Billable hours begone. Three local achievers on our Rising Stars list said goodbye to all that: They left secure positions with big Seattle law firms, carrying their dreams and legal pads to corporations, where they joined the ranks of in-house attorneys.
Not having to account for their days in increments was part of the allure, along with being part of a team, seeing clients before a crisis and keeping more predictable hours.
Claire Keeley: Corbis
Claire L. Keeley is one of seven attorneys worldwide for Corbis Corp., a photograph and imaging licensing company owned by Bill Gates.
She advises a department that acts as a licensing agent for personalities—especially deceased notables including Albert Einstein and the flying Wright brothers.
Keeley, 33, grew up on a farm outside Olympia. She picked up on the idea of law as a career in high school, after her mother entered law school at the University of Puget Sound. Keeley tagged along at every opportunity. “I was smitten,” says the intellectual property attorney. “I just thought it was the most interesting experience.”
At the University of Washington, Keeley considered different vocations but kept coming back to law. She felt a law degree would “empower me to stand up for certain principles.”
Keeley earned that degree at the University of California–Davis School of Law. Then a summer associate job turned into an associate position with a Silicon Valley technology law firm. But after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake struck near her family, “I wanted to go home,” she says. She took a job in Lane Powell’s Seattle office, handling complex commercial litigation. One client, Corbis, offered her a job. Her decision to exit the firm wasn’t easy: “The opportunity to become a partner was very real. Leaving before that happened—I was a little nervous.”
But being responsible for management of all defensive claims and litigation for North and South America, Keeley enjoys the “broader variety” and teamwork.
Zabrina Jenkins: Starbucks
Although Garvey Schubert Barer handled some matters for Starbucks Coffee Co. when Zabrina Jenkins was an associate at the firm, the java maker wasn’t a client of hers. But a mentor tipped her off to an opening he felt would be a perfect fit.
“I wasn’t searching for a job,” says Jenkins, 37, who graduated cum laude from Syracuse University College of Law. “I knew I had a great thing at the [law] firm.”
At Starbucks, Jenkins oversees general liability litigation for stores in North America and provides counsel to Starbucks management and partners. She also volunteers for legal and civic organizations; acts as a mentor to high school, college and law students; and serves on the diversity committee for the law and corporate affairs department of Starbucks.
Jenkins credits her parents and extended family with her interest in public service. “It’s kind of been ingrained in me from Day 1. It’s part of me that you give back and be involved.”
At 6 feet tall, she is a standout on the basketball court, playing in college as well as on a law-school intramural team called Strict Liability. Jenkins still loves the game and is a forward on a Pro-Am city league team.
Matthew Wagner: Expedia
In 3½ years with Expedia Inc., business and corporate attorney Matthew J. Wagner has visited such far-flung destinations as Bhutan, Paris and Tuscany.
Cut-rate travel is a side benefit of working for the travel-ticketing giant, for which he is senior corporate counsel. Wagner, 32, has a passion for traveling.
After finishing Grinnell College with honors, he couldn’t turn down an acceptance from Harvard Law School, though he admits law was “not the dream career for me at that point.” However, he ended up enjoying law school, especially intellectual property and negotiation classes.
From 2000 to 2004, Wagner worked as an associate for Perkins Coie’s technology-business group. Expedia, one of his favorite clients, offered him a job. “It was a great opportunity,” he says. “The transition was pretty easy for me, since I was already doing quite a bit of work for Expedia and I knew pretty well what I was getting into.”
He says, “Although in-house practice can be busy, I find the pace of life more manageable than at a law firm.”
Still, Wagner doesn’t think an in-house job is a good fit for everyone. “You are, in effect, placing a single bet as opposed to diversifying your portfolio. There’s more risk, but there can also be more reward on many levels.”