2019 Corporate Counsel Honorees
As outside counsel, you help companies solve specific problems. But as in-house counsel, you have the opportunity to help a company develop short-term goals and long-term strategies. Join us in celebrating the 2019 Corporate Counsel honorees who are helping Utah’s companies be their best today while laying the foundation for continued excellence.
Alissa Redd Owen
Associate General Counsel | Western Governors University
With a background in engineering, Alissa Redd Owen is uniquely suited to be a problem solver. Whether it’s helping a friend resolve a family law situation or helping a 5,000-employee corporation establish its worldwide intellectual property portfolio, she is passionate about doing what she enjoys most: thinking critically. “Being a lawyer gives me a chance to advocate for and help others,” Ms. Owen shares. “Law is all about problem solving.”
As the associate general counsel for Western Governors University, not only is Ms. Owen thinking critically every day, but she is helping to deliver a positive result for the future. Her work with intellectual property at WGU helps keep the institution’s, as well as the students’, academic integrity as she proactively works to take down cheat sites and paper mills that facilitate dishonesty.
Anthony L. Plachy
Associate General Counsel & Data Protection Officer | Rakuten Marketing, LLC
Anthony L. Plachy knows all too well what working on tough cases can do to an attorney. “It was too heart wrenching,” he shares. “I knew I needed to make a move.” So he made the move to in-house counsel and he’s never looked back. “What keeps me in-house is the partnership you get to have as a lawyer with the business. Outside counsel has it easy.”
Working tirelessly with Rakuten Marketing, LLC, Mr. Plachy constantly pushes the company to be its best. Leading efforts to comply with GDPR and sifting through complex legalese to make the regulations understandable to their employees, he’s lead the initiative to figure out the future of the company’s marketing strategy even as new laws, like the CCPA, come stateside.
Beatryx Epps Washington
SVP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary | O.C. Tanner
Beatryx Epps Washington has always wanted to be a lawyer. “My grandparents were very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I grew up learning about the impact that law can have on our society and its culture. I wanted to be able to use that to help people achieve their goals,” she says. Now, working at O.C. Tanner with fresh eyes, she’s able to give insightful guidance across a variety of subjects to top executives and help create a corporate culture worth being proud of.
Using her previous work experiences to guide the future of the company, Ms. Washington is focused on success. “The life of a lawyer is challenging and time-consuming,” she says. “However, this is a rewarding profession where you get to learn something new every day.”
Associate General Counsel | Pluralsight
Cara Baldwin entered law school at a significant crossroads in her life. A single mother of four, she wanted a career, something more than just a job that would allow her to provide for her family, but would be emotionally fulfilling as well. “I wanted my kids to know that, no matter what, they could create their own futures,” she says. “I didn’t become a lawyer to save the whole world. Just my family’s. But along the way, I’ve had the honor to positively impact my community.”
Working with Pluralsight, Ms. Baldwin has used her expertise to significantly reduce legal risk in the areas of intellectual property, privacy, cybersecurity, and litigation, successfully saving the company millions of dollars in the process.
Cofounder & Chief Legal Officer | Nav
Caton Hanson never had the desire to follow what most would consider a “traditional” legal career. “My passion has always been in the business world,” he says. So he started his own legal firm focused specifically on consumer and commercial credit as well as small business legal services. And when he cofounded Nav, he took that legal expertise in-house. By continuing to focus on regulatory issues around licensing and data security, his efforts have allowed the company to continue innovating.
“If you’re considering in-house counsel, I recommend hiring someone that is also business savvy and would consider themselves a little less risk averse than a traditional attorney,” he advises. And for others considering getting into in-house legal work, he says “Be okay with less structure and flying by the seat of your pants a little bit.”
Dorothy C. Pleshe
Corporate Counsel | Jerry Seiner Dealerships
When Dorothy C. Pleshe graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she had two choices: pursuing a master’s degree in economics or going to law school. “I chose law school because there were very few women in the field at the time. I saw it as a challenge.” Moving into private practice, she represented Jerry Seiner Dealerships beginning in the mid 1980s, and then moved in-house in the early 2000s.
Ms. Pleshe has lead a substantial career as an attorney, and attributes her years in private practice to her success as in-house counsel, bringing a broader perspective to all the challenges she faces. Working with the organization for more than 30 years, she not only understands the development of the company, but the reasons behind it, and continues to work on developing the long-term strategy for the company.
Gwyn Goodson McNeal
Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer | Extra Space Storage, Inc.
Working with the human resources team in addition to the legal team at Extra Space Storage, Inc., Gwyn Goodson McNeal is able to focus on not only regulatory policies, but on formulating strategies that help the company attract, retain, and develop top talent. “It’s especially rewarding to see people grow in their careers, be able to play a part in mentoring them, and watch talented employees take the next step in their career development,” she says. And by focusing on the employees, she’s able to help the company focus on its customers.
“I bring a diverse perspective as the only woman on the executive team,” she shares. And she’s dedicated to promoting diversity across the company and providing innovative, creative solutions from both the legal and HR side of the business.
R. Jeff Richards
Vice President & General Counsel | Rocky Mountain Power, a Division of PacifiCorp
R. Jeff Richards didn’t begin his career with the idea of becoming an attorney. With a background in wildlife biology, his interests evolved to encompass natural resource law and policy, which ultimately led him to law school. And while the focus of his practice since then has been on corporate law, he has still continued to find opportunities that lead him back to the initial interests that sparked this journey, both in his professional and personal life.
Building a team of in-house attorneys to guide Rocky Mountain Power to success, Mr. Richards is happy to share advice on finding someone to fill out that team. “It’s easy to hire a good attorney and train them in law,” he shares. “But what is more difficult is finding that unique individual that has perceptive and is intuitive enough to work effectively with business.”
Vice President & General Counsel | Ivanti Software
Growing up, John Jensen’s father had a habit of teaching values and discussing current events in the Socratic method. “He dragged us into endless philosophical and public policy discussions. It was incredibly obnoxious,” he says. “But it made the decision to go to law school a natural choice, which I’ve never regretted.” From there, the opportunity to go in-house allowed him the variety and challenge of working in many different areas of law long term, and he’s never looked back.
Providing Ivanti Software with legal support and guidance through the company’s rapid development and acquisitions, Mr. Jensen has provided the framework for the company to continue to succeed long term and has ensured the proper integration of those companies and their products into the Ivanti ecosystem.
General Counsel | AdvancedMD
Mandeep Gill spent his early career working for the Utah State Legislative Auditor General, and that legislative process was what initially drew him into law. Which, in turn, led to the opportunity for lifelong learning about many segments of the economy, learning that continues to fascinate Mr. Gill to this day. Now, as the in-house counsel for AdvancedMD, he plays a significant role in positioning the company toward growth.
“In-house work is highly collaborative in a different way than law firm work is,” he says. “It requires lawyers to work with non-lawyers more frequently and offers unique exposure to business strategy and finance.” Which in turn leads to enlightenment on challenging situations. “Most of all, it’s fun,” says Mr. Gill, and he enjoys the exciting nature of his work.
Vice President & General Counsel | Clearlink
Matt Lowe began his career working at a firm in Aspen, Colorado. “We represented a slew of varies clients and, in turn, it felt very decentralized. Almost chaotic at times,” he says. That experience taught him that he wanted to be able to focus his efforts somewhere. When he got the opportunity to work with Clearlink, he dove in head first and knew immediately it was the path for him.
“The most challenging thing about in-house work is striking the correct balance between facilitating and protecting the business,” he says, sharing the one thing he’s found most difficult in his career. But he’s adapted to that challenge, and now Clearlink is thriving because of it. “You really need to be able to meet the aggressive and the conservative viewpoints head on and help navigate them back to the center, back to that balance.”
Vice President & General Counsel | JT Thorpe & Son, Inc./Terra Millennium Corporation
Rob Fox wasn’t familiar with law when he entered the field. “I’m the first lawyer in my family,” he shares. “In college, I heard some lawyers made a pretty good living and got to wear nice suits every day. I was intrigued.” But it was his skills and interests in reading, writing, reasoning, and arguing that set him on the path of success in law school. “Now, more than a decade later, I don’t like to wear suits and I find arguing to be a less effective means of getting your point across.”
Now, working with JT Thorpe & Son, Inc./Terra Millennium Corporation, Mr. Fox works with the challenges of the construction industry to balance contracts and work with regulations to point the company toward success. “There’s no such thing as a routine day,” he says. “Each task that is accomplished provides personal fulfillment.”
General Counsel | Onset Financial, Inc.
Scott Finlinson comes from a family of attorneys. From his father to his grandfather to even his aunt and uncle, the tradition in the Finlinson family was to go into law. “When I was young, I thought that’s what you do when you grow up: you become an attorney.” But what first drew him in wasn’t just that tradition. Because Mr. Finlinson had a desire to help people solve their problems. “It’s something I truly love to do,” he says.
Working at Onset Financial, Inc., Mr. Finlinson helps the company adapt to their rapid growth―and all the growing pains that brings with it. From streamlining procedures to revising contracts, he works to make operations faster and more accurate. “It’s a true natural high to see our team come together, roll up our sleeves, and get the deal done,” he says.
General Counsel | Zions Bancorporation, NA
Thom Laursen initially got the push to go into law from his mother-in-law. “I was studying third-century Chinese poetry and thirteenth-century Chinese popular drama at the time,” he shares. But when his mother-in-law worried about his future, he took the time to seriously consider it as well. “It seemed my two choices were business school, which I thought would be about selling things, and law school, which I felt would involve assisting others.” From there, the choice was clear.
Mr. Laursen fell into in-house work quite by accident, but he’s been dedicated to the rewarding work it offers ever since, working as general council for Zions Bancorporation. “As an in-house attorney, you are part of a close team with your clients, you are there as ideas are being formulated and worked out. Working closely with smart, ethical, and respectful executives is both a breeze and rewarding.”
Wayne R. Farnsworth
Senior Vice President & General Counsel | Woodside Homes Company, LLC
When asked what drew him into the field of law, Wayne R. Farnsworth has a simple answer: “I couldn’t cut it in farming.” So, naturally, he turned to law. “My initial career plan was to be a specialized lawyer at a law firm,” he says. But the opportunity to focus on only one client from beginning to end was what drew him in-house. Now, working with Woodside Homes Company, LLC, not only has he worked to restructure the business, but he was instrumental in the company’s acquisition by Sekisui House, LTD, the largest homebuilding company in Japan. “As a team, we adapted to these challenges and opportunities by realizing that there are unique times when there is simply more to be done,” he says. And he looks forward to doing more in the future.
Learn more about our 2019 CEO Of The Year honorees by watching the videos below: