On making your department work proactively with colleagues

At Sandia National Laboratories, Becky Krauss aims to be a partner to the business by supporting internal clients every step of the way

Modern Counsel: What have you learned in the past twelve years as general counsel?

Becky Krauss: I have learned how important it is to be a valued partner with the management team. It’s not enough to be a legal adviser. What builds great relationships, and what gives me job satisfaction, is when I am truly a partner with the business client. That means understanding the context of the company, the mission, the culture and giving legal advice within that environment. I’m not just helicoptering in and jumping back out.

MC: What was the legal environment like at Sandia when you started and how have you changed it?

“When I came to this company, there were a lot of lawyers who preferred to stay in their ivory towers and let the clients come to them. […] Now there is an understanding that the lawyers are with our clients on the path. I want to clear that path and make it easier for clients to achieve their objectives.”

BK: When I came to this company, there were a lot of lawyers who preferred to stay in their ivory towers and let the clients come to them. It wasn’t about being proactive or building relationships. We’ve developed a different culture over time, so now there is an understanding that the lawyers are with our clients on the path. I want to clear that path and make it easier for clients to achieve their objectives. We’re all in it together. It develops over time, but you have to build relationships and trust the partner to know that you aren’t going to just say ‘No’ or slow them down. I’m actually trying to help speed them along their path, compliantly and within the boundaries of the law while understanding the risks in that decision-making process. You build those relationships by having integrity, being there, and making sure that when you give advice, you stay right there with them.

MC: Most of the work Sandia National Laboratories does is sensitive, but is there a project you are most proud of?

BK: In 2014 we got the call to help out with the Ebola crisis. Another government agency asked us to help figure out how blood samples could be safely transported. There were a whole host of other issues we had to work through to make sure our workers would be safe going to foreign countries impacted by Ebola and bringing them back to work. We involved HR, communications, legal, science, and engineering to get it all done. It’s just great how this company pulls interdisciplinary teams together to work through issues. Ebola was one that was particularly exciting that we can be proud of.

MC: Why are you so passionate about encouraging other women in the workforce and what is your advice to them?

BK: Starting out in my law firm 20 years ago, I heard and saw what several women who came before me had to deal with to climb the ladder, and I certainly experienced some of it myself. The classic example I hear from many women is when you go into a meeting and speak up with an idea, it falls flat; then a few minutes later, a man says it, and it’s the greatest idea they’ve ever heard. I’ve experienced that, and I know a lot of other women have as well. Those experiences give me the passion that it doesn’t have to be like this. It can be better. People need to be more aware. I want to help women both create and be a part of a better work environment. I led the Women’s Action Network at Sandia for a decade. I always tell women that they need to find strength in allies and networks. Your voice can be heard so much better and you will feel so much more empowered in your job if you have the strength of other people who are looking out for you.

MC: How would you describe your leadership style?

BK: I am an engaged leader, and I love working with different lawyers, advising, developing, and coaching them and, hopefully, inspiring their initiative. I love working here. It’s always fascinating. I bring the passion I feel for this place to the people who work with me, and it catches on.