Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer
Pitney Bowes Inc.
Past affiliations include, associate, Proskauer
JD Columbia Law School
BS Wharton School of Business
Copy that: from law to HR head at Pitney Bowes
On the difference between success as a businessperson and success as a lawyer
On taking your JD skills to an adjacent place in business
On lawyers needing to understand financials to succeed in business
Listen to interview:
EXJ: Andrew, you spent four years in law firm practice, first at Proskauer and then at Whitman Breed Abbott. Would you walk us through your decision to leave Whitman?
ANDREW GOLD: After my first year at Columbia Law School, I interned at Pitney Hardin (now Day Pitney). I did a bit of everything and learned what I liked, which was either labor and employment law or litigation. The next summer I interned at Proskauer where I worked exclusively in the labor and employment and litigation departments. I joined Proskauer after I graduated. Although I learned a lot while I was there, I was looking for more client exposure. Some friends convinced me to come over to Whitman. After Whitman merged with another law firm, there really was not enough labor and employment law work so the firm had us working on resolution trust cases and other litigations in which I had no interest.
EXJ: Is that what made you decide to go in-house?
ANDREW GOLD: Yes, I realized I needed to go in-house. I felt that at a firm, it was less about being a good lawyer and more about being a great salesperson. It was very much about how much business I could bring in, something they did not teach in law school. Just going in and doing your job, being a good lawyer, and winning cases truly isn’t enough, and I wasn’t interested in being a salesperson. I knew I was not cut out for sales from the time I was asked to sell cookies to fund the class trip in fifth grade.
EXJ: What did you like best when you went in-house?
ANDREW GOLD: I loved being a lawyer in an in-house law department. I didn’t have to worry about getting clients or tracking time. I was working with real business problems, conducting training, appearing before various agencies, and leading outside counsel on litigations. I also felt it was more personal, that it was my company and my money that was at risk in a matter. I was able to apply the skills I learned in the law firms as well as continue to grow and develop. We started with just two attorneys in the department. I wound up taking on employee benefits issues until we eventually hired a third attorney for the role.
EXJ: So, how did you transition from a legal role to a non-legal role in HR?
ANDREW GOLD: The attorney leading our small labor and employment law group had repeatedly said that she was never going to retire. After about seven years in the role, as part of Pitney Bowes’ annual strategic talent planning, our Chief Human Resources Officer (who my department reported to at the time) asked if I’d be interested in moving to an HR role. Given the lead attorney’s retirement statements, I had three choices. I could just stay in the department and be content with what I was doing until she might eventually retire, I could try to move into the actual legal group and do a different kind of law, or I could try the HR role.
EXJ: How did you decide what to do then?
ANDREW GOLD: When I told our CHRO that I was concerned about giving up my legal role, she offered to hire a temp to cover my legal work and suggested I try HR for a year to see if I liked the work. She agreed to keep my compensation whole. She really created a win-win opportunity for me to try HR.
In my new role, I was responsible for overseeing HR for the Northeast region of our Management Services business, which managed mailrooms and fax rooms from Maine down to Washington, D.C., excluding New York City, which was its own separate region.
Two weeks into my tenure, the first anthrax letter came. All the anthrax letters ultimately came to post offices in the Northeast region. Dealing with the risk of anthrax helped change my perspective from only protecting the company to ensuring we also served our clients. At the time, if a letter that may have contained anthrax came into a client’s mailroom, we’d have to shut down the entire site. It could take weeks or even months to conduct an investigation and get the results. We supported a number of large pharmaceutical companies doing research and we could not shut down their R&D operations because of something that may have happened in the mailroom. As a result, we were moving the mailroom to trailers in the parking lot. I had to negotiate with our legal team on how to protect the company while at the same time meeting the client’s critical needs.
EXJ: What lessons did you learn in business and how did working in business differ from practicing law?
ANDREW GOLD: I experienced the tension between what our external clients were rightly demanding and what our lawyers were saying we needed to do because there were risks to us. Both sides were right, but I had not previously fully factored the external client into my thinking. That experience is why I encourage HR employees to work in a business-related role so they can understand what the client truly needs. I also had to learn how to manage people, something I had never done before.
The other thing I learned is I didn’t know everything I needed to know for my job. I had never done a strategic talent review before, but now had to lead the process for a 2,000-person region. When I began to panic thinking about it, my wife asked “isn’t there somebody who knows how to do this?” In fact, it only took me about an hour to find the right person who guided me through the process and helped me facilitate the talent conversations. Knowing when to ask for help was the biggest learning for me. I realized that, whether it was my team or others, there are people who know what to do and most of them are thrilled to help you be successful.
EXJ: Was that initial hesitancy to ask for help because when you started out in a law firm you really couldn’t ask a senior associate, let alone a partner,’ how do I do this?
ANDREW GOLD: At the firm, we generally asked the person who assigned the project what to do or maybe a more senior associate. It was clear who to go to.
I was lucky to have an experienced and supportive team when I went into my HR role. But I also had the advantage of going into an adjacent space where I could use my legal skills and knowledge. Adjacency helped a lot and may be the best way to move out of a legal role because you can leverage your legal experience.
EXJ: Do you feel your law school and legal experience positioned you well for the challenges you encountered when moving to a pure business career?
ANDREW GOLD: I do not think your law degree is all that helpful when you start a non-legal job other than to show you’re smart, you’re able to get through a rigorous education, pass the bar, etc. I do, however, believe the way you learn to think in law school, the way you approach issues in a methodical manner, is helpful for whatever you do.
EXJ: So, what made you successful?
ANDREW GOLD: I moved within the same company. I had a basic understanding of the issues, and I had good relations with many of the people I would be working with. I think a lot of people who are successful moving from a law firm, go to either a similar in-house role, or already know the company they are joining (perhaps a former client). That knowledge is extremely helpful in achieving success.
EXJ: So, if I’m a newer associate and I decide I don’t want to practice law anymore after a couple of years, but I have employment law experience, would I have a chance of being interviewed or considered for a job at your company, for example?
ANDREW GOLD: Generally, I think you must stay at least two years in a law firm to gain a strong base of experience and skills. Companies generally do not hire directly from law school. In-house legal departments are looking for someone who can take on the work having been previously exposed to it. Understanding what the role may be and how you did similar work in the law firm is critical to presenting your qualifications. If someone is considering moving from a law firm, I recommend that they read job descriptions for roles they may be interested in and try to find ways to get some experience in those areas.
If you are considering moving from a legal to a non-legal role, you may initially have to take a pay cut. There’s a premium that comes with being a lawyer that you may not get. That does not mean in the long run you will earn less. Corporations offer other compensation such as equity and you have the opportunity to continue to grow your career on a different path.
EXJ: Managing a pay cut can be especially challenging. One of the things we’re doing on the ex judicata website is devoting a whole section to financial planning because we realize so many people will likely take a pay cut and they may have student loans as well.
ANDREW GOLD: I chose to work at a big law firm instead of seeking a clerkship (I interned in the Southern District of NY while I was at Columbia). I couldn’t afford to take the much lower paying clerkship as I had a wife and student loans to pay off. I wanted to be able to buy a house because I knew we wanted children in a short period of time. So, yes, financial planning is important. At Pitney Bowes, we offer all our employees free financial counseling as it is important that everyone has a long-term financial plan. Understanding your budget, cash flow and short and long-term goals early in your career and updating it as needed is a great way to be prepared for changing roles or other financial impacts.
EXJ: The first course we’re going to offer is accounting for lawyers. We have a Notre Dame law professor who just retired who’s going to be teaching a program for us. He literally wrote the book, The West textbook that’s used in law school accounting courses. He’s going to tailor the course for lawyers transitioning into business. That’s the first step in our training.
ANDREW GOLD: Many lawyers do not have financial acumen. If you don’t have that skill, you need to get it. You don’t have to be an expert, but you must be able to understand the financials, or you won’t be credible as in-house counsel or in another role. You must know how a business makes money, how to read a balance sheet and financial statements and what the earnings report is really saying about the financial health of a company. I was lucky. I was an accounting major in an undergraduate business school and then went to law school. But even then, I still took a refresher course in financial metrics for non-finance employees and continue to ask questions to this day.
EXJ: The next ex judicata course probably will be something that you referred to earlier, which is simply management for lawyers because so many have never really managed anybody before.
ANDREW GOLD: Law firms generally aren’t great examples of how you should manage people with empathy and respect. But how do you teach people to manage diverse groups of people, but not micromanage? How do you teach to develop people, give feedback and recognition? All of those skills generally are not taught in a law firm. While managing well requires lifelong learning and practice, ensuring you have the basic skills by attending training, online webinars, reading books, etc. is a great way to ensure that you are prepared for the transition.
EXJ: We’ll be building out a course on data analytics with two business school professors. Maybe we can have one of your executives run one of the sessions.
ANDREW GOLD: That kind of program would be very valuable. Understanding how data is used to make decisions, whether it’s predictive or a summary of what happened is critical. Personally, before starting a project, I consider what data I need to collect in order to make decisions and measure success.
Ask yourself: How do I tell my story and where does the data come into play? How do we really run a project? These are just some of the challenges and why data analytics are so important. Data helps support the reasoning for certain actions (which may cost money) and then show the results of our actions. Those are the kind of things that lawyers do not learn.
EXJ: Earlier, you talked about law school not really preparing you for a business job. That was speaking more to the realities of being in a corporation versus being in a law firm, not to say that the skills you learn in law school weren’t valuable when you moved to the business side.
ANDREW GOLD: Absolutely, the skills I learned in law school help me every day. I think law school prepares you to think the right way. Our General Counsel is a key advisor to our CEO. Lawyers can be very good at taking their legal training and applying it to business opportunities while also looking for risks, compliance issues, and other potential problems. They can excel at negotiating and resolving conflicts. A lot of business success is asking the right questions.
EXJ: This is so valuable for us and for our audience. We’re helping lawyers who want to transition. We still are big supporters of the law and law firms, and they support us because we are helping to provide a soft landing for their associates who aren’t going to make partner or who don’t want to practice law anymore.
ANDREW GOLD: That’s good. It would be great if associates who weren’t likely to become partners or remain at a firm were told that earlier in their careers. Then firms could help them develop different skills before they move into a new area. Those skills will make them better lawyers too if they decide to stay in law.
EXJ: We’ve heard from a number of senior partners that they want the associates who are going to leave, to leave happy so if they’re going into business, they can still funnel back as alumni and/or be business drivers for the law firm.
ANDREW GOLD: We have retained as outside counsel lawyers I worked with in law firms. So, it’s not a bad thing to get people out doing other things and making those connections. Creating a culture where the firm supports those who may not be a good fit for law firm practice makes sense. Setting them up to succeed in a non-law firm setting can work to a firm’s advantage.
EXJ: What are some of the areas in Pitney Bowes where you tend to see JDs no longer practicing law really leveraging their background?
ANDREW GOLD: We had somebody who did all of federal contractor compliance work who was a lawyer but never practiced. We have people in environmental health and safety. We see lawyers in operations. I see a lot of HR people who started off as lawyers. I also think you see some JDs in finance, leading audits or working in tax departments.
EXJ: So, you’d suggest in transitioning to go for something adjacent, where legal skills come into play?
ANDREW GOLD: Adjacent is far easier. You don’t have to start over with a new area to learn. But recognize that you will still have some learning to do.
EXJ: What are some other actionable tips for lawyers looking to transition to a corporate role?
ANDREW GOLD: Find an ally and a sponsor. I would not be where I am without my former CHRO (who I recently succeeded). Without her support, I may still be in a legal role. I may have changed companies to continue to grow my legal responsibilities, but not have moved to a HR career path. Her providing me the first HR opportunity opened up a tremendous number of doors.
Often a partner at a law firm may be an ally. He or she can recommend you to somebody at a client company. There are clients you work with who might see an opportunity to bring you in for something, even if it’s not a legal role. That’s where I think the legal background helps more because they already know you. Finding an ally or a sponsor is huge.
EXJ: Enlightened firm leaders need to be sitting down with mid-level associates and have that conversation with them and position them to leave happy. So getting the conversation going in that direction and providing the tools to help in the transition can be so important. That’s what we are trying to do here
ANDREW GOLD: Sounds good. I think it’s an interesting problem that you are working on. I liked being a lawyer, but I can see why many people would not. I think this is a great thing you’re working on and just let me know if I can help.
EXJ: Thank you so much for your time. We really, really appreciate it.