General Counsel Q&A: Legal Departments Should Be Proactive, Not Reactive, says Phyllis Wallitt of Priceline.com LLC

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Data Analytics, Efficiency, General Counsel, Leadership, Practical Law, Practice Engineering, Process Management, Thomson Reuters

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Phyllis Wallitt, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Priceline.com LLC, recently spoke with Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business (PLJ) about the importance of setting quarterly goals and finding balance.

PLJ: How is Priceline’s legal function structured?

Wallitt: At Priceline, our legal and compliance team is an independent department that works with all of the business verticals.

PLJ: What are the top goals or areas of focus for the legal department?

Wallitt: Information security and data privacy are areas of continued focus, particularly in light of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act. We work closely with our security and data teams to help them understand these new rules and regulations and how to operationalize changes.

PLJ: Are there any innovative ideas the legal department has adopted to further its goals?

Wallitt: Our company has a strong focus on setting quarterly goals and striving to achieve those goals. The same is true for the legal department, which I think is innovative, because often legal departments are reactive. Through our quarterly goal setting, we are able to proactively identify and devote time to projects that will help drive value in the organization, and avoid getting completely bogged down in the day to day.

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Phyllis Wallitt, Priceline.com LLC

PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?

Wallitt:

  1. I always want to understand the makeup of the whole team, including the associates, for my project. Seeing diversity on the team is always a plus.
  2. Rather than offer to take me to lunch or show me glossy brochures, I appreciate when law firms provide helpful information (on new laws or regulations, for instance) or offer to present a continuing legal education course for my team on a topic of interest.
  3. I want to get a good estimate of the costs of a project, including a detailed budget, and suggestions for alternative fee arrangements.

PLJ: What is your favorite book?

Wallitt: I have always enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, as a classic with a legal bent. My son will be reading it this year in eighth grade, and I look forward to discussing it with him.

PLJ: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Wallitt: Someone once told me that you need to decide how important your work is to your overall life, and that will help guide your professional and personal choices. I always wanted an intellectually stimulating legal career and realized later that I also wanted to learn more about business and work in an exciting industry that did something to help people.

I am able to be a legal advisor in a fun and fast-paced industry, while also raising two children in a suburb, without a long commute to New York City. I have been fortunate to have that balance in my life, which I also attribute to a very supportive husband and family and a collegial work environment.

PLJ: What advice would you give to a prospective General Counsel?

Wallitt: To be a General Counsel, you must be in tune with the business priorities and objectives of the company, understand all aspects of the business and how it operates, and be practical while advising on risks. You also must have a breadth of legal experience.

I worked my way up in a smaller legal department, where I was able to take on responsibilities in many different substantive areas.


Read the full interview in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business.

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