Attorneys offer career insights at Leading Women talk

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Throughout their careers, Carrie Garcia Palmer and Kristen Danyluk have experienced a number of inflection points, including moving from outside counsel to in-house counsel. Though the pair discussed a wide range of topics, “don’t be afraid to take a leap” was at the heart of the message they shared with University of Michigan Law School students who attended the second Leading Women talk sponsored by Latham & Watkins—and moderated by Latham Partner and Michigan Law Professor Steven P. Croley—to profile Michigan Law alumnae working as leaders in business.

Garcia Palmer is vice president and deputy general counsel, employment law and legal operations at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. The daughter of a manufacturing plant manager and the granddaughter of a union president, she entered Michigan Law with the hope of becoming a labor-side employment labor lawyer. Following law school, however, she deviated from that plan and joined a large corporate firm representing employer-side clients. The role gave her a broader perspective and set her on her current trajectory. “Don’t be so rigid in your views of the world and what is right and wrong to think that there is one right side,” Garcia Palmer said. “What I realized on the employer side is that I impact so many employees all at once. And the decisions I help companies make can have a real, positive impact on employees.”

Danyluk, senior managing counsel for investments and business transactions at Allstate Insurance Company, recounted her experience as a corporate associate doing M&A work in a large law firm and then a smaller firm before moving to her current position. She encouraged students to think beyond the aesthetics of working for a particular organization and to focus on the kinds of work they would be happy doing.

That path, however, requires taking some risks, Danyluk said. She advised students to “embrace discomfort a bit. If you always do what’s safe, it may not always be satisfying to you.” To underscore the point, she talked about her move to a different firm as a junior associate. “I really had to work on building a practice,” Danyluk said. “The [second] firm didn’t do as much M&A as my first firm so I had to seek out partners who did [other kinds of] transactional work, prove to them that I could do it, and then do it well. I also started building a portfolio of work with the firm’s institutional investor clients to round out my time.” It was an opportunity that led to her current position at Allstate. “As in-house counsel, you really have to adapt quickly and be comfortable being able to say, ‘I haven’t done this before, but I’ll figure it out,’” added Danyluk. “You need to be able to adapt and change, as well as take on more than maybe you were initially asked to for the good of the company.”

Garcia Palmer agreed that her success as an in-house counsel has required a willingness and a capacity to take the necessary risks to move beyond what she already knew. One of the good things about being in a corporate legal environment, she noted, is the opportunity to experience various types of law. “I’ve worked on high-profile litigation matters and also high-value acquisitions.” She encouraged students to think about the balance between the breadth and depth of their practice. “Do you want to know a little about everything—that’s a general counsel—or do you want to be a specialist?” she asked.

The willingness to “take a leap” during their careers and the willingness to consistently broaden their legal acumen has led both Danyluk and Garcia Palmer to leadership positions they find interesting, fulfilling, and challenging. As Garcia Palmer noted, moving in-house has allowed her to focus on the aspects of lawyering she loves most. “It’s when I get to go in and get to know the client and their business and then help them strategically reach their goals,” she said.

As Garcia Palmer and Danyluk reflected on their nostalgia for law school, they also offered leadership lessons they have come to learn yet wished they had known as students. “Focus on how to influence,” said Garcia Palmer. “The quicker you’re able to be influential in the room, rather than confrontational, the more successful you will be as a lawyer.”

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