Lean but Not Mean

City National Bank’s Brace Mullett is a department of one, determined to make legal a solution, not a problem

In his final case in private practice before coming to City National Bank, Brace Mullett was part of a team representing RJ Reynolds in the largest consolidated civil action in West Virginia history. There were more than one thousand plaintiffs, and Mullett was responsible for much of the litigation’s administrative, day-to-day case management. “It required a lot of organizational skill, and since it was so early in my career, I was learning on the go,” Mullett says. But in coming to City National Bank, Mullett has found an even greater challenge: assuming all legal duties as a department of one.

With continuously stretching oversight over litigation, contract administration, internal audit, loan review, compliance, the insurance program, and a laundry list of other functions, Mullett has sought to constantly refine legal’s role to better serve the business. He’s also intent on making sure that all of City’s employees see legal as empowering, not imposing.

Brace Mullett, General Counsel and Senior Vice President, City National Bank & City Holding Company Photo by Michael Switzer

Mullett says he was compelled to come to City after having worked as outside counsel for the bank. “I got to know the folks here and just came to realize that it was a collection of really quality people,” Mullett says. “[CEO Charles “Skip” Hageboeck] said he had a vision for me internally, and it wound up being the absolute right move for my career.”

Going in-house was a significant move for Mullett, who had cultivated a résumé as a high achiever, representing a number of coal mining companies in addition to working on smoking and health-related matters during his firm days. But his work at City has been no less challenging. On December 7, 2018, City announced it had acquired Poage Bankshares and Farmers Deposit Bancorp, essentially taking on two new banks on the same day. Mullett used his old firm, Dinsmore & Shohl, for both deals and says that City is very proud of how quickly both banks were brought onboard and integrated into its processes and practices.

Internally, Mullett says partnering with the human resources department has continued to pay dividends. “One of the core reasons that we’re successful at City in all facets of our business is our outstanding HR department,” Mullett says. “From our director, [Amanda] Mandy Ware, throughout the entire department, we’re lucky to have them.” Mullett says partnering with HR brings an invaluable continuity to the business and constitutes some of the most rewarding work he’s accomplished.

Mullett also says having a strong HR relationship and company culture means City avoids a number of difficult issues that other organizations may have to retroactively combat. But that doesn’t mean that legal isn’t entrusted with a difficult job. “When your job contains elements of risk management, you’re often the bearer of bad news,” Mullett says. “Many times, when people see me coming, they think that something’s wrong.” But Mullett says that by working more closely with the business lines, he’s helped City employees see legal more as problem solvers than just problem identifiers. “We want people to know we’re here to navigate problems, not just point out their flaws,” Mullett says.

“This may sound corny, but I literally learn something every single day. And City has been incredibly patient with me, allowing me to grow the position and continually learn on the job.”

For Mullett to stay abreast of all that legal covers, he says prioritization is essential. It’s a skill he learned early while working in a firm but says it’s more necessary than ever in working to empower City’s employees. “Sometimes there are issues that can be solved without my direct involvement, and other times it’s necessary for me to come in and simply help troubleshoot,” Mullett says. “But at the end of the day, you want the business lines to feel empowered to find their own solutions.”

Working from a departmentally lean perspective isn’t necessarily a rare occurrence at City, Mullett says. “We take great pride in our lean and efficient executive team here,” Mullett says. “Our CEO [Hageboeck] is a PhD economist and asks a lot [of everyone] from the back room to the business lines.” Mullett says receiving praise from Hageboeck many times comes in the form of being asked to take on new responsibilities, and that trust reminds him that he’s performing up to the high standards he sets for himself.

And while Mullett admits operating with a lone paralegal can sometimes be demanding, there’s a silver lining. “This may sound corny, but I literally learn something every single day,” Mullett says. “And City has been incredibly patient with me, allowing me to grow the position and continually learn on the job.”

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Steptoe & Johnson PLLC:

Brace is incredibly well suited to his role as general counsel and we always look forward to working with him. He is thoughtful, well versed in numerous areas of the law, and has an uncanny ability to see the most practical approach to the wide variety of issues that the bank faces. Brace always works to find a path forward that maintains a culture of integrity and success at City. In addition to his many responsibilities at work, Brace is also a dedicated father and coach to his two sons.”

—Marc Bryson, Member