Global menu

Our global pages

Print Friendly and PDF
Vanessa Scott, - VP Benefits and Executive Compensation Law, Albertsons

Alumni spotlight

Vanessa Scott

VP Benefits and Executive Compensation Law, Albertsons

Vanessa Scott joined Eversheds Sutherland in 2006 as Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation attorney in our Washington, DC office. She was previously Legislative Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives and has lectured at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Here, Vanessa reflects on her 15 years with the firm and subsequent in-house move to Albertsons Companies, Inc., the second-largest supermarket chain in North America.

Do you look back fondly on your career with Eversheds Sutherland?

Of course I do! It was a great training ground where I made many friends. It’s one of those things you don’t realize until after you leave. Plus, I’ve benefited greatly from the Eversheds Sutherland community. I can reach out to people if I have any kind of technical questions.

Who were your most memorable colleagues?

When I first started I worked a lot with Tax Partner Adam Cohen – in fact, he was the reason why I joined. We had been friends and he helped me when I was thinking about my next career move.

I had been working on Capitol Hill and then had two young kids. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to working in a law firm, but Adam persuaded me to come in for a chat. There, I met alumnus George Bostick, who was head of the Employee Benefits group, and Carol Weiser and Mark Smith, who turned out to be a fantastic mentors for me.

How did the firm influence your development as a lawyer?

I found I really belonged. The lawyers were great at training, figuring out where I was strong and where I needed to develop. I was taught what you might call the “Eversheds Sutherland way” – how to engage with clients and think through problems. That was hugely beneficial to me and very enjoyable.

What kept you at Eversheds Sutherland for so long?

Well, there was time I thought I might aim for my “dream job” with the Department of the Treasury, around 2008/9. But there was a government hiring freeze and, as I said, I was really enjoying my time at the firm: I really liked our clients, I was working with some of the biggest companies in the country, and I was doing really complex work on unique issues for them.

I also broadened my practice and became an expert on federal legislation in the health plan space; the group helped me to build an identity around that, and I appreciated that investment in my potential.

Finally, I became very involved in diversity initiatives within the firm and became our Chief Diversity Officer, which also grounded me at the firm.

I knew I was getting a unique mix of doing things that were profitable for the firm but at the same time interesting for me. So I had no reason to go anywhere else.

After 15 years you joined Albertsons. What was your motivation in switching in-house?

One of my former clients became GC at Albertsons as the company was about to go public. She told me she needed an in-house Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) counsel, a position that did not currently exist in the legal department. This was interesting in itself, but I was also drawn to her approach: she was looking to expand the size of her department by identifying top-notch talent, many of whom were diverse and women. I thought that was fantastic, and sounded like a great opportunity.

How did you find that transition from law firm attorney to in-house lawyer?

I think it was smooth, but you probably have to ask my clients whether they think it’s been smooth for them! For the most part, it’s been exactly what I hoped and what I expected it to be. That said, I have had to make changes.

What sort of changes?

I’ve learned that people in-house expect short, sharp advice. Emails have to be succinct; if people need to scroll down on their phone to read my email, my business client is not going to have time to read it. More generally, I have mentioned partnering with the business, which means learning to analyze certain legal risks from a business, market, and industry perspective.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about moving in-house?

You’ve got to want more than simply trying something different. You’ve got to be ready to almost start a re-education process around the business and learning the industry that you will be working in. Be ready to embrace an “everything now has changed” attitude when it comes to practicing. Don’t think you know it all. Set aside time to learn about the business, not just the applying law but learning the financials and industry trends that are driving business decisions.

You need to gain the trust of your business clients, and that will take time. If you aren’t committed to having that kind of rapport with them, you may end up being frustrated.

You’ll also be taking a very different role in a different structure and framework, which takes some adjusting. Ask yourself, “Am I ready to do that and take on that responsibility?”

What do you value from external counsel?

I want to feel that I’m partnering with them, I trust them and, above all, they make my life easier! If I’ve not been concentrating on a particular issue over the past few years, and I go to outside counsel for expertise, I need them to get back to me quickly, so we can keep the business moving.

I don’t call for back-up that much, but when I do, it’s usually urgent. My GC may have asked me about something that I’m unfamiliar with,  so outside counsel can help me out with a quick “lay of the land” discussion. When I need something written, I usually don’t need an academic dissertation – just the answer around what my options are.

If you would like to add Vanessa Scott to your network, you can connect with her via LinkedIn .