On the Record: Garret Paddor

How the Farmers New World Life Insurance general counsel fell into the insurance business, developed a network, and gained a global perspective

While most people might not grow up with aspirations to be an in-house corporate insurance lawyer, in reality it might just be a lot more interesting than it gets credit for.

My path to in-house was atypical. The first year after I was admitted to the bar, I did law and motion work on a contract basis. It gave me a taste of the courtroom experience and exposure to litigation support work. The job opportunities came to me through networking.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of seeking out a company or firm that’s committed to talent development and invests in the careers of its employees.

You have to take the long-term view with your career, not just the short-term job.

The company you decide to work for can’t just talk a good game about developing its professionals. It needs to have examples to back it up.

My first year out of school taught me that I wasn’t meant for a career in trials and courtrooms. I learned what I wanted and what I didn’t, and I knew I wanted to be in-house.

After my first year as an attorney, a personal contact recommended me to the first company where I would work as a full-time employee. I became an in-house attorney drafting and reviewing reinsurance contracts for a reinsurance broker in Los Angeles. I’m lucky that opportunity came so early, and they took a chance on me.

Being an in-house attorney was a good fit right away. I liked being on a close team, working side-by-side with internal clients.

You have to keep lines of communication open. I built relationships when I did contract work and when I moved in-house. It’s always possible that circumstances will change, and those relationships could open doors for you in the future.

You can’t stop networking just because you’ve found work. When the reinsurance broker was acquired by another company, colleagues at Farmers Insurance, which was one of our largest clients, helped me find a position there.

Gaining expertise has to be a major priority, once you land in the right spot. You can’t overlook the value of experience in this field.

When you work in the local office of a business, your perspective tends to be local. But it’s so important to gain a greater perspective and understand the breadth of your organization.

Farmers Group in Los Angeles gave me the opportunity to spend the 2010-11 year on international assignment at Zurich Insurance Group’s corporate headquarters in Switzerland. I would recommend it to anyone who has a similar opportunity—the personal and professional development is unforgettable.

My wife, three-and-a-half-year-old son, and I had never lived outside of California when we moved to Zurich. Everything was new, but we weren’t shy. We enrolled our son in a Swiss preschool—not an international one, which is more common for expats—and became involved in the local community.

I look at my time in Switzerland from two different angles. Personally, the best part of that experience was immersing myself in Swiss culture and meeting the people. Professionally, I gained an understanding of the global business.

My year in Switzerland changed my perspective. I always had a US-focused, domestic viewpoint. In Zurich, my exposure to an array of affiliated business around the globe and my introduction to an international regulatory environment made me see my job differently. I can’t see what we do from just one viewpoint anymore.