“I am passionate about my work, empathetic toward others and I have a high degree of energy.”

Name: Georgia Vlamis

Title: General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Head of Human Resources

Company: FreightCar America

FreightCar America

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?

Georgia: I was a junior in college, majoring in Marketing and signed up to take the GMAT because I didn’t feel ready to enter the business world just yet. I didn’t particularly like many of the business courses I was required to take but I loved my Business Law class. It was then I realized I was headed for law school instead of grad school and quickly signed up for the LSAT instead.

What I love most about being a lawyer is the ability to always learn something new — not always legal related. The ability to learn about different products, industries, geographies, markets, and strategies is fascinating to me.

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

Georgia: My father was very influential in helping me find my career path. He emigrated from Greece at the age of 18 following WWII and the Greek Civil War. He came to the US through Ellis Island with very little money, went to college and graduated from the University of Illinois with an electrical engineering degree. He later formed a small business manufacturing high frequency control communication equipment. Education was important to him and he was very supportive of my decision to go to law school even though I had never mentioned any interest in law before.

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?

Georgia: I believe the most successful attorneys are those that are able to think ahead, anticipate the problem, solution and communicate results clearly and succinctly to any constituency. These are important traits that I look for when making hiring decisions, whether it be outside counsel or in house counsel.  I am also passionate about my work, empathetic toward others and a have a high degree of energy. In my role as Head of Human Resources I interview candidates for a lot of different roles, beyond legal, and find myself gravitating to those that share these traits.

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?

Georgia: I started my in house career as a litigator at Motorola. I was assigned to a business unit that was smaller than the others but was plagued with a large “bet the company” patent case which had been pending for over 10 years and which senior executives had unsuccessfully tried to settle. The case alleged infringement of over 200 patents and, if unsuccessful, would have shut the business unit down. With creative strategies and key collaboration between outside counsel, business people and engineers we favorably settled the case. This was a great result for the business and employees who otherwise could have been severely impacted.

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

Georgia: I have had both mentors and sponsors throughout my career. In order to succeed and do well I think you need both. A mentor is someone who can answer questions that you don’t feel comfortable asking anyone else for fear that you will be judged. A sponsor is critical to your success as this person is your advocate and vocal supporter who can help you get recognition for your achievements as you pursue your career goals – whether it be to make partner, or advance within your in-house corporate department.

Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next ten 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?

Georgia: I think technology is impacting the profession as we become a more digitized society. Privacy, Data, Cybersecurity are all critical skill sets that an in house professional must have. I think we will start to see more GCs transition into CEO roles given their strong business acumen, background and broad experience.  I’m also seeing a greater acceptance of GCs serving on corporate boards.

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

Georgia: Some years ago we had to go through a significant restructuring and many positions in the law department of the company for which I worked were eliminated. It was very difficult to communicate the news and impact the lives of so many good lawyers and people I respected. Fortunately, most everyone found jobs at other companies or pursued different careers, and seemed content with their new roles.  This experience taught me to never take for granted what you have as you never know when adversity may arise.  And, when it does, persevere, embrace change and know that there are many other opportunities for which you may be suited.

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?

Georgia: Diversity and Inclusion is very important to me and has always been top of mind, especially when making hiring decisions, whether it be in legal, other functions or even board members. As we stated in our proxy, I was pleased that our Board has undertaken a search to replace an outgoing board member with a diversity candidate. In order to make meaningful progress on D&I I think you need to challenge the hiring and promotion processes and make sure candidates from a broad spectrum are being considered – whether it be race, gender, thought processes, etc. The goal is to make sure the process is working and not circumvented so the best decision can be made for the company.

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?

Georgia: I think I would have liked to pursue something in international business as I loved learning about different cultures and had studied Spanish and Italian in college and learned Greek from my grandmother who lived with us when I was young. With that said, my prior job allowed me to travel internationally and combine business with law, so I feel as though I had the best of both worlds.

In addition, I enjoy serving as a mentor and coach to other young lawyers and often think that a career in professional coaching would also be personally rewarding.

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?

Georgia: I would have been more thoughtful earlier in my career and developed a plan of where I wanted to be at different stages of my career. If you want to be a GC you should think about the skills and experience you need and create a roadmap on how to get there. For example, if you are a litigator and your goal is to be a public company GC, explore whether there are opportunities in your current company to learn different skill sets – securities, compliance, M&A, to name a few. If necessary, move to a different company which allows you to expand your role to learn these different areas of law.

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.

Georgia: I think it’s critically important to have interests outside of work. It allows you to recharge your batteries and function better on the job. I play tennis regularly with a group and I look forward to my weekly sessions to clear my head and get exercise too. I also enjoy hiking and have been touring our national parks the last few years. There is so much beauty to explore in the US that we take for granted. Finally, a good book is always an escape and helps me relax and prepare for the next day.

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

Georgia: I’m not there yet but working on it – it would be #livinginthemoment