We sat down with Nicole Brunson, the new head of litigation & disputes at Arrival, a zero-emission transportation company, to discuss her career and her plans in her new position.
AALM: What drew you to Arrival?
NB: The opportunity to proactively develop a sound litigation function with an incredible company of focused people.
AALM: Are there any practices from Trane Technologies that you were able to bring on board with Arrival?
NB: Practices for cost avoidance and risk mitigation through business engagement, forecasting for financial preparation and visibility and collaboration between legal functions to create alignment on approaches to risk and resolution.
AALM: Any other lessons you brought with you?
NB: Being a business person with legal expertise which includes understanding the business needs and goals and appreciating the impact of legal issues on those business needs and goals.
AALM: COVID has affected most business operations in the last year. How has the pandemic shifted your outlook on the role and efficiencies of the legal department?
NB: The in-house legal department is the “front-line” of the business tasked with addressing issues as presented and deploying strategies to minimize the impact of issues to come. In the pandemic, in-house served as an operational function of businesses taking on roles as negotiators, business developers and relationship managers in an effort to protect the financial sustainability of companies for the employees and the customers who rely on those businesses for livelihoods and resources/products.
AALM: What are your main goals when working with outside legal counsel? How has that changed over the years and what changes do you anticipate in the future?
NB: The main goal is to create a business relationship where outside counsel is an extension of the in-house legal team carrying out the tactical moves of the developed strategy. What has evolved over the years is an expectation for outside counsel to invest in understanding the business operations of the client as much as understanding the legal issues presented.
AALM: How can in-house counsel best support the overall business goals of their company?
NB: Know how your company makes money, where your company operates and what your company is striving to achieve as a global citizen and provider of goods or services.
AALM: How would you describe the culture created within your legal department?
NB: It is a culture steeped in collaboration and progressive thinking that is fostered by diverse people who are the best, brightest and nicest in their respective practices.
AALM: What first drew you to the legal world?
NB: I have a strong intellectual curiosity and love problem solving (even in the simplest sense like crossword puzzles). I used to watch legal shows and found the approaches and dynamics of legal practice, mostly defense, to be fascinating. I was intrigued that there is so much grey in a world based on black and white.
AALM: Tell us about your experiences in private practice and your decision to transition to in-house.
NB: My experiences at Swanson, Martin and Bell LLP were rich. From day one, being a strong and solid litigator, defender of the client, was developed and nurtured. There was no training period as I was mentored to practice the law from the day I was sworn into the bar, armed with wisdom of other firm attorneys and confidence from those firm attorneys that I was capable. My decision to transition in-house came out of a desire to focus on the litigation and mitigation of matters while developing reliable business practices to address the risks.
AALM: Tell us one of the most important lessons you’ve learned over your career.
NB: I have learned that everything we do comes back to people, individuals striving to make a life for themselves and others. Sometimes our intentions can be altered by “attractive nuisances” of life, yet if we remember that we are working for the sustainability and progress of people, our productivity will increase, our compassion will grow and our purpose will be better defined.
AALM: Tell us about any mentors you’ve worked with through your career and the best advice they shared with you.
NB: My mentors have been men and women, lawyers and non-lawyers. They have all shown me the path to success through what is happening to me and helped me learn from what is happening around me. They afforded me opportunities and served as sounding boards for decisions, both personal and professional. I sum up their advice in this statement – “Always bet on yourself and remember that you should benefit from everything you do for those looking to benefit from you even if it is nothing more than knowing you did the right thing. It will keep you working hard for others.”
AALM: Do you have any advice for young up-and-coming lawyers?
NB: Remain agile in your learning and your willingness to experience this practice. The applicability of the legal practice and legal thinking is vast and can be of value to many other industries and roles. As you join this industry, use your powers for good. We truly are and can be modern day superheroes.
AALM: Tell us a little about your life outside the office.
NB: Cooking is a true love and I enjoy traveling with my husband (who I think is very cool). I am a mother to 4 children (30 year old, 16 year old boy/girl twins, and 4 year old) from three generations, a fairy godmother of sorts to another (25 year old) and a fur-mom (a boxer named Stella). Holidays are the best times at our home and Christmas is my favorite! I am a former high school sprinter and model who still likes to compete. My current athletic love is Peloton. I value relationships immensely and still have strong friendships with five amazing women from middle school. The most important part of life to me is leaving everyone and everything better than I find it.
AALM: Is there anything else you’d like to add.
NB: Not at this time. I need to leave some mystery LOL.