A glance at Lisa Strauch Eggers’s resume reveals a worldly past. The Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown Law graduate started her career in corporate finance on Wall Street before working for BP (then known as Amoco) in the United States and Switzerland, and later she moved to Seattle to serve as Starbucks’s first international lawyer. She also worked as general counsel for Seattle Biodiesel and Global Scholar, two Seattle start-ups.
Mostly recently, in 2011, she joined Callison, LLC, a growing international architecture and design firm with 900 employees in 11 offices. Prior to her hiring, the firm had gone 36 years without an in-house counsel, so Callison CEO John Jastrem wanted Eggers to build a new legal department. Fortunately, as she explains here, her past gave her the tools to do just that.
What first sparked your interest in law?
I almost went into the Foreign Service. I passed all the tests right after college but decided that I was intrigued by the study of law as an intellectual pursuit and because of the role it plays in business, domestically and internationally. Plus, the analytical rigor and discipline of law are invaluable in any setting. I could see that as business grew globally, companies would value having a good lawyer on their team. I always wanted to be in-house and to be a true business partner.
What is it about contributing to a business that’s so attractive?
I want to be part of a team that grows and manages a great business—an ethical place where people want to work. I love applying the law to help understand and manage risk and inform strategic decisions. The intersection of law and business fascinates me.
How have you seen that interplay work out?
I remember being at Amoco just five years after law school, following four years on Wall Street, and having profound conversations with Amoco’s GC about the role of in-house counsel. He was an important mentor and told me we are an integral part of the business. That’s why we get invited to strategy and management meetings. We have to understand the business, and our knowledge of the business should inform our legal advice. My career was transforming; I was developing in-depth knowledge of my client and becoming integrated into the business team. My advice was sought at the early stages of every transaction because the perspective of counsel was valued as one component of sound decision-making. My most satisfying experiences as in-house counsel result from the interplay of law and business and the relationships I build with my clients as a trusted advisor.
After you started at Callison, you helped the firm hire a new insurance broker. What was that process like?
My job, when I first joined the company, was to take a fresh look at all components of contracts, litigation, compliance, and risk management. When you design buildings and interiors, there will inevitably be some claims and litigation. Callison has an excellent claims history. We choose our clients carefully, and we do great work, so we were well positioned to optimize our insurance program. With the help of an excellent team at Lockton, I did a bottom-up analysis of all of our types of insurance. Our professional liability policy is written in London, where the process is more personal than in the United States. I flew to the UK with our CEO, met with multiple underwriters, explained how we manage risk, described Callison’s financial strength, and succeeded in renewing at favorable rates and improving our policy terms. The underwriters really appreciated my background in managing risk for projects all over the world, as well as my department’s sophisticated and rigorous approach to contract review, our development of processes, and our rollout of a training and compliance program.
“In some ways, it’s really been an advantage having not come from within the industry because I see opportunities for improvement with fresh eyes.”
Lisa Strauch Eggers, Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary
What are some of the steps you take to limit risk?
Every contract at Callison should be reviewed by a lawyer. That review includes a standard analysis for key terms such as limitations of liability. When we enter a new country or have a new partner, we also ensure compliance with Department of Treasury, State, and Commerce regulations. I also started a training and compliance program in contract formation and anticorruption compliance, particularly the FCPA and UK Bribery Act.
Callison does retail and commercial work in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Dubai. What challenges does that footprint bring?
We have resource constraints, obviously. We are a small team, and it’s a contract-driven business. Also, we have to review contracts that might never be awarded. RFPs often have form contracts that you either accept as-is or make amendments to. We make it work because we have a really great team of talented people and good outside counsel we can really rely on when needed.
What’s that relationship like?
My outside counsel are vital partners. They know I need practical, business-oriented advice. Of course I want them to apprise me of problems in a contract, and I also want them to propose solutions. If I give them a project, it means that I don’t have the time or the background to do it myself. I want them to respond with something I can use immediately. I need them to stand in for me, and they do. That’s the value of having long-term relationships: they know me, they know our business issues, and they know our standards.
What do you think is most important to your relationship with your executive team?
My executive team and board need to be able to rely on me for sound legal advice, which is informed by my knowledge of the company and its people. They want someone who is helping manage risk and thinking of important legal issues, including applicable laws and existing contracts.
How does your past experience help?
It might sound strange, but I think it’s good that I worked in other areas first. I remember when Lou Gerstner went to be CEO of IBM and people thought he was an odd choice because he had never worked in tech. But he was a phenomenal manager, and he did fabulously. I had broad experience with sophisticated firms and corporations. I think our CEO knew I could bring that level to Callison. In some ways, it’s really been an advantage having not come from within the industry because I see opportunities for improvement with fresh eyes. I’ve learned a lot in this position, too, and am grateful to my CEO and clients for giving me this opportunity.