After a reorganization of Panasonic Corporation’s North American legal department, Jessica Hodkinson was handed the reins of the company’s litigation function in October 2015. She recently spoke with Modern Counsel about how she’s building Panasonic’s roster of outside partners to better serve the business.
Modern Counsel: Do you have a specific philosophy for selecting outside counsel?
Jessica Hodkinson: My team’s philosophy is centered on selecting experts in the field. If there are multiple experts, we look at success rate, flexibility, geography, cost, and other factors. We’re not necessarily driven to a particular firm, but rather to particular attorneys who have a partnership approach that works for us. We want partners who have good interactions with our internal counsel and the business side. We also try to select legal partners who are affiliated with National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) and Advance Law, a referral firm that works with general counsels to select outside legal talent.
MC: How do you make sure your business leaders, inside counsel, and outside legal teams are all working toward the same goals?
JH: We accomplish that through active management, primarily. I’m heavily involved in the litigations that the inside and outside teams are handling, so there are no surprises. To make sure the business and outside counsel are all aligned on the strategy, the legal team needs to understand the risk tolerance of the business, and the business team needs to be comfortable with the legal approach.
MC: Can you talk about an example of a successful litigation matter where you employed outside counsel? What made it successful?
JH: The best examples are ones that are dismissed early on in the case. There are also cases where a negotiated settlement means success. From a legal standpoint, settlement might not look like a huge success. However, if the business side is satisfied by the resolution, I’m happy.
“It’s important to understand that one size does not fit all.”
MC: How are you hoping to improve the current outside counsel roster or selection process?
JH: We’re looking to consolidate. We have a lot of outside counsel on all sides, not just the litigation side. We want to consolidate those and find the right firms and the right attorneys that best serve our needs. As I said before, we want our roster to reflect subject expertise. We are also in the process of creating outside-counsel guidelines that explain to firms how we expect things to be handled.
One thing we’re going to be continuing to look at going forward are firms that are part of NAMWOLF. We recently worked with a NAMWOLF firm for a successful litigation, and we want to continue to do so.
MC: How do referrals play into the outside-counsel selection process?
JH: Referrals are key. If someone that we trust has a positive experience with a firm, we take that at face value. We also look to partner with firms that are a part of AdvanceLaw.
MC: Over the last year, Panasonic has announced plans to grow significantly through mergers and acquisitions. How does that impact your inside and outside teams?
JH: M&A at Panasonic is meant to accelerate the company’s B-to-B transformation. We support the M&A teams, both preacquisition and postintegration, on all matters impacting labor and employment, benefits, and executive compensation. Once a newly acquired company is integrated into Panasonic, the team supports the new business on all litigation and labor-and-employment matters.
MC: What advice would you give to a legal professional seeking outside partners for the first time?
JH: It’s important to understand that one size does not fit all. Some companies use only one law firm for specific types of matters. While it’s important for firms to understand your business—and long-term partnerships help with that—I think it better serves the business to select outside counsel based on particular matters and expertise.