys in other practice areas?
JLS: In general, our company already has go-to outside counsel for many legal and regulatory compliance areas, so it can be hard to expand into areas where an attorney does not already have experience. As our corporate legal team is lean and efficient, we look for creative opportunities to expand our relationships with partner law firms. This includes sponsorship and training programs for our Diversity Legal Fellows, secondments of mid-level associates, and other alternative legal counseling arrangements.
I also am a strong proponent of continuing to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion within the legal profession, and I look for ways to increase the diversity of lawyers with whom I work. I am always open to meeting regularly with lawyers in my network to ensure that I am on the lookout for opportunities to work with them. As a practical matter, there is often a bit of luck in being top of mind when a particular matter comes across my desk. With that said, being a trusted legal advisor requires practical advice, strong communication skills and responsiveness.
SSB: What marketing strategies by outside counsel do you think work best in getting your attention?
JLS: When time allows, I read law firm news alerts and blog posts of interest to me. I tend to gravitate to resources that provide practical advice in a concise and easy to understand manner. When I’m confronting a new issue, I usually look to see if another lawyer has published a blog post on the issue. That tells me that you know something that could help my company accomplish its business goals and objectives.
SSB: What are three tips that you would give to a lawyer (experienced or newer to the practice of law) who wants to be a successful rainmaker?
1. Develop subject matter expertise. As I explained above, I tend to have good instincts, but appreciate having an expert who is able to validate and develop the support for a particular legal position and/or strategy. If you are a subject matter expert that an in-house lawyer can rely upon, you will add value.
2. Be practical and provide clear recommendations. Too many legal memos outline the legal framework and risks, but do not provide practical solutions for what the client should do about them. As in-house lawyers, there are many demands on our time from emails to meetings to conference calls. Having a short and concise recommendation with potential alternative options is always invaluable to me. At the end of the day, I’ll need to communicate to my internal client about how we can accomplish their business goals.
3. Be flexible. In this increasingly dynamic business environment, the ability to adapt and be flexible is critical to success. Over the course of my in-house career, I’ve taken on a number of different roles and assignments that were beyond environmental law. Since I enjoy learning new things and being pushed beyond my comfort zone, I really enjoyed the challenges presented with each new role. Ultimately, I believe that these varied experiences and opportunities made me a more effective business partner and advocate for Wabtec.
About the Author
Shannon S. Broome is the managing partner of Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP’s San Francisco office and chairs its California environmental practice and co-chairs the firm’s climate change practice and ESG practice. Contact her on Twitter @ShannonSBroome.