Heather McManus American Kennel Club

Heather McManus: Finding Pride in Her Work

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Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Heather McManus following her appointment to general counsel of the American Kennel Club for the latest In-House Spotlight in our Corporate Counsel series.

AALM: What drew you to the American Kennel Club? What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

HM: I grew up with purebred dogs and looked forward to assisting the AKC accomplish its mission from a legal perspective. I hope to continue providing the excellent legal service that the AKC legal department has been known for over the years.

AALM: Tell us about your work with the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office? What prompted you to transition from prosecution to an in-house role?

HM: I worked for the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office in the State of Illinois. During my six years at the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, I prosecuted all sorts of cases from a death penalty case to retail theft cases.  In addition to prosecuting felonies, I was the chief of the misdemeanor division overseeing a staff of eight attorneys.

At the time that I applied, the AKC was looking for an attorney with prosecutorial experience. AKC is like Major League Baseball except for dog sports. As with any competition there are rules, regulations and policies and there are times when not all parties conform to those rules, regulations and policies and action needs to be taken to preserve the integrity of the sport or the registry. As the years progressed, I became involved in all aspects of AKC’s and its affiliates’ legal issues.

AALM: COVID has affected most business operations in the last year. How has the pandemic affected the American Kennel Club and its legal department specifically?

HM: As with any in-house legal department during the pandemic, the AKC legal department went through changes in personnel and workload. I had to learn new areas of the law. I had to conduct research in areas I had never done so such as finding and reading numerous Executive Orders. I did so with less staff.

AALM: What are your main goals when working with outside legal counsel? How has that relationship changed over the years and what changes do you anticipate in the future?

HM: I am looking for outside counsel to partner with me in handling a legal matter. I expect them to come up to speed on the AKC quickly. I also am looking for alternative fee arrangements. As a not-for-profit, I want the AKC’s assets to go toward its mission and not attorneys.

AALM: What kind of culture are you trying to build in your legal department?

HM: I want to establish a culture of pride in the work that is being done and ownership of that work. I want all members of the legal department to work to assist our “clients” in accomplishing their goals in a legally compliant manner.

AALM: Tell us about your mentors and some of the best advice they shared with you.

HM: I have had several over the years.  At the State’s Attorney’s Office, we all helped each other. I was advised that if we couldn’t help someone, we should provide advice as to where the person could get assistance. At the AKC, I have been able to work with such people such as Ralph Del Deo, a well-respected attorney from New Jersey who always had keen insight into AKC matters, Marshall “Pete” Simonds from Goodwin Proctor, and Donald Booxbaum. They each provided insight in to the AKC, its activities and its possibilities.

AALM: If you could go back and change anything about your career what would it be?

HM: I would be as strong as an advocate for myself as I am for others.

AALM: What drew you to a legal career? How is your career different today than you envisioned in law school?

HM: I went into law school with the intention of being a prosecutor. I always wanted to make a difference in society and thought that would be a good way to do so.  I have continued this work with the AKC.  Dogs bring tremendous happiness to all those that interact with them. I just hope that the work I do enables people to experience that joy.

AALM: Can you tell us about your involvement/work with ND Women Connect?

HM: I attend their meetings when possible.  It is a great organization that brings women who have graduated from Notre Dame together to network.

AALM: Tell us about your life outside the office.

HM: I enjoy my family, travel and Notre Dame football games.

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