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Michael Steinig - Deputy General Counsel at Cognizant

Alumni spotlight

Michael Steinig

Deputy General Counsel at Cognizant

Harvard Law graduate, Michael Steinig, has nothing but positive memories of his time as a technology partner in our Washington, DC office. He left in June 2021 for what he describes as “the only opportunity I would have possibly chosen over Eversheds Sutherland to go in-house”.

Eight months in, we caught up with Mike to reflect on his four years with us and whether Cognizant has lived up to his expectations.

What is Cognizant’s business, for those who don’t know?

Cognizant is a global IT outsourcing and consulting company that provides innovative services including application modernization, software engineering and cloud. It’s part of the NASDAQ-100 and Fortune 200.

What are your responsibilities as Deputy General Counsel?

I lead a group of attorneys and compliance professionals that supports our North American customer relationships, which represents about 75% of Cognizant’s business. We negotiate contracts and advise our businesses as they provide services in regulated industries like life sciences, banking and insurance. Intellectual property also falls within my group.

I tend to spend a lot of time with the North American President, the business unit leaders, and department leaders of other support functions like Finance and HR.

How did this move come about?

I actually negotiated opposite Cognizant at least a dozen times over the course of my career. These were long processes so I got to know them very well, at least to the extent you can from the outside.

Around two years ago, a close client of mine named John Kim transferred over to Cognizant as an in-house counsel. He asked me to support him on Cognizant’s most strategic contracts. Then he was promoted to General Counsel and approached me to interview to become his deputy. John is someone for whom I have tremendous respect, and the trust I have for him is as high as I have professionally for anyone.

Why do you say that?

John sat across me in those negotiations originally. His approach and demeanor was very productive, for both his internal clients as well as the deal itself: he consistently sought to achieve outcomes that benefited everyone. He treated me and everyone else, even if they were on the other side, with professionalism.

Then, working closely with him as my client, I got to see just how hard he worked, and his dedication to his craft and his company. His approach to his internal clients as well as to all other stakeholders – including across the table – was something I tried to emulate at Eversheds Sutherland and now at Cognizant.

How are you finding the new role?

I really like this job, it’s fun and extremely challenging. In fact, it frankly has been a more difficult job than I had before, but one which feels pretty natural to me and allows me to leverage not only subject matter expertise but also my interpersonal skills.

One difference that is particularly challenging, is that there was a level of freedom at Eversheds Sutherland to develop your own practice and run with it; whereas now I’m depending on the support of other corporate groups in order for my group to do its job best.

But the biggest adjustment has been to lead such a large group of professionals.

In what ways?

My role as a leader is to make sure the entire team is well positioned to properly support the business in its commercial relationships. There are 90 professionals within my remit – at Eversheds Sutherland I was responsible for two and a half including me!

So I feel accountable for many people, their careers, professional growth and wellbeing. For the most part, I make sure we have the right folks doing the right things, optimizing their time on the proper functions, and giving them the tools and platforms to best support the business in winning and maintaining smart deals.

And except for major escalations, I'm no longer negotiating contracts – that’s been another big change.

Do you miss being on the legal frontline?

I’ve heard lots of lawyers who move into management tell me, “Gosh I miss the deal” or litigators say, “I miss being in the court room.” I’m thrilled I got to do what I did for so long as an outside counsel, and it positioned me so well for my current role, but I don’t miss it. I really like the more strategic and operational role I have now. Plus I love talking to people and I get to do a whole lot more of that now!

What do you value from outside counsel now you’re on the other side?

Technical expertise, and market insights, which I assume I’m getting with my outside counsel. Also, from my perspective, it’s critically important to stick to budgets and proactively communicate any surprises or concerns.

I have to convince the business when outside counsel is needed by articulating a need for their specialist knowledge, then securing a budget; it erodes trust and makes hiring them more difficult when these expectations aren’t met.

And, for what it’s worth, fixed and other alternative pricing is more important than ever.

Finally, what is your fondest memory at Eversheds Sutherland?

My fondest memory was working collaboratively and cross-border, for example with UK Partners Tom Bridgford and Alison Brearey, and Bob Pile in Atlanta, among many, many others. I just loved that collegiality and passion for the work; it wasn’t always easy, but we were always respectful partners working together for a shared outcome.

Having been at three law firms, I can say the way we treated each other as colleagues is very special at Eversheds Sutherland. And so was the firm’s commitment to doing what’s right and giving back to our communities.

Quite simply, it’s a great place to work and I still love the firm, its people and its values.

If you would like to add Michael Steing to your network, you can connect with him via LinkedIn.