At the beginning of his career, fresh out of law school, Ted Prouty thought real lawyers practiced in the courtroom, so he joined Baker Botts LLP as a litigator. After four years, though, “I found out I did not love the constant and, often, purposeless conflict inherent in litigation,” he says.
Such conflict did not agree with one of his core philosophies: “Do not forsake the important for the urgent.” Prouty understands that what is important is often not urgent, and what is urgent is often not important. He has since relied on this principle to guide his varied and challenging career, and it has afforded him much success, including at Air Liquide, where today he serves as associate general counsel–US cluster.
Prouty began making his way to the multinational company with a pivot in his career. Following a longtime interest in business (he studied finance as an undergrad) he shifted to a transactional practice while at Baker Botts. “I wanted to be where law and business intersect,” he says. He found that at that intersection, conflict has more of a purpose and “at the end of the day, both sides are working toward a common goal.”
His work led him to Air Liquide in April 2012, where today he primarily supports the company’s electronics and advanced materials businesses, which design, manufacture, and supply the gases and chemicals used in state-of-the-art technologies such as flat-panel displays, computers, and smartphones.
Excited to help the company build its corporate portfolio, Prouty is involved in all aspects of the business and helps reduce front-end risk. A true generalist operating in a lean department, he works on everything from large mergers and acquisitions to customer contracts and disputes. No day is like the one before, and “I am constantly dealing with new situations,” Prouty says.
What holds all his work together is a combined love of the law and problem-solving and figuring out how to use both to improve Air Liquide’s bottom line. “My goal is to always provide timely and practical business advice,” he says. “We are the ‘eyes wide open’ department. It’s our job to translate general legal analysis into practical counsel that allows the business to make informed decisions about risks.”
Amid all these competing duties, he continues to fight the tyranny of the urgent. “The pace of the in-house legal world is a sprint,” he says, and with so many immediate things demanding the attention of himself and his team, he has to be careful not to ignore deeper and seemingly less pressing concerns that might have more of a transformational impact. Prouty explains that half the battle is identifying each activity and dealing with it accordingly. For example, while urgent and important tasks must be done immediately, urgent but unimportant tasks are ripe for delegation—and tasks that are neither must be eliminated.
Fundamental to Prouty’s success is his insistence on scheduling blocks of work time each week to address important issues that aren’t urgent. “It’s easy to confuse the urgent for the important,” he says, “but the distinction is critical. When I focus only on the urgent, I am perpetually reacting. Blocking out time each week allows me to turn my practice from a reactive one into a thoughtful and proactive one.”
For instance, he has recently used such time to research recent Texas case law relating to force majeure clauses, and he has used that to update Air Liquide’s form agreements. “A simple activity like this can have a substantial impact on the amount of risk the company is exposed to—and ultimately on its bottom line,” Prouty says. “But, if I’m not intentional with and fail to protect my time, the more urgent activities usually triumph.”
Even though he wound up moving on from it, Prouty understands that his time as a litigator remains invaluable to him in his role today. It taught him how to differentiate between matters that are actually important and those that are merely pressing, and it also showed him how a deal or contract can go wrong. Now, at the front end of a problem, he can look far down the line and see how it might all end up. It’s an ability that has turned his career from a successful but stressful one into one that he loves.
Blank Rome LLP:
“Ted is an extremely talented lawyer and business advisor who achieves exceptional results on behalf of Air Liquide. We are thrilled to support him, the Air Liquide team, and their business goals.”
—Larry “Buzz” Wood, Partner