“My parents gave me my strong work ethic and told me I was capable of anything I put my mind to.”

Name: Meredith Emerson Ritchie

Title: General Counsel & Chief Ethics Officer

Company: Alliant.

Alliant

Sonya: When did you first realize that you wanted to become an attorney? What first drew you to a career as an attorney? What do you enjoy most about your career now?

Meredith: I first became interested in law during college.  In addition to co-hosting a talk radio show on the college radio station, I interned with two separate radio stations to learn the broadcasting business.  During that time, I was sent to the courthouse with an on-air reporter to cover high profile trials.  My job was to assist the reporter write copy that was then read on-air.  I found the trials and entire legal proceedings fascinating!  That’s when I got my first “itch” to go into law.

Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?

Meredith: Yes!  There are too many to list.  My parents gave me my strong work ethic and told me I was capable of anything I put my mind to.  My mother stressed education and being self-sufficient.  A successful business woman herself, she was a role model for me.

Sonya: Are there particular traits that you believe successful attorneys share? Traits that you believe you have yourself and which you look for in hiring outside and in-house counsel? How about common traits you’ve observed in other successful GCs?

Meredith: To be a great general counsel, I believe one has to have adaptability, a thirst for knowledge, the ability to build constituencies and a wide variety of experience in different areas of the law.  It was all of these drivers that lead me to my position at Alliant Credit Union over 10 years ago.  Experience as a litigator, a prosecutor, in private practice, with the government and with a global technology consulting firm, gave me the background necessary to excel in the financial services industry as trusted counsel.  I thrive on the variety of challenges and subject matter that comes my way on a daily basis.  Most of all, I am driven to help my company and its business partners succeed.

In Chicago, we have many talented attorneys from which to choose to handle legal matters.  I am continuously meeting and evaluating potential outside counsel.  First impressions do count.  If I am favorably impressed by an attorney at a CLE or networking function, I file that information away.  Then, when it comes time to vet different attorneys and firms, I pull out that information and often call on those folks to discuss the possibility of working with us.  I always tell people not to underestimate the value of networking and making a great first impression.  At the end of the day, selection will depend on criteria such as subject matter knowledge, fit and price/value.

Sonya:: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like your legacy to be in your company/law department? In the legal profession?

Meredith: I am most proud of talent selection and talent management.  I help my employees succeed by ensuring they understand what is expected from them and how they will be evaluated. Making sure that they understand how success will be measured is vital (that includes the measurement of success for the company or firm, the team and the individual).  Encouraging development and growth are also important to me.  I believe that managing attorneys can be different than managing others.  The most successful companies and firms convey the message that employees are valued, that their opinions count and that they will be rewarded for their success.

Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?

Meredith: I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have had strong mentors and sponsors.  They come in all forms – female, male, young, mature, etc.  I am grateful for the time and energy each one took to support me and my career.  I, in return, feel it crucial to support and encourage others in the legal field and in life.  If I can make a positive difference in someone’s life by coaching them and offering advice (or just listening) then I’ve succeeded. 

Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next 10 years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession and the role of the GC/in-house legal department?

Meredith: Technology, Automation, Crytocurrency, Cyber events and Privacy Laws – those are my top five for the next 10 years.  We, as GCs, can be extremely valuable to our companies and businesses in helping them protect their assets while promoting ways to expedite business. 

Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

Meredith: A few years ago, my parents passed away within 18 months of each other.  It was difficult seeing my parents decline and experience poor health.  Fortunately, I have a strong support system at home in my husband and my son to help me.  Alliant was also there for me during this time. 

Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? As a GC? To your company/legal department? What advice do you have for GCs and others seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?

Meredith: Diversity & Inclusion to me means casting a wide net to involve and include many different types of people – ethnically, racially, religiously, as well as in thought, to make the best decisions.  D & I is important to me personally and professionally.  Recently, I was appointed to my alma mater DePaul Law School’s Diversity Council.  We need to start with the law schools.  We need to ensure that firms, companies and governmental agencies are hiring diverse individuals and giving those individuals the tools they need to succeed.  GCs can make a difference by influencing corporate culture and taking concrete steps.

Sonya: If you were not General Counsel of your company (or of any company or even a lawyer at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?

Meredith: Oh, there are so many fun choices!  CEO, Sommelier, Art dealer, real estate broker.

Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer and a GC, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?

Meredith: Enjoy every moment of the journey – even days that seem hard!  Recognize your awesomeness and unique gifts.

Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job as a GC better.

Meredith: I love speaking French (and everything about France)!  I can escape by seeing a French movie, listening to French music or simply looking at pictures of the countryside in France.

Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or less (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya )

Meredith: #Iconnectpeople