During her legal career, Deborah Solmor had served as a litigator at a large law firm, a deputy general counsel and a chief compliance officer.
But when she took her first general counsel job at TCS Education System nearly five years ago, Solmor said it was “nothing like anything I had done in my career.”
Her myriad of challenges included figuring out what it means to be a strategic partner to the business as an executive team member, undertaking board governance as the corporate secretary and identifying any gaps in her legal team that needed to be filled.
Solmor said it would have helped her if she was in close touch with experienced in-house legal leaders who could provide guidance as she learned the ropes.
“I wish I would have had somebody to say, ‘Okay, here's how you can make a contribution, here’s how you can think about your role as something more than just being a lawyer,’” Solmor told Legal Dive.
In response to these feelings about her experience as a new general counsel, Solmor founded a program called Ready Set GC for women legal chiefs in their first one-to-three years or so.
The initiative hosts events that bring newer women general counsel together to hear panel discussions featuring veteran legal leaders addressing pressing topics. These gatherings also offer a forum for the GCs to chat about their roles and develop relationships with one another.
“This is the passion project of a woman GC who felt she could have used help, so I’ve leveraged my resources to fan out and bring what I feel was missing to other people and create that community,” Solmor said.
Ready Set GC has held events in Chicago, Atlanta and New York so far.
Solmor, who still holds her TCS Education System role in Chicago, develops the content and finds speakers and attendees in partnership with the program’s three sponsors: Major, Lindsey and Africa; Alston and Bird; and KPMG.
The educational portions of the in-person programming have included a focus on how the women legal chiefs can approach their executive roles.
For example, one session in Atlanta last year was themed: “Executive presence: Getting in the room and staying in the room.” Among the panelists were Vicki Donati, the general counsel at Crate & Barrel, and Sandra Hall Mulrain, general counsel at Reliance Worldwide.
In New York earlier this year, a session was titled “Welcome to the club: Now what? Tips for success and lessons learned.”
The panelists included New York Public Library General Counsel Michele Coleman Mayes and former Heineken USA Chief Legal Officer Julie Kinch.
Additionally, experienced GC and published author Sterling Miller spoke in New York about “Ten ways in-house lawyers can increase their value to the company.”
Lisa Tanzi, who became GC at Parts Authority last year, said she was grateful to attend Ready Set GC’s New York event and praised the mix of speakers.
“It was inspiring to hear from seasoned GCs on how they tackled everyday issues we face in our roles,” Tanzi said.
Ready Set GC events have also featured a focus on financial literacy and other financial matters.
For example, there have been sessions featuring forensic accountants from KPMG highlighting how legal chiefs can strategically read financial statements.
“It just isn't something you learn in law school for the most part, and if you're not heavily transactional, you probably won't learn it at all,” said Solmor, who was a litigator at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.
In a different session, Solmor moderated a chat between former Revlon GC Cari Robinson and former Revlon CFO Victoria Dolan about their time working together. The two discussed how leaders in those two high-level positions can create strong relationships between one another.
Solmor said the executives emphasized the importance of trust and transparency between finance and legal leaders, which can help them work through any differences of opinion that arise.
Future educational sessions will likely include discussions of how legal chiefs can partner with other C-suite leaders and best practices for corporate governance.
Solmor said another important component of Ready Set GC’s programming is providing attendees the chance to interact with one another because she wants the events to be more than just one-offs.
At the more recent gatherings, Solmor said attendees have been seated at tables so they have a small group to have lunch with and interact with during the day. She also strategically places experienced GCs and other panel members at the tables.
Solmor said one aim of her efforts is “to make sure that while we're there it's a safe space for people to talk about their challenges and their successes.”
Additionally, the cocktail hours provide a chance for the legal chiefs to meet other attendees and potential mentors.
During the cocktail hour at the recent New York event, Solmor said she was very heartened to hear two attendees making plans to grab lunch at a future date.
Her hope for 2023 is to provide ways to help strengthen the connections the legal chiefs have made in each of the three cities where Ready Set GC has held events.
“It's important now to step back and say ‘Okay, we've gotten such a great reception. Let's focus on building those connections and keeping those people in touch,’” she said.