Flying on Intuition

United Airlines’ Matt Wexley has used his instinctive open-mindedness and adaptability to support his team and clients throughout a twenty-year tenure

Twenty years ago, when Matt Wexley started at United Airlines, he didn’t realize how impactful his work would be for himself and others. His role as an attorney at United has taken his work beyond the office, often touching the lives of community members and strangers alike. Early in his career at United, Wexley was instrumental in helping employees and the community following a company crisis, stepping outside his job description and serving “as a counselor, advisor, and friend” during this difficult time. Recently, he worked on a pro bono case with a team from United to obtain asylum for a mother and her daughter from El Salvador. He saved them from a dangerous life and helped them gain the right to remain safely in the United States, illuminating their futures in an instant. Over time, Wexley felt himself becoming connected to his job in ways that exceeded doing good work. He was changing lives.

Though Wexley may come across as a natural-born, superhero lawyer, his career path has been marked by spontaneity. “When I graduated from college, I was a psychology major. I thought I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become an industrial psychologist,” he says. But after taking some time off after his undergraduate studies, he decided to go to law school, almost on a whim, because he was interested in helping people and obtaining a law school education. “I’m lucky because I have never had my life carefully planned out. I went to law school with really no idea of what it meant to be a lawyer, but I was open to doing and learning new things, helping people, and being prepared to do so as much as possible. After all these years, I still come in every day ready to do the best job I can to help people and learn new things.”

Matt Wexley, Associate General Counsel, Commercial & Government Contracts, United Airlines Courtesy of United Airlines Creative Services

For Wexley, having a life unplanned was the perfect way to meet people and stay open to novel experiences. His job at United represents a happy mix of his willingness to learn and his passion for connecting with other people. Over the years, Wexley has used his knack for welcoming the unexpected. He has worked in various departments in United’s legal department, which is unique for a lawyer at the company, and also charted a steady course through the incredible changes faced by the airline industry since he started in 1999. He witnessed the sacrifices United made during its bankruptcy starting in 2002—likewise witnessing the success of United after it emerged stronger than ever, offering brand-new products and customer experience opportunities. Wexley also helped United successfully merge with Continental in 2010: a plan full of unknown prospects that proved to be a tremendous accomplishment after it was complete.

In navigating changes like these every day, Wexley says that his current role as associate general counsel of commercial and government contracts has transformed into one that never assumes a routine. He has developed an appreciation for stepping outside of his realm of expertise to make a difference within the company, and, of course, he encourages his team to do the same. In fact, a large part of Wexley’s job is working with his team to help them succeed no matter what challenges they face. He takes pride in developing relationships with his fellow lawyers, coaching them through problems and issues when necessary. With two decades of experience under his belt as an in-house attorney, Wexley serves as a viable resource for young professionals seeking legal advice; guidance on identifying, analyzing and assessing risks; and ways to develop “different options to accomplish what they need.”

He says that the best part of his job is mentoring and coaching. He considers these responsibilities an integral part of his work: “Being a coach is a newer area for me, but something I greatly enjoy. When you make that connection with your group, it’s a really rewarding experience. I was fortunate to work with some wonderful attorneys who taught me, and I like to pass that on to others.” Wexley’s ability to connect with his team members carries over into how he connects with his clients. The secret to successful client relationships, he asserts, is using emotional intelligence to earn trust. Building a foundation of trust with his clients, following through on commitments, being a problem solver, and providing practical legal advice allows Wexley to better serve their needs because his clients engage him early on as a resource:

“You’re dealing with a lot of people associated with the company that have different backgrounds, skill sets, interests, motivations, and you have to show them what value you bring to them. I try to understand my clients’ perspectives, walk in their shoes, and show them that I understand the pressure they’re under when they ask for my assistance.”

Wexley’s work at United has provided him innumerable opportunities to experience the variety of life within his work. His willingness to be open with his team members and clients gives him the chance to influence the lives of people who, in turn, impact his own life in exceptionally rewarding ways. Though his choice to become a lawyer was never planned, he says that he would want it no other way.

“You have to stick to what you believe makes you successful,” he says. “If you commit to that and do the best job you can, good things will happen.”

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Crowell & Moring LLP:

“Matt is astute in his analysis of complex legal issues and level-headed decision-making.  He truly understands the legal and regulatory challenges of operating in a consumer-driven market.  It is our honor to be one of his trusted advisers.”

–Lorraine Campos, Partner