We continue our monthly feature, “Upfront & Personal”, a column created by Rose Ors that brings “the person behind the title” to the forefront in interviews with some of the most influential members of the legal community.
Laura Stein, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at the Clorox Company, recently spoke with Ms. Ors, the CEO and Founder of ClientSmart, about what she is proud of, what she’s passionate about, and why access to justice is so important to her.
Rose Ors: What are you most proud of about the way you lead your life?
Laura Stein: I try to adhere to Gandhi’s adage, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I have adopted this approach to how I live my life because of my parents. They are my role models and heroes. I often approach a challenging or sensitive situation by asking myself: “What would my parents do?” They are also the people in my life who have always inspired me to do more and be more. I am proud of how I live my life by modeling their positive and values-based lives.
I also try to make people around me feel valued and included. In addition to my parents, I have been deeply impacted and shaped by the multicultural experiences I have had — first, as a high school foreign exchange student in Italy and then again in China right after college. In each instance, I did not yet speak Italian or fluent Mandarin. In Italy, I lived in a tiny town with a wonderful family and I seemed to be one of the only English-speaking persons for miles. In China, I lived in Beijing not many years after the Cultural Revolution and I was the first foreigner many of the people I met had ever seen.
Although each of these experiences was unique, the constant was the kindness and humanity that I experienced in both places. There were so many gestures, by so many people, that made me feel included and valued. I am intentional about paying it forward.
Rose Ors: What career advice would you give your 20-year-old self today?
Laura Stein: I would tell myself to build a wonderful network of people on whom you rely and who rely on you. Choose people you genuinely care about as people, not just because of their position or title. I have a running joke that my closest relationships are people that I started talking to in an elevator or a hall with no idea of their position in life.
I would tell myself not only to work hard, but to work smart — be strategic, add value, and measure your impact. I have learned how powerful it is to be intentional about the impact your actions have. Whatever your title, we are all leaders with the power to influence others. You can influence your profession. You can influence your community.
Lastly, enjoy life and live your values. Be bold, follow your passions, and take the long view of life. Life takes you on a number of paths, so enjoy the journey.
Rose Ors: What are two things you are passionate about?
Laura Stein: I am passionate about access to justice and the rule of law. On a lighter note, I am also a passionate sports fan, a passion I share with family and friends.
Rose Ors: What sparked your interest in access to justice?
Laura Stein: My interest in this very important area of need started early. When I was growing up my parents mentored inner-city kids, and at home they often discussed the many unmet needs these children and their families faced, including access to justice. In college, I was active in Big Brothers/Big Sisters and saw the same unmet need. So, once I received my law degree, I committed to help fill the need.
I was very fortunate to begin my law practice at Morrison & Foerster, a law firm whose DNA includes doing pro-bono work. While at the firm, I witnessed the life-changing impact of this type of legal advocacy on the lives of individuals and families in need. I have continued to be inspired by the public advocacy work we do at Clorox. Our commitment to doing pro-bono work is part of the company’s commitment to making a difference in the communities we serve.
For example, over the years, the Clorox legal team has provided in-court pro bono services to victims of domestic violence through the Family Violence Law Center; and, more recently, helped battered women appeal challenging court rulings through support of the Family Violence Appellate Project.
It is one of the many reasons I love working at Clorox.
Rose Ors: Who are your sports teams?
Laura Stein: I am a very proud Minnesotan. My father is a professor at the University of Minnesota, and from a very early age, I attended Minnesota Gopher football, basketball, and hockey games. And, of course, living in the Bay Area, I love the Warriors, the Giants and the Sharks and go to as many games as I can. On the football front, I love the Big Ten; and in the NFL, I root for the Vikings and the Steelers from my days in Pittsburgh.
Rose Ors: Did you also play sports?
Laura Stein: I played a lot of sports growing up. I always was on different sports teams or taking sports lessons. I was a ski racer throughout high school, and in college I played rugby.
Playing team sports taught me that success was measured not just how you played when you were winning, but also how you played when you were losing.
Rose Ors: What life lessons did you learn from playing sports?
Laura Stein: I have participated in both individual and team sports. Both taught me that success was measured not just how you played when you were winning, but also how you played when you were losing. In both cases, you keep on showing up and you do your best. When you are losing it is harder to show up than when you are winning, but you develop a kind of inner strength, a resilience, that stays with you.
From playing on a team, I learned the importance of team dynamics. On a team, each player has a position that plays to his or her strengths. This means that a coach and team members need to value the different skill sets and perspectives of all. For me, this was an early example of how inclusive and diverse teams make for winning teams whether in sports or in business.
Rose Ors: What advice would you give a newly appointed general counsel?
Laura Stein: Our role as General Counsel is to guide, protect, and enhance our company and its reputation. I would advise a new GC to understand her or his company’s culture, business, and its key strategic objectives. Then, devote time and resources to build a first-class legal department to help foster the culture and help the company achieve its objectives.
Your role at the executive table requires you to wear a number of hats, including trusted business partner to the executive team and the board.
I would also stress the importance of establishing and fostering a culture of continual improvement. Today’s best legal departments are business-centric, forward-thinking, and innovative. To hit all three marks, the legal team needs to bring fresh thinking to the business and the practice of law.
Lastly, I would emphasize the importance of building authentic relationships with the board, the C-suite, and your team. Building authentic relationships not only takes time, it takes having a real interest in getting to know these professionals as people. Being genuinely interested in others will help foster a more trusting and collegial culture, and that is no small thing.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.