Some people reach their fifth decade of life and engage in downbeat self-reflection, reviewing their regrets and disappointments and wishing for a do-over.
“For fifteen years, I had been an environmental consultant at JBR Environmental Consultants,” she says. “I didn’t feel challenged anymore, and I wanted to do something else.
“I was having dinner with Don Winder, the principal of Winder & Counsel, a law firm in Salt Lake City,” she continues. “We were discussing my situation, and he said he’d hire me—if I got a law degree.”
Next stop: the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, where she earned a JD, specializing in energy, environment, and natural resources law. “Going to law school as a mature student wasn’t a tough decision,” she recalls. “I’d already acquired some legal knowledge through my consulting work. And I’ve always believed that staying educated is important, so why wouldn’t I go?”
Tanner adds that her life experiences enabled her to bring a different perspective to her job. “Most new graduates are getting their first taste of the real world, but I’d been around the block already and understood how things worked,” she explains.
Winder was true to his word, and Tanner joined his firm as a law clerk. But after four years there—first as a clerk, then an attorney—she started itching to expand her legal horizons.
Tim Emery, a partner in the Emery-Reddy law firm, referred her to Progrexion. She was hired on the spot as the head of contract review in 2015. She became head of litigation in 2016 and attained her current position a year later.
As assistant general counsel, Tanner is involved in all litigation affecting the company itself as well as back-office services for its largest client, Lexington Law, a consumer advocacy law firm.
In certain cases, such as actions resulting from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, the company relies on outside counsel, but Tanner is still involved. “In those cases, I assist outside counsel while looking out for the company’s own best interests. A litigator usually offers solutions from a legal perspective; in-house counsel acts in a more advisory capacity in these cases, assessing and comparing each option’s risks and benefits,” she says.
Tanner’s department also supports Progrexion’s HR efforts, particularly its initiatives to expand diversity in its employee mix.
That poses some unique challenges. There is a strong cultural bias against women in the workforce in Utah. This bias has resulted in many companies, Progrexion included, having to implement diversity programs to attract more women and minorities to the workforce.
One major HR initiative encourages actively recruiting more female candidates and individuals of various ethnic backgrounds for many positions, from entry-level to managerial and director-level roles.
The company also operates a formal mentoring program, in which operational staff members can establish relationships with people at the leadership level. “Sometimes the mentors and mentees are of opposite sexes,” Tanner says. “As more women come into the workplace, it’s important for everyone to understand how to interact effectively.”
“A severe crisis shows you the cracks in your infrastructure. You can throw your hands up and be scared, or you can figure out how to fill the cracks.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed the usual office routines, but Progrexion has adapted well, she says. “A severe crisis shows you the cracks in your infrastructure. You can throw your hands up and be scared, or you can figure out how to fill the cracks. Our employees had been asking about working from home for quite some time, and when COVID-19 hit, management agreed to try it.”
About 60 percent of Progrexion employees work from home now. “People seem to be even more productive now than they were before,” she says. “In fact, we had anticipated shrinkage in some parts of our business. Instead, we’re seeing growth.”
And although the usual office camaraderie (“Wear Your Jammies Wednesdays” and pizza parties on Thursdays) is currently missing, Progrexion recently held a company-wide virtual talent show. “We first thought just our sales and service agents would participate, but corporate joined in too,” Tanner says. “We had many entries, and it was a great success.”
Progrexion strives to maintain a strong sense of external community as well. The company conducts two annual blood drives, pays employees to spend a day working on-site with Habitat for Humanity, sends volunteers to help at the local Ronald McDonald House, and participates in many other worthwhile activities. “Managers work on these projects alongside line staffers,” Tanner says. “Many companies are rather stale; we prefer to stay active in our community.”
What’s next for Tanner? “I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to be general counsel someday,” she says. “My next step will surely be a big challenge for me, and that’s intentional. You should never be afraid to try something new, and there’s no shortage of things I might do as my experience evolves.”
Williams & Connolly LLP:
“Williams & Connolly is proud to work with creative, innovative, and collaborative industry leaders. We congratulate our friend and client, Laura Tanner of Progrexion, for her outstanding achievements and recognition by Modern Counsel.”
–Ted Bennett, Partner