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?
Joe: I first realized I wanted to become an attorney during my junior year in college. I decided that I wanted a career in sports business and felt that a legal education and training as a lawyer would be a great foundation for that pursuit. I enjoy being able to work across most every functional aspect of our organization and help drive our business in a pragmatic fashion.
Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?
Joe: I honestly can’t pick out just one pivotal person or event, although I appreciate what Brown v. Board of Education accomplished. My parents both grew up in segregated areas and I’m glad that Thurgood Marshall and others used their legal skills with such success.
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?
Joe: I think it’s important to focus on substance over form. I look for people that are authentic. Successful attorneys need to be creative, practical and strong communicators.
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?
Joe: I’m proud of being part of the team that helped bring the NBA All Star Game to Charlotte. I would hope people would say I had a genuine commitment to doing what’s right for the organization and that I made a meaningful impact in helping other lawyers succeed.
Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?
Joe: I’ve had both, and feel like I’ve been both. It’s critical to build genuine relationships where you can help (and be helped by) others. Mentors are great in giving you guidance, but sponsors can have an even greater impact with their ability to put you in situations where you will grow. I enjoy seeing things in people that they don’t yet see in themselves and helping them achieve.
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?
Joe: I think the continued merging of the GC as a legal and business advisor. Secondly, I’d look at the role of technology and analytics and how they can improve the delivery of legal services.
Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Joe: At one point in my career, I was in the middle of a multilateral negotiation. There were four parties to the agreement and then other influential parties that weren’t actually in the room. We had to find a creative solution where all the parties could get aligned on the desired outcome. Solving for one party’s issue would invariably create a new issue for one of the other parties. Ultimately, we were successful in finalizing the agreement through a combination of trust, risk appetite and focus on a shared goal. I learned that it is vital to identify what others truly need in a transaction as opposed to just what they want.
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?
Joe: Diversity & Inclusion is critically important. For me, it’s about making the effort to find, develop and engage talent that truly represents our society. We are a small company (approx. 200 FT and several hundred PT employees) in some ways, but have a broad impact through the passion that fans have for basketball and our brand. As a result, diversity & inclusion also stretches into how we engage with our fans. We are a very diverse organization. Our principal owner is African-American, as is our team President. We have a Latino head coach. Our arena general manager is female. Our intern classes have great diversity.
My advice to other GCs would be that you must be intentional in your efforts. Ask your law firms to give you a breakdown on the diversity (ethnic and gender) of their lawyers doing your work.
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?
Joe: I really enjoy live music. I’d find a way to get closer to that world.
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?
Joe: I would say to be a little more patient. Early thirties.
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.
Joe: I enjoy collecting first edition books. The effort and discipline needed to find those gems (at the right price) is a fun challenge and one that helps me from a research and negotiation perspective as a lawyer.
Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or less (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya )