Jacqueline Hobbs Relies on the Power of Relationships

Collaboration is the key to success for success for Jacqueline Hobbs, an associate general counsel for Duke Energy

Jacqueline Hobbs became interested in the law at a young age, thanks to her mother, who worked as a legal secretary. “There were times I would have to go to work with her. I remember meeting all the lawyers in the office and sitting there pretending to do legal research,” she recalls. “I would see the clients come and go, and I knew early on that was what I wanted to do.” Today, Hobbs is an associate general counsel at Duke Energy, one of the largest electric power holding companies in the United States, founded in 1904 and headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hobbs attended the University of Cincinnati for both undergrad and law school. During an in-house legal externship, she realized that working as in-house counsel was her ultimate goal. Right out of law school, she was hired at the law firm of Ulmer & Berne in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I practiced law for about eight years and at that point, felt like I had developed the skills and experience to allow me to transition successfully into an in-house role,” Hobbs says of her time with the firm. “I was really fortunate to get opportunities that more senior attorneys typically get.”

For instance, as a junior associate, she was second chair in a jury trial and first chair on the appeal, first chair in a number of bench trials, and prepared and argued significant motions in both federal and state courts, including a motion involving the right to a jury trial under the WARN Act as well as an issue of first impression in Ohio.

In 2005, Hobbs took the position of counsel for Duke Energy doing employment litigation work in its Cincinnati, Ohio regional office. Although she had never done work in the energy industry before, she was looking for a challenge, so powered full steam ahead. “During my time at the firm, I worked with pharmaceutical companies, construction companies, and many other industries, but never an energy company,” she says. “I was excited by the opportunity.”

Making the switch to in-house counsel was just as rewarding as she’d expected: Hobbs appreciated having a close relationship with her clients and spending significant amounts of time with them, something that rarely happens in private practice. “I think there’s a lot of benefit to that. You get to know them really well and really get to know the business,” she notes. “The energy business is complex and ever-changing, so early on, I decided I was going to learn as much as I can from my clients.”

“I love advice and counseling. It’s a way to partner with your clients and get a glimpse into the inner workings of the business and how our leaders think and what’s important to them.”

Over her fifteen years at Duke Energy, Hobbs’s range of responsibilities has increased in proportion to the exponential growth of the company itself. When she first started, there were about seven thousand employees, but through a number of acquisitions and mergers, that number has climbed to more than thirty thousand. “I started out doing employment litigation and as the company got bigger, I transitioned into an employment law advice and counseling role and also started doing a lot of traditional labor law,” Hobbs says. “I love advice and counseling. It’s a way to partner with your clients and get a glimpse into the inner workings of the business and how our leaders think and what’s important to them.” As far as her leadership style, Hobbs describes it as “very collaborative.”

“When I go into a meeting, I think it’s important to involve everyone at the table so we get diverse opinions and recommendations so whatever decision we end up making, I can make sure it’s in the best interest of our company and our customers,” she says.

Today, she is part of a team of seven labor and employment attorneys—a tight-knit group that she says is extremely supportive of one another. “The HR legal team is committed to educating clients on day-to-day legal issues and compliance issues that affect how we operate,” Hobbs says, which involves proactive training. For instance, she will travel to power plants and give presentations on topics such as employment law basics for first-line supervisors, co-employment issues, and traditional labor law concepts.

Since starting with the company, Hobbs has handled more than seventy-five labor arbitrations, represented HR legal in multiple contract negotiations with labor unions, and provided day-to-day support and guidance to HR and management on employment and labor matters. According to Hobbs, though, that isn’t her biggest professional achievement.

“My greatest accomplishments at Duke Energy are the relationships I’ve been able to build—not just with clients but also with colleagues,” Hobbs says. “In my role, I realized early on how important it is that you have people around you that you can go to for mentoring, support, collaboration, and information. I would not be where I am today without both my clients and colleagues.”

Hobbs also appreciates the pro bono work that Duke Energy does. Not only does she enjoy taking part in offering free legal services to nonprofits in the Cincinnati area through the Pro Bono Partnership of Ohio, but it’s a topic she’s passionate about.

“Duke Energy is dedicated to giving back to the communities we serve, and in the legal department, we make pro bono work a priority,” Hobbs says. “I feel like I’m giving back to the community with my pro bono work and it’s an easy way to get involved and pay it forward.”

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Expertise Spotlight

Founded in California in 1942, today Littler is an international law practice with more than fifteen hundred attorneys devoted exclusively to representing management in employment and labor law matters. Client service and innovation are among the cornerstones of our practice. Littler has represented more than fifty thousand employers in virtually every industry, on a regional, national and global basis, across the gamut of labor and employment matters. As a result, we understand the issues affecting small companies as well as the world’s largest corporations. Clients with operations in different locations rely on our broad experience and geographic reach to help them strategically, efficiently, and cost-effectively manage their employment and labor matters across multiple jurisdictions.