A Counselor’s Food for Thought

Former auditor Aleka Jones shares how she developed a taste for adding value as an attorney

Aleka Jones is always developing a new recipe for success at US Foods. As an employment attorney, Jones is responsible for aligning the evolving business of US Foods with the ever-changing landscape of employment laws.

Jones admits that this task can be challenging at times, especially for a company that has nearly 25,000 employees in more than sixty locations.

Based in Rosemont, Illinois, US Foods generates about $23 billion in annual revenue with more than 350,000 products, from Cattleman’s Selection beef to Devonshire desserts to the all-natural ingredients of the exclusive Chef’s Line. The food-service distributor partners with about 250,000 chefs, restaurateurs, and operators across the nation.

Before joining the company in 2015 as an assistant general counsel, Jones acknowledges that she had little knowledge of the complexities that existed in the food distribution industry.

“There are a lot of processes involved in getting a product from a warehouse to a US Foods customer, and any changes or modifications in those processes can impact legal compliance,” she says, adding that the company fosters a fast-paced environment where employees must be able to “keep up and speak the language of the business.”

Having a career with counseling and problem-solving components has always been important to Jones. Indeed, this desire is what prompted her to leap into a career as an auditor for top public accounting firms Deloitte and KPMG after earning her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Purdue University. It also prompted her to earn her juris doctor degree from Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law in 2007.

DID YOU KNOW?

From diners to five-star restaurants, US Foods knows how to optimize the menus and operations for its quarter-million customers spanning healthcare, hospitality, government, and educational institutions. It tunes into the growling stomachs across the nation to feed high-growth strategies in the industry.

Jones’s road to in-house began through an opportunity while practicing at Seyfarth Shaw, a firm where she remained for nearly eight years. Through this, she earned a strong taste of in-house life and gained a better understanding of how her skills as an auditor and consultant could complement her legal experience.

Jones deems the acronym lingo and large organizational structure of US Foods as her initial challenges after moving in-house. To adapt quickly, she relied on developing relationships across the business.

Due to the size of the employment team, she touches a wide variety of issues on a daily basis. Although Jones is responsible for supporting the west region of US Foods and its specialty locations, she is often called upon to provide legal support for the company’s strategic initiatives. Her scope includes drafting policies, advising HR professionals, conducting training on hiring and other practices, investigations, and managing litigation. Each day provides a new challenge that keeps Jones on her toes and excited in her profession.

She says it is vital for in-house attorneys to be cognizant of their communication styles and how they cascade information. To develop a rapport with her internal clients and add value, Jones tries to avoid using legalese and does her best to put herself in the shoes of her business partners, which involves, among other factors, understanding the short- and long-term impact of decisions on the supply chain.

Jones credits her adaptability to a willingness to embrace development opportunities. That’s why she recommends participating on panels, taking on speaking engagements, and taking on assignments outside of one’s comfort zone.

“Oftentimes when you’re a firm attorney, you get siloed into a particular practice area, but I would advise people to take on assignments that are outside of their practice areas,” Jones says. “Doing so helps with spotting issues and managing through them, which is what legal teams are called upon to do in an in-house environment.”

Jones also believes involvement in outside legal organizations has played a significant part in her professional development. She’s a former associate board member of Just The Beginning, a former chair of the young lawyers section of the Cook County Bar Association, and has participated in Street Law. Currently, Jones is also actively involved in informal mentorship, which she believes to be important to show that others can have the same opportunities that she had.

“It’s important for young people—especially diverse young people—to get exposed to the law,” Jones says.
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Seyfarth Shaw LLP:

We congratulate Aleka Jones on this well-deserved recognition. It has been our privilege to partner with Aleka and the entire team at US Foods over the years.

—Bill Schurgin, Dave Baffa, and the rest of your friends at Seyfarth Shaw LLP