Point of View: Kimberly Frye Talks Going In-house at Key Energy Services

The Key Energy Services maven discusses her transition from law firm to in-house counsel and gives advice about making the switch

I had been the senior associate at a law firm in Houston assigned to Key Energy Services for quite some time. I knew I wanted to go in-house, and I knew folks at Key. I had a chance to work on a few deals with them. I thought it would be a good opportunity, and it was.

I can’t say enough about the resiliency of this company. As much as we’ve been through, I’m very proud to be here. I have had the opportunity to spend some time with our employees out in the field, and quite frankly, they’re the ones that pay our paychecks with all of their hard work. Our employees in the field are awesome. I have a ton of respect for them and appreciate what they do.

Safety is one of our core values. It’s stressed at every meeting. It’s more important that a job gets done safely than quickly. In fact, we have stop-work authority, which our CEO talks about and stresses. He wants everyone to go home safely to their families every night. Our employees in the field know that.

Kimberly Frye, vice president and general counsel of Key Energy.
Kimberly Frye, vice president and general counsel of Key Energy Services.

Creating contingency plans is always a work in progress. Just when you think you’ve thought of everything or have everything covered, something new pops up. The legal department has a saying that’s a little bit morbid, but we talk about being hit by the proverbial bus. We want to make sure that if somebody new came along that they could pick up where somebody else left off. When I started here at Key, it was frustrating when some people would hold on to their work too tightly. I think we have a better information share now, so we know what the others are doing in case we need to pick up the ball and run with it. You never know what’s going to happen to somebody.

Advising lawyers to work in a law firm before going in-house has always been what I recommend. I firmly believe that to be successful in an in-house position you have to have something to bring to the table, and you have to understand what you really like to do. A law firm provides that opportunity more often than going in-house, so it’s hard to get training when you’re in-house, especially in a small or mid-size company. It takes a few years of working in a firm to tap into those resources and soak them up. Then when you take an in-house position, you can really offer something and be able to run with it.

One career rule I live by is that you only lose your integrity once; I’m a strong believer in that. There will be circumstances during your career that may rattle you, but as long you hold true to the fact that you only lose your integrity once—you cannot get it back—everything else will eventually resolve itself.

The other rule I emphasize to my team is that perception is reality. That was a learning tool for me early on in my career. I had an opportunity to have an executive coach, and it was brought to my attention that some people thought maybe I didn’t like them, or I wasn’t approachable. That wasn’t the case at all. I was just so busy, and I was working all of the time. It made me kind of step back and say, “It’s not so much what you’re doing, but it’s the perception people have of what you’re doing.” I think that is very important, especially if you’re going to try to influence and lead. You can’t just drag everybody along; you have to lead by influence. In that respect, perception is essential. Perception is reality, so you have to make sure that those are constantly lined up. I think those two drivers have led me the most and have been helpful throughout my career.