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There’s a catch-all email for the legal team at Mattress Firm. It’s the kind of broad email at the bottom of a website that you won’t message because you’re absolutely positive no one will see it, let alone respond to it. If you’re one of Mattress Firm’s 8,200 total employees spread out over 2,300 stores and 68 warehouses across the country, it’s likely the only way you know how to contact the company’s lean legal department.
“We get all kinds of emails from people all over the company,” says Mindy Harper, vice president and senior litigation counsel at Mattress Firm. “It might be a single employee at a store in Nebraska who had to deal with a difficult customer and isn’t sure what to do about it. I don’t know of another large company where the general counsel or the SVP of legal is going to respond to that email within an hour to personally help them. Our team is here to support everyone across this company, and every single person on this team takes that responsibility seriously.”
She is speaking of the four others on the all-female legal team: Kindel Nuno, executive vice president of legal, general counsel, and secretary; Daria Russell, senior vice president of legal and associate general counsel; Shruti Patel, director and corporate counsel; and newest addition Paetra Kaufmann, senior manager and real estate counsel.
Harper, Nuno, and Russell have work and personal relationships that date back to previous roles and their start at the same law firm, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP (now Norton Rose Fulbright). But Patel and Kaufmann, the relative newbies, are just as invested as their superiors, and it shows. This is a legal team that isn’t just high-performing—it’s a tight-knit family.
“I obviously had a say in hiring all of you,” Nuno says to her team during a videoconference. “I hired you because you’re highly capable, highly competent, and very qualified for your roles. But there is something more here. In all of my years, this team feels tighter, closer, more at ease with each other than any team I’ve ever been a part of. There’s a level of trust and respect here that you can’t just manufacture.”
Outside of the organization, Mattress Firm’s legal partners agree the team is particularly special. “We are honored to have a deep and longstanding relationship with the innovative and dynamic Mattress Firm team,” says Roxane Reardon, partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. “Their commitment to excellence and strategic and collaborative nature truly sets the bar for the industry.”
The lawyers understand just how rare of a situation they find themselves in. Being a woman in law is still more challenging than it needs to be, and none of these attorneys have been immune from situations—from outrightly hostile to well-intentioned ignorance—that have thrown obstacles in the progression of their careers.
But the team is much more focused on what they’re able to accomplish together, strengthened by their mutual understanding. Their shared experience strengthens their connection and drives better results for their team across Mattress Firm.
“There are always ups and down in an organization, and the fact that Kindel, Daria, and I knew each other already gives us that implicit understanding of having been in the trenches together,” Harper says. “There isn’t a need to manufacture who you are, and I think that gives us more time to do good work across the company.”
Patel says it’s not rare for her to give Russell a call to simply chat about motherhood and life. She also appreciates Nuno, who Patel says is always ready and willing to offer expert counsel.
“There are little things I notice about being on this team,” Patel explains. “The enthusiasm and joy that each one of these ladies brings to the table motivates me in ways I can’t explain, unless you’ve been here.”
As part of an all-female team, the Mattress Firm lawyers have an unspoken understanding. When one needs to focus on family, such as a sick child, the others step in without missing a beat. “We are here to support each other,” Harper says.
Nuno says it’s part of the reason those catch-all emails get responded to so quickly. The lean legal team is able to balance their own workload while knowing when it’s time to reach across the aisle to help out.
“I ask a lot of my team,” she adds. “We’re a lean part of the organization, and nobody sees a job as below their pay grade. When I was told that my team was the most professional, the most diverse, and the most respected in the organization, it really resonated with me because I believe it.”
A Bond that Remains
The bond that connects these women was shaped by a diverse array of mentors. Kaufmann says her first in-house boss was one of the first women to attend her law school. Additionally, many partners at her first private practice law firm were women.
“Since I started practicing law, I’ve had female mentors and really strong women to guide me,” Kaufmann explains. “I consider myself fortunate in that regard.”
Patel, who was taken under the wing by a male boss early in her career, says that she’s found a new mentor very close to home. “Daria doesn’t know this, but she has become a really significant mentor for me,” she explains. “I’m very fortunate to have found a mentor who is willing to go the extra mile to help me advance in my career.”
There are the informal mentorships like Russell’s, and the more formal like Harper’s work through the Association of Women Attorneys Foundation that provides scholarships and fellowships for female law students in Houston. But what is made ultimately clear is that these women are creating the kind of environment that supports and nurtures good lawyers, good work, and good people.
That environment is recognized far outside the legal department.
“I can tell you that the law department is highly regarded by the real estate team,” Kaufmann says.
It’s a reputation that Nuno, Russell, and Harper had earned even before Patel and Kaufmann arrived, but the general counsel says this iteration of her team is the strongest it’s ever been.
Together, Nuno, Russell, and Harper have navigated significant moments in Mattress Firm history, from numerous acquisitions as a publicly traded company to emerging from bankruptcy in just over forty days. Patel and Kaufmann are strong advocates for Mattress Firm in their own right, each handling aspects of the legal team’s functions with minimal oversight.
“Trust, respect, and strong work ethic are the foundations of this team, and I’m excited to see what more we can accomplish,” Nuno explains.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is one of the world’s leading international law firms. Established in 1884, the firm is comprised of more than one thousand lawyers. Headquartered in New York with offices in Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, São Paulo, Tokyo, and Washington, DC, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP provides coordinated legal advice and transactional capabilities to clients around the globe.
“The Mattress Firm legal department and The Rudnicki Firm are proof that when women lead, the result is a no-nonsense, pragmatic, and straight to the point approach while still being thoughtful, kind and compassionate.”
—Leah Rudnicki, Managing Partner and Founder
“Mattress firm has an outstanding legal team of superstars. As outside counsel for Mattress Firm, we work with them on a variety of matters. They are each talented, extremely knowledgeable, and outstanding partners.”
—John B. Thomas, Partner