As the Associate GC leading the litigation group at Macy’s, Betty Tierney and her team actually handle much of the company’s litigation themselves — and she’s using that experience to guide her expectations when she works with outside counsel.
Betty made her way to Macy’s through the May Company, where she worked for several years before the company was acquired by Macy’s in 2005. At the May Company, Betty started in a program that cycled her through all 5 practice areas at the company. “I worked in the employment area doing position statements in response to charges, I did contracts in the operations area, I worked in the corporate area, I did real estate agreements, so I really got to know the retail industry,” Betty says. In addition to exposing her to all sides of the retail industry, the May Company gave her an opportunity to take an exceptionally active role in litigation. “I was able to litigate at a very early experience level,” Betty tells us.
“We have people at 7, 8 years handling class actions. We want to challenge our people because we want to develop them to be senior counsel and to be in charge of major litigations for the company.” — Associate GC Betty Tierney on litigating at @Macys Click to Tweet
When the May Company was acquired by Macy’s, Betty says, “The general counsel at that time had always wanted to have an in-house litigation team, so we were kind of on probation for a couple of years. We did a great job, and so they kept us on.” She adds, “Eventually, the former GC wanted a head of the litigation team who actually litigated.” Betty stepped into that role, and currently is the team lead and head of the practice area, while also owning a full litigation caseload.
Betty and her team will often handle litigation from start to finish. “We will interview witnesses, we will draft the answer, we will defend the depositions, we will draft the summary judgment motion, if the case goes to trial or arbitration, we will actually be one of the trial lawyers if not the only trial lawyers,” she says.
Attorneys on Betty’s team are able to gain exceptional experience in litigation, partially because they don’t have the requirements for developing business and tracking time that they would at a firm, and partially because of Betty’s approach to delegating responsibility. “We have people at 7, 8 years handling class actions. We want to challenge our people because we want to develop them to be senior counsel and to be in charge of major litigations for the company. If you are willing to take on the responsibility and want the challenge, then we will give it to you,” she says.
That said, Betty ensures her team gets the guidance and support they need while handling those cases. “One thing that I pride myself on is that we don’t leave the team out there on their own; they will always have support from the senior counsel, who will work with them,” Betty explains. “So they still get the responsibility and the weight of being in charge of a major litigation, but they have a safety valve of somebody who’s also done it on the team with them who can support them as needed. That way, we can give these opportunities to attorneys at a younger experience level or lesser experience level and have them be successful.”
Another benefit of Macy’s approach toward handling so much of their own litigation is that it gives them added credibility when working with outside counsel. It makes it easier for Betty and her team to have clear expectations around how long it should take outside counsel to do a particular task (and how many hours they should be billing), because Betty and her team know what it’s like to handle that task themselves. “It gives us a lot of credibility, and we know what we’re talking about when we have to challenge those kinds of issues,” Betty explains.
Even with the advantages of Macy’s approach to litigation, it’s not always an easy job for Betty’s team. Fortunately, she says, “Right now I have a team that I think are all terrific litigators and they enjoy the job, they enjoy the challenge of the job, and that’s what makes the team work.”