Since joining Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in 2019 as associate general counsel of litigation, Jessica Staiger has had to do a series of deep dives into the complex workings of ADM business units. New cases have often required crash courses in different industries.
Staiger came to ADM with extensive experience in corporate litigation. But continually and quickly acquiring knowledge of specialized industries—a necessity when working for a large multinational company with a diverse set of businesses—has presented a steep learning curve. Luckily, Staiger has proven that she is more than up for the challenge.
Diversity of Markets
A player in many agricultural products and related services, ADM operates in a wide range of businesses: agricultural product processing, food and beverage ingredients, animal nutrition, and logistics, to name a few. The Fortune 500 company is so diversified that it has its own internal news channel to inform employees about the strategies and activities of its many business divisions.
“I aim to keep abreast of ADM’s plans and strategic priorities,” Staiger says. “There are a lot of new areas that the company is focusing on.”
In such an environment, a lawyer has to be versatile and inquisitive. Staiger is certainly that, intrinsically motivated by work that offers variety and the opportunity to practice different types of litigation.
Staiger has always had a curious streak. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where she majored in political science and economics, and Harvard Law School, she has a long history of relishing new and interesting opportunities to learn.
Staiger’s ten-year stint with Kirkland & Ellis, including four years as a partner, earned her broad experience in corporate litigation. Her work included cases pertaining to breach of contract, consumer fraud, noncompetition, antitrust matters, and more.
“I didn’t have to specialize in one type of litigation,” she says. “That was very beneficial for me.” In the course of her work, she frequently dealt with a variety of contract issues, trade secrets, and employee mobility as well as numerous class action lawsuits—all excellent background subjects for her current position.
“Jessica was a critical part of our Kirkland team; she was strategic, super smart, and incredibly supportive,” says Daniel Laytin, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. “But we are excited for her to hone those skills at ADM to help them meet their goals.”
As an in-house attorney responsible for handling much of ADM’s uninsured commercial litigation, Staiger must delve even more deeply into the intricacies of the company’s business operations than she did for clients during her time at Kirkland.
“These are not cookie-cutter litigation issues,” Staiger says. “ADM is a large company with many areas of business and a diversity of legal topics, which have taken a significant amount of learning.” For example, one recent case involves the details of derivatives trading in the ethanol industry. It’s not a subject that most lawyers come across in their law firm practice.
The diversity of legal work Staiger consistently encounters at ADM very much appeals to her. “It hit all of the aspects of an in-house position that I was looking for,” she says.
Part of the challenge working in-house is learning where to go for information and how to work with different people with different knowledge bases within different businesses. Fortunately, she says, she has had plenty of support from within the legal department and contacts in other areas of the business.
Each ADM business unit has its own chief counsel who is deeply ingrained in the business. These experts are invaluable resources, providing industry details and a deep understanding of their business units. Staiger and the litigation and disputes team supply the comprehensive litigation experience needed when disputes arise that are likely to become contentious and when cases go to court.
So far, many of Staiger’s cases at ADM echo her work at Kirkland. Even though she is now even more fully immersed in the details, the basic litigation strategies are similar to what she has seen and used before. “It’s been a pretty seamless transition,” she says.
Litigation Informs Risk Management
Like at most companies, at ADM the legal function can lead risk mitigation strategies, and in some cases, what is learned in litigation can inform guidance to the company for the future. This has certainly been an interest for Staiger. “To the extent that we on the litigation team can help provide ‘lessons learned’ as cases resolve—or even better, before they arise—that information transfer can benefit the entire company,” Staiger says.
This is all the more reason that, as a newer employee, she says, it’s crucial to learn as much as she can about ADM’s strategic plans and priorities. For instance, a new market like alternative proteins (products like Beyond Meat) means that the company will work with new suppliers and customers. Learning now about the players and the potential litigation issues that might arise in the new market now will be beneficial down the road.
Such new challenges drive Staiger’s passion for her profession. As ADM regularly innovates and considers new products and businesses, it’s clear that the company will continue to provide her with opportunities to broaden her knowledge. She wouldn’t want it any other way.
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