Michael Kaminer on Finding a Home In-House

After beginning a career in private practice, Michael Kaminer has found his niche as in-house counsel for Bluegreen Vacations Corporation

Michael Kaminer had always thought of himself as a lawyer, not a businessman. As a private practice lawyer, Kaminer had become accustomed to how lawyers behave, speak, and prioritize. However, that mind-set needed to change when he went in-house at WCI Communities in 2003 as vice president and associate general counsel.

“I had to start interacting with people business-wise, but I also had to become their peers and their friends and their associates on a different level depending on what their interests and needs are, which is quite different from dealing with lawyers all day,” Kaminer says.

But Kaminer also says that the transition was made easier because he modeled himself after WCI’s general counsel and learned what it took to be a successful in-house lawyer.

“I learned how to make sure the work you do and the advice you give is sufficient from a legal standpoint, but that it’s in a business format that leaders can easily understand,” Kaminer says.

Another major adjustment for Kaminer was learning how to keep his briefs, emails, and memos short and focused. Lawyers, he says, often want to outline every possibility, scenario, and outcome of a given situation, but businesspeople often only want to hear about the options most likely to affect the business.

Today, Kaminer is using the lessons he learned at WCI and applying them as the senior vice president, general counsel, and assistant secretary for Bluegreen Vacations Corporation. Joining as assistant general counsel in 2007, Kaminer was promoted to his current position in 2010. Upon joining the company, he faced a new slew of professional challenges.

Bluegreen is a provider of vacation experiences through strategic partnerships with companies such as Bass Pro Shops and Choice Hotels, as well as through its Bluegreen Getaways program. However, Kaminer had no prior knowledge of the industry before coming on board with the company, which meant he had to work quickly to acquire the technical knowledge necessary to do his job effectively.

“I think my biggest advantage was being able to rely on a couple of outside counsel who had good relationships with Bluegreen at first,” Kaminer says.

While deepening his knowledge of the industry, Kaminer also had to focus on being an effective leader for his legal team. One strategy he has for doing that is adopting a hands-on style to help train new recruits, and once they understand their role, rarely interfering with their work.

“If I’m going to be evaluating someone on how they’re doing their job, then I owe it to them to tell them how I want it to be done,” he says. “If I don’t tell them how to do something and then criticize them, then that’s as much my fault as theirs because I didn’t show them how to do it.”

Having everyone on his team understand their roles would become more important than ever as Bluegreen embarked on its initial public offering (IPO) in 2017. What made this unusual is that it would be the second time Bluegreen would become a public company. When Kaminer arrived at Bluegreen, it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), but leadership decided to take the company private in 2012. Five years later, they decided to go public again.

As a result, Kaminer had to help his team manage SEC filings and NYSE requirements, as well as adopt public accounting practices and many other tasks to successfully take the company public. But there is another, less tangible, need that Kaminer also had to impress upon his team.

“The legal department doesn’t just have to follow rules and regulations like we always have, but we need to do it in a way that makes sure the public has confidence in us and in our company,” Kaminer explains.

Now that Kaminer and his team have successfully taken Bluegreen public once again, he is looking toward the future of the company and the legal team. The first goal Kaminer has is to streamline the legal team’s internal rules and procedures. This will help make work coming out of the department more consistent, because there will be a simple set of rules and processes for each team member to follow.

“As much as possible, no matter who you ask in the legal department, we want someone to get the same basic answer,” Kaminer says. “Because the company has become bigger, we have a lot more people coming to us for answers, and I want to make sure everyone has the same knowledge to give back the same answer.”

Secondly, Kaminer is focusing on making the legal department as cost-effective as possible. Another element of being a public company is thinking about shareholders, who want to ensure the company continues to be profitable, he says.

“We’re not going to sacrifice quality to save money, but we are going to do what we can to provide our work and our services with an eye on budgets more than ever,” he says.