If you’re not a lawyer, you’re going to have trouble at a Neville family gathering. Katie Neville, senior counsel for dealer relations for Hyundai Motor America, has to take at least a few breaths when listing her family’s intersection with the law. Both of her parents earned their stripes as prosecutors for the Cook County State’s Attorney in Chicago. Her father’s two older brothers did the same. Her aunt married another state’s attorney. Four of Neville’s cousins also practice (two work together in-house) and one is a judge.
Neville’s family is so immersed in the law that it was affecting her sleep schedule as a child. “At one point, I think my mom sat my dad down and told him that he either needed to come home before bedtime or after, because he was showing up in the middle of it and messing up our whole routine,” she remembers, laughing. “I think that’s what motivated him to leave private practice.”
While the family business was firmly established even before she came into the world, Neville had to find her own way there. In college, she pursued journalism, filled with a desire to tell stories that could ultimately help right wrongs and fight injustice. But the reality didn’t match up to her expectations, and Neville returned home to work as a bank teller for the small bank where her father has worked as vice president for over twenty-five years.
“The law was what I’d been surrounded by my whole life, so I decided to take the LSAT,” the attorney explains. “I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I know I made the right decision because I love being in-house.”
Prior to coming to Hyundai, Neville built out substantial firm experience while trying to figure out exactly where she belonged in the legal world. She excelled in litigation, but she knew it wasn’t what she wanted to spend the rest of her career doing. It wasn’t until she was recruited to do a combination of transactional work, litigation, and counseling in the relatively niche franchise dealer law that the path became more apparent.
Neville made the transition in-house in September 2019, and by the sound of it, it’s exactly where the lawyer belongs.
“I arrived shortly after our new CEO came on board, and there’s been a big focus on the dealer network,” Neville explains. “We’re continually looking for new ways to support our dealers and improve our presence with customers. Our legal group has been front and center for a lot of these discussions, so the work has kind of exploded.”
When Neville joined the company in the third position in her department, one attorney was out on maternity leave. That left two people and one was a new hire. Neville explains that no company is able to simply pause business while one experienced lawyer tries to handle everything, so the pressure was on.
“There was no choice but to acclimate quickly,” Neville says, frankly. “I was fortunate to have the legal background in franchise and all of the work I had done in the space, so I was able to make recommendations to my boss and establish confidence and trust with him. It was like being thrown in the deep end, but I think it was the only way to go.”
There has been so much work, in fact, that Neville’s team has grown to five, and she says every attorney on the team would agree they’re all handling a maximum (and then some) workload.
The transition to working from home mere months after joining the company has made establishing rapport and confidence in the rest of the business challenging, without the outside meeting chats or walk-and-talks. However, Neville says Hyundai’s meeting-friendly culture keeps people connecting early and often.
“I think we’ve all had to work a little harder and longer to find that time to connect, because you need to schedule it with people,” Neville says. “It can make for some long nights, but it’s the right thing to do.”
In the year ahead, Neville says she’s excited to see what recently promoted General Counsel Jason Erb will push ahead as major priorities and initiatives for the legal team. She expects cross-functional work and counseling between departments to continue to grow, especially when it comes to dealer law, transactional work, and how it intersects with Hyundai’s products team.
While the approach may be evolving, the lawyer says her team’s goal is still well-established.
“There’s no secret that Hyundai is looking to grow our market share, and to do that, our dealers need to sell more cars to our customers,” Neville says. “Our team will be tasked with helping the business develop new ways to support our dealers and the experience for our customers. I think it’s going to be a big year.”
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP:
“Katie is a talented, diligent attorney and an asset to Hyundai. I’ve enjoyed my time working with her and look forward to collaborating on future matters.”
–John Streelman, Partner