Turning the Legal Department Around

Why Alan Rosenberg went in-house and how he built—and leads—a top-performing department

Anyone who tells you they enjoyed going to law school is lying.”

It’s a bold statement and one that Alan Rosenberg admits is partially in jest. Partially.

Rosenberg didn’t set out to become an attorney. The journalism graduate had visions of lobbying in state or federal government before he enrolled in Georgia State University’s law program in downtown Atlanta. There, he discovered just how challenging law school can be, but he also discovered an interest in litigation.

Upon graduation, Rosenberg accepted his first job with a local firm. But after drowning in paperwork for a few years, he longed to see the fruits of his labor. That desire drove him in-house and set Rosenberg on a journey that would ultimately lead him to Recall, where he serves as vice president and general counsel for the Americas.

In that role, Rosenberg has built a department that has a direct impact on the information management solutions company. It’s not an easy task, but Rosenberg says his entire career prepared him for success. “I was never afraid to learn what I didn’t know and jump in wherever I was needed,” he recalls. “I learned from both good and bad leaders, and I saw what it was like to work on strong teams with colleagues who respect one another.”

After three years in civil litigation at Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, Rosenberg was ready for a change. But to go in-house, he’d have to give up a lucrative position and step into the marketplace as a candidate with no corporate experience. “I was young enough that I didn’t realize just how risky it was,” he says. “In fact, I followed the advice of a junior partner, who said sometimes you just need to jump off the mountain and build your wings on the way down.” He’s referring to the gamble he took to replace a stable paycheck with uncertainty. Rosenberg believes this is the best career advice he’s ever received in his over twenty-three years of practicing law.

To begin his “jump off the mountain,” Rosenberg picked up a copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and located a classified ad for the Grady Health System. Grady, one of the largest public health systems in the Southeast, needed a junior staff attorney to handle small litigation, but only on a contract basis. The company offered him a position without full-time guarantees or benefits. Rosenberg—who was newly married and had a mortgage and an infant—took the job. “Although taking my first in-house job was risky, it’s the smartest decision I ever made, because it opened the box of opportunity for me,” he says. 

That job and several subsequent positions prepared Rosenberg to build his department at Recall. When he began to handle small litigation matters, he realized the other lawyer in the Grady legal department needed help with day-to-day matters in health-care law, so he volunteered to help. He quickly developed a reputation for getting things done. “When you learn on the fly, you learn to exercise critical thought and develop many areas of expertise quickly,” he says.

Grady eventually made Rosenberg its acting general counsel. Soon after, the health system was accused of reimbursement fraud. Rosenberg, who jokes that he couldn’t even spell the phrase at the time, was suddenly leading Grady’s in-house efforts in a qui tam lawsuit with the assistance of outside counsel.

After Rosenberg successfully represented and resolved the case, Grady was required to create a robust compliance program and training process. Rosenberg was involved in the development of both, and he personally trained hundreds of Grady employees on the program.

Rosenberg eventually left Grady for a series of escalating positions, including stops with health-care information and data management companies. In those roles, he developed substantial transactional expertise, handled labor and employment issues, became proficient in litigation and dispute management, led large teams—including leading a gold-standard privacy team and program—and managed compliance and ethics efforts after a front-page breach for one of his employers.

“I learned from both good and bad leaders, and I saw what it was like to work on strong teams with colleagues who respect one another.”

In 2009, Rosenberg received a call from a headhunter looking to fill a role at Recall. The caller was looking for someone with exactly Rosenberg’s skill set and thought he’d be a perfect match.

Rosenberg accepted and joined a company that had never hired a full-time lawyer for the North American region. At the time, Rosenberg and his boss, the global general counsel, were the only in-house lawyers employed for an approximately billion-dollar company.

Fortunately, Rosenberg was able to coax a contract manager already at Recall away from the sales team to be his paralegal, and Rosenberg eventually added two additional attorneys to the legal team. “I built a lean but mean team in which everyone could feel valued and involved,” says Rosenberg. “Most importantly, the business saw the legal team as a value add to its operations and were very supportive of the team’s efforts. We were very fortunate.”

Rosenberg recognized from his earlier days in-house just how important meaningful but varied work is to most in-house lawyers. “I need everyone working at a high level, so I make sure they’re never stuck repeating the same dull tasks,” he says. “While ultimately the buck stops with me, I make sure that everyone on the team does important work, and, more importantly, that everyone’s opinion matters.”

After several months at Recall, Rosenberg identified a problem facing his colleagues on the business side. Contracts and matters that came in were going to whichever Americas lawyer had the most capacity, and Recall’s other employees rarely knew who to call with questions or concerns.

To solve this issue, Rosenberg reorganized the department so each lawyer and paralegal was aligned with a specific regional sales team.

He also individually assigned specific specialty areas, such as litigation or vendor contracts, to individual team members.

Next, the team requested an invitation to recurring regional business meetings. Someone from legal could then report back to the entire department, making it more proactive to the needs of the business.

Now, Rosenberg’s legal team follows a “same team” approach by being closely aligned with Recall’s business objectives.

Rosenberg suggests other general counsel tasked with building or expanding a department first take the time to learn and understand their business before making any major changes.

“You need to understand your internal customers’ needs before you can truly ‘support the business,’” he says.

Before making any changes, he interviewed all key business stakeholders to identify their day-to-day needs and concerns, which provided him with the insight to build a high caliber team capable of successfully representing the needs of the business.

Editors note: Iron Mountain acquired Recall in May 2016. Alan Rosenberg left Recall in June 2016.