In June, we welcomed Randy Shields and John Stoker as Senior Counsel to our Financial Regulatory Advice & Response practice. As Deputy General Counsel for the consumer bank at PNC Financial, Randy managed the legal team that supported all of PNCs consumer banking and loan products, channels, and regulatory matters. He provided direct support to the bank’s fair lending operations and was the principal counsel to PNC’s Chief Customer Officer. John is a financial services attorney providing legal advice and counsel to senior management and governance committees, business groups, and risk and compliance functions on prudential banking laws and regulations applicable to financial products, services and operations, and enterprise initiatives. He has served the legal departments of Wells Fargo & Company and Wachovia Corporation and most recently led the Corporate Regulatory Section at Wells Fargo.
We asked Randy and John what allowed them to be successful in their in-house careers and what brought them to MVA. Please see their responses below.
Question: What makes an in-house counsel successful?
Randy: There are many qualities for an in-house counsel to be successful:
- be dedicated and work hard;
- learn the business as well or better than the client;
- stay motivated and curious;
- be correct in your legal analysis and conclusions;
- earn a seat at the table with your insight, thinking, and ability to communicate well verbally and in writing;
- be a good common sense counselor who takes the legal hat off when necessary; and
- be respectful and nice to people.
John: I agree with and second all of that. I would also add that in-house, particularly in large legal departments, there could be a tendency to focus on the area you directly support and have blinders to other areas. Understanding broader issues at the company is always helpful, even if you aren’t the person directly supporting the issue or topic. That will allow you to understand how an issue or problem being addressed in one area may have implications for areas you do support. Businesses are complex and having people that see across topics is always valuable. I’ll put in another plug for being respectful and nice and add be helpful as well. Particularly in large companies, navigating structures and people can be a challenge, even for some people who have been there for some time, so trying to find the right person or team to help you with an issue can be difficult. Once someone knows you in an organization – they may call you for everything they need. Although you do a lot, you don’t do everything. Be a helpful switchboard operator to get them where they need to be.
Question: What do you wish you knew about the practice of law as a more junior attorney?
Randy: Things take time and not everything goes according to plan. Instant success as a lawyer is a rarity. Learning the ropes is a process and one must stay flexible as things change. There will be challenges and failures along the way; staying calm and professional and learning from them is key.
John: I agree with Randy (again). Be patient with yourself. Becoming a better attorney takes time and, candidly, is something you will continue to do throughout your career. There is no one final destination you reach on that. Watch how different attorneys manage difficult legal issues and difficult client situations. Just as you may be sitting in a room or on a call now thinking how well one of the senior attorneys is managing a project and wondering if you could manage that as well, one day some new attorney will be watching you and thinking the same. I’ll also share something that I did do and was glad I did. I said “yes” a lot. Early in my career both in private practice and in-house, I ran across situations where I was offered an opportunity to work on a project or in an area that may not have been directly in my wheelhouse. I had partners or managers ask if I would be willing to help on another project, would be willing to take a special assignment, or even move offices. I very often did and because of that ended up switching practices (a few times) and found myself in a practice area I really enjoyed and was able to leave Charlotte to work and live on assignments in London, Washington and San Francisco. These were never areas or places I had anticipated or planned to work when I first became a lawyer, but those “yes” answers opened up opportunities for me that I really enjoyed. It may not have happened immediately, but saying “yes” to these offers absolutely made people think of me even a year or so down the road when an opportunity developed later.
Question: How is in-house practice different from being in private practice/what challenges are unique to in-house?
Randy: In some ways, working in-house can be extremely gratifying because you have a captive client and you get to know the nature and rhythms of the business at a very deep level. Also, on the plus side, the in-house counsel does not need to generate business and generally does not have to record time. On the other hand, many people have the misimpression that in-house counsel take that route because it does not have the time demands of private practice. There is nothing further from the truth. In my experience, successful in-house counsel work just as hard if not harder than outside counsel. Because an in-house counsel is an employee of the business, the clients are not reluctant to reach out for help at any time. So, one of the challenges is that the in-house counsel role can be a 24/7 job, particularly if the client has offices and staff across different time zones.
John: I really enjoyed the focus an in-house practice allows you in terms of getting to know a business and the people who are running it and keeping it going. In private practice, you may move from client to client (to client to client) daily. This has its own upsides in terms of a diversity of issues and ability to see matters across a range of clients, but when you are in-house and sitting with the company and its employees day-to-day over years, it’s a completely different experience. You know the company’s opportunities and challenges and the legal issues associated with them in a more holistic way. I agree with Randy, people who have only been in private practice may think in-house attorneys have selected a less-demanding path. I did not expect that and did not find that to be the case when I moved in-house. I was no stranger to early mornings and late nights. There really are no lulls or down-time as you may have in private practice from time to time moving between matters. I would also add that in-house you are dealing not only with the pure legal analysis, but your time is often filled with operational issues (we know what the law is now, but how does that translate into how we run this business and the systems we use) and in helping your clients find answers to issues that aren’t necessarily legal ones.
Question: What brought you back to law firm practice?
Randy: I was quite busy in retirement, but I missed the practice of law. I missed the intellectual challenge of solving complicated consumer banking regulatory puzzles. I missed counseling and guiding clients through the maze of how to respond to difficult and complicated situations. I also missed the daily and varied interaction with clients and colleagues. After having been a lawyer for over 35 years, those items were really a part of who I was and I felt a strong desire to get back in the game. So, when Ed O’Keefe reached out to see if I would be interested, I jumped at the chance and am thrilled and privileged to join MVA and help support and build the regulatory practice.
John: While working with the same clients daily has its own upside, working at a firm where I am able to work on matters for a range of large, regional, and local financial institutions allows me to see areas and approaches on issues that an in-house practice doesn’t afford. I thought that I was at a stage in my career where if I wanted to try private practice again that it was an ideal time. I was lucky enough to have worked with Barbara Meeks for many years and had met both Ed O’Keefe and Neil Bloomfield at various firm functions and knew others at the firm socially and professionally. Doing work that I find intellectually challenging is important to me (and regulatory work is certainly that) but doing it with people I enjoy working with is just as important. When Barbara and Ed reached out about my interest in helping to build out further the regulatory team at the firm, it was the right time, right practice, and right people. I’m really excited to work with the firm, the people in the practice group, and the firm’s clients.
Question: What trends do you see coming in the financial regulatory space?
Randy: It is déjà vu all over again. Coming out of the financial crisis of 2007-08, with a Democratic administration and the launching of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, banks were under intense societal and regulatory scrutiny. While that eased a bit under the recent Republican administration, we are now headed back to a world characterized by some observers as “regulation by enforcement.” At least in the consumer regulatory space, there will be more examinations with a high consumer protection emphasis, a greater focus on fair lending and racial equity, fewer MRAs and increased civil money penalties.
John: The politicization of banking continues. Both parties see the industry as a way to drive their social and economic agendas, and that makes for a difficult road for the industry to navigate. While general compliance risk management will remain a top regulatory priority, the focus will also continue on operational risk, which is the risk of loss caused by the failure of people, systems and processes, and how well institutions are managing increasingly dangerous and frequent cybersecurity threats. Finally, I would mention the threat and opportunity of technology. From whether the firm understands and is managing its IT risks, to whether it is leveraging technology to better offer clients products and services they need in a more effective and efficient manner, to the competitive challenge posed by technology companies that want to offer products and services traditionally offered by banks, technology issues are probably on the agenda in some way or form in every meeting.