Some people choose a law career because of a mentor’s influence or family tradition. For Janelle Carter Anderson, vice president and general counsel for the Applied Solutions Group of the Heico Companies, television was her inspiration. “Growing up, I used to watch a lot of law and crime dramas with dramatic courtroom scenes. The lawyers got involved in all aspects of the case, solved the mystery, and became a dramatic hero,” Anderson recalls. “As a child, that was the initial draw.”
Over time, she came to see the law as a tool to attain justice or solve problems. By the time Anderson entered law school, she was drawn to civil rights law, taking her cues from both Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. She earned her JD from Georgetown University. “It was a wonderful choice for me,” she says. “Georgetown is a large law school that offered a broad array of extracurriculars and classes—many of which were taught by legal practitioners in the nation’s capital. I had the ability to explore the areas of law that resonated with me as an individual beyond the foundational legal education.”
Anderson began her career as a law clerk to US District Court Judge Julian A. Cook, Jr., followed by three years with the firm Winston & Strawn. “My practice at Winston was a great learning experience for me,” she says. “I was involved in nearly every type of commercial litigation, from claims of patent infringement to breach of contract to tax disputes and white-collar crime.”
She then joined class action law firm Mehri & Skalet. “We worked on the plaintiff’s side in class actions, particularly in the areas of civil rights and consumer rights protection,” she says.
After focusing on litigation for the first seven years of her legal career, Anderson wanted to broaden her expertise and took an opportunity to go in-house at Chicago State University. There, she was one of two attorneys for the university and enjoyed a broad range of responsibilities expanding beyond litigation.
It was in that role where Anderson found that her best fit is in-house. “I really enjoy being part of the business and working collaboratively with cross-functional teams to solve problems and mitigate risks,” she says. After a few years at the university, she moved on to a role as counsel to two business units of Adtalem Global Education, formerly known as DeVry Education Group, and was later promoted to chief litigation and employment counsel.
Interestingly, her first experience with the Heico Companies began in July 2019, more than a year before she was permanently hired. She served as interim general counsel for the company’s Ancra (now Applied Solutions) Group for a few months while the GC was on medical leave, then moved on to law firm Husch Blackwell when he returned. “When the Applied Solutions Group’s GC left the company in 2020, I was offered the position and accepted,” she says.
Starting a new gig during a pandemic can be tough, but Anderson’s previous interim job with the company eased her transition. “I had the benefit of my prior experience and had already begun building relationships with my key business partners,” she recalls. Those partners are spread across nineteen companies in the Applied Solutions Group and across four verticals, which provide solutions in cargo, electronic/thermal applications, metal, and recycling. (The Heico Companies maintains three other groups, each with a dedicated president and general counsel.)
Still, the effects of the pandemic did not make Anderson’s transition into her role easy. “I joined the company in October, and immediately jumped in to manage a number of challenges,” she says. Product demand took off, there were supply chain issues, and, overall, COVID had a serious impact on the employee base. “I found that I could make an immediate impact simply by getting stuff done for my business partners,” she says.
Anderson’s duties include providing strategic counsel to those companies, including counsel on contract drafting and negotiations, intellectual property, acquisitions, operations, compliance, labor and employment, and litigation. Juggling all those needs isn’t always easy, but Anderson sets out to first understand the business goal, and then works collaboratively with her business partners to reach creative solutions.
“I help them work their way through situations, encourage them in their relationship building, and simply act as a sounding board for ideas and concerns. I’ve had many mentors, friends, and supporters do that for me throughout my career.”
She also cultivates efficiency and proactively mitigates risk by educating her business partners. “In every legal matter there is an opportunity to help my internal clients better understand how to manage risk.”
She doesn’t do it all alone. “I have a fantastic set of colleagues with whom I can gut-check many of the legal issues that arise,” she says.
And because the operating companies in the Applied Solutions Group are active in countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region, Anderson often seeks outside counsel to advise on the law of those jurisdictions. The Heico Companies’ long-standing relationship with a few law firms has been an asset when complex matters arise involving corporate, intellectual property, employment, and litigation.
Anderson is passionate about mentoring young attorneys and law students. “I’ve been intentional about this for the past few years,” she says. “I help them work their way through situations, encourage them in their relationship building, and simply act as a sounding board for ideas and concerns. I’ve had many mentors, friends, and supporters do that for me throughout my career.”
Her approach to career success involves both perseverance and adaptability. “Take on new challenges and embrace opportunities for growth, whether within or outside of your current role or organization,” she advises. “You’ll build out your skill set, find where your strengths and interests truly are, and in some cases, go in a different direction than you’d first intended. But once you’ve determined your goal, pursue it relentlessly and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.”
Littler Mendelson, P.C.:
“Janelle has been a great addition to the Heico legal team. Littler is proud to join in celebrating Janelle’s achievements and recognition in Modern Counsel.”
–Barry Hartstein, Shareholder