Just the Right Touch

Linda Vogel on leading the Aerosoles legal team with grace and candor—even in arduous times

I believe it’s always good to think about pushing beyond your comfort zones. When I was contacted by a headhunter about leading in-house counsel at Aerosoles, I had been doing predominantly employment and celebrity work, but general counsel requires a very different set of skills; you have to involve yourself in the business completely, which involves many areas of the law.

There are a lot of different hats to wear in our legal department, but we do it all with a team of just four people. I came to Aerosoles in 2003 and was tasked with building the legal department from the ground up. I brought in a real estate lawyer, someone to handle IT work, and someone to manage our trademark portfolio. 

We have to be partners to every aspect of this business. We need to be nimble and responsive. We need to ensure that our counterparts in the business look at us that way and don’t see us as an impediment. I think that happens with a lot of businesspeople. They are reticent to go to their legal departments because they’re afraid they’re going to be told, “no.” So we meet informally very frequently, sharing department lunches and things like that.

I’m not very hierarchical, nor am I a micromanager. I want my team to be able to come to me and discuss any roadblocks, and I want them to be comfortable with the business people. It’s key that they see themselves as business/legal people. It’s also important for the people in the company not just to see me as the legal department, but to see the whole team—to see who they are and appreciate their work. When I speak to our business department heads, I try to make them see how much of what happens is because of my team.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve had as a legal department was when our company was acquired by a private equity firm in June 2014. A merger requires very precise, very exact strategies, and we spent almost a year managing that process. Everybody was very tense, there was a lot of stress. We had to be careful to communicate regularly, even if it was just to vent.

We had a war room during the merger, which really helped. I remember one day when everyone was feeling really overburdened, and I said, “Okay, what can I do to bring clarity?” I put together a chart by hand—and my drawing skills are about that of a five-year-old—but I tried to illustrate all of the plates that were spinning. I brought this to one of our daily sessions, and it really helped the team see everything that each person was doing. We were all going the extra mile—and then some—in order to make the merger happen. Looking at this very rough drawing, including what I was doing, gave them such an appreciation for the big picture and how everything was interconnected. It made us laugh, but I think that was one of the key moments we had in getting through the merger.

Bringing humor, getting the tension out—I think that’s very important. We have this little local diner that we go to, and it’s very helpful to be able to interact that way. It’s good to get out of the office, sometimes, just so you can talk to one another in a
different environment.

The best part about this department—and I think this is the proof in the pudding—is that we’ve been together for almost 10 years. I think that’s a testament to the comfort level and the trust that we have, and the ability we have to communicate. I want them to tell me what issues they have, what they’re feeling. If they can do that, then we’re going to be effective.

Editor’s Note: At the time of press, editors were notified that Linda Vogel had moved on from Aerosoles. Modern Counsel wishes her the best in her future endeavors.