Randi Donaldson has always approached her career with confidence. “I decided I was going to be a lawyer around the age of nine, and I never deviated from that,” she says.
Even so, Donaldson could never have predicted that she would end up at pipeline equipment and services company TD Williamson (TDW) as senior legal counsel of the Western Hemisphere. Yet each step of the path she followed to get here only unlocked a deeper level of passion for her work. These days, that work sees her bridging the divide between the legal function and the business itself—and making each side stronger in the process.
Donaldson started law school thinking she wanted to practice criminal law. She didn’t expect that plan to change when she opted to spend the summer before her third year in Kansas City to be close to her family. “I got a clerking job with a small boutique construction litigation firm that specialized in representing big general contractors on large construction projects,” Donaldson says. “By the end of the summer, I was fascinated by what their clients did and how the litigation worked on those massive construction projects.”
The attorney has remained steadfast in her commitment to the construction and engineering industry ever since. In fact, some ten years into her litigation practice, she literally wrote the book on the subject.
“West Publishing—now owned by Thomson Reuters—asked me to contribute a book on Oklahoma construction law that would go into their Oklahoma practice series,” she says, noting that she initially saw the book as a client development opportunity. “While I was a litigator, I was certain I would never do anything but be a litigator. Then, about one week after I turned in the manuscript, I got a phone call from a headhunter who was trying to hire an assistant general counsel for a big oil and gas construction and engineering company.”
Donaldson figured that spending a few years in-house would make her a stronger litigator in private practice—except she never went back. “I decided it was even better than litigation,” she says of her first in-house role at Willbros Group. “I could spend all my time becoming an expert in just one client’s business and helping advise them on matters that would prevent litigation and claims from happening in the first place.”
She moved from Willbros over to TDW in 2015, but she hasn’t forgotten her roots. “Everything I did in my litigation practice comes into play whenever I pick up a contract to negotiate it,” Donaldson says. “It also informs how I develop lawyers who work for me. I spend a lot of time making sure that they’re not just looking at the words on the paper, but thinking about the next step––how someone on the other side of an argument might use those words against us.”
Donaldson acknowledges that she holds her team, and herself, to a high standard, but she also trusts them to identify and solve problems their own way. She also strives to help each team member achieve their individual goals. “However long someone works for me, I want them to leave better than they came in,” she says. “I want them to take on as much as they’re comfortable taking on, not just task-wise, but responsibility-wise.”
That includes getting involved in special projects across TDW. “Every opportunity we have to work on a non-legal project in the business makes us better lawyers,” Donaldson emphasizes. “I’m leading a transformation project for the company on procurement, which is not in any way legal-focused. But I had experience from the negotiation of contracts with suppliers and the handling of supplier claims, and I understood where we had pain points and problems relative to suppliers and material.”
Beyond her work on supply chain and procurement, Donaldson has collaborated on cross-functional projects to build out an incident investigation and management process, and to evaluate a potential aftermarket services business line for the company. In perfect keeping with this track record, her biggest piece of advice for aspiring attorneys is to step outside of their comfort zone. “Absolutely foundational to my development of skills—not to mention the key to all the most enjoyable parts of my career—has been my willingness to raise my hand,” she says.
That advice is all the more crucial in-house, where special projects offer some of the best opportunities to learn about the business and network with colleagues outside the legal department.
“The closer you are to understanding the nuances of a company’s business, problems, and risk, the tighter your advice can be,” says Donaldson. “Everywhere I’ve worked as an in-house lawyer, I’ve been very proactive, and my team at TDW is no different. We’re at the table, and we’re involved in non-legal issues every day.”