Tracy M. Preston, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Neiman Marcus Group recently shared her views with Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law — The Journal: Transactions & Business (PLJ) on measuring success within the legal department, aligning the interests of outside law firms, and the importance of her grandfather’s advice.
PLJ: How is the legal function structured?
Preston: The legal department is responsible for managing all legal matters facing the company. We support all business divisions. Similar to a law firm structure, we are loosely organized by practice area.
Given our size, the legal team is comprised of members who can provide support in various legal areas. All team members work directly with our business partners.
PLJ: How do you measure and improve productivity and success within the law department?
Preston: We improve productivity and success by building good relationships, celebrating successes, focusing on our annual departmental goals, understanding our clients’ needs, and considering client feedback. As General Counsel, I regularly meet with all of the attorneys to review their projects, including those of their respective teams. We monitor progress and productivity by measuring outcomes, implementing feedback, and tracking success rates with weekly, quarterly, and annual reviews.
PLJ: How do you align the incentives of external law firms with the objectives of the law department?
Preston: The law firms we work with understand that they are an extension of our legal department and treat our company as if it were their own. From the beginning, we meet and communicate with the law firm, clearly setting our mutual expectations and making sure we each understand the other’s role. In essence, we are in a partnership where the external law firm has the minority interest. Our collective goal is to provide quality service and to do so in the most cost efficient manner.
PLJ: What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Preston: My grandfather always said “Don’t outline,” meaning know and master your gifts, opportunities, and areas of contribution. He advised me to be open to new opportunities, respect different perspectives, and be flexible. Life does not always go as planned, and if you are too focused on the “right way” or specific steps, you will often miss opportunities to grow and develop.
PLJ: What advice would you give to a prospective General Counsel?
Preston: Mentors, mentors, mentors! Also, be true to yourself, have humility and a good sense of humor, and never lose the “in the trenches” perspective you gained as you advanced in your career. This perspective is key to building a great team, navigating challenges, and achieving new outcomes.