Some of Lori Cochran Kinkade’s most profound learning experiences occurred early in her legal career, when she observed exactly how she wouldn’t choose to lead, if she were given the chance. The young lawyer spent her first three years out of law school in a large law firm and saw a cycle of management styles that didn’t appeal to her in the least.
“The partners believed that since they had ‘paid their dues’ working 24/7 as new attorneys in the firm, each class of new attorneys that joined our firm would have to do the same,” Kinkade says. “That attitude had a very big impact on me, and I realized that someone had to stop the cycle or it would just keep perpetuating itself.”
The now vice president, corporate counsel, and secretary at David’s Bridal Inc. says the fundamentals to her leadership are simple. “The bottom line is I lead by example and I don’t ask anyone to do something that I would not be absolutely willing to do myself,” Kinkade says. “That early experience really shaped the way I’ve viewed my in-house career as I moved out of the firm life.”
Kinkade has not only taken a more empathetic position in her own leadership but also has consistently demonstrated a willingness to step outside of her comfort zone and learn new facets of the business—a must for those going in-house, but not always with the zeal exhibited by the VP. By branching out, she has become a de facto expert in marketing and data privacy law and has supported the modernization of e-commerce efforts at David’s Bridal.
Before coming to David’s Bridal in 2007, Kinkade had accumulated nearly seventeen years of in-house experience for The May Department Stores Company as well as Macy’s/Bloomingdale’s after May was purchased by Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s Inc.) in 2005. The lawyer was part of an unusual team within the legal department: an in-house litigation team responsible for the entire litigation process, from depositions to appeals. “We were true litigators in every sense of the word,” Kinkade says. “We weren’t stuck in an office telling outside attorneys what to do. We were trying cases.”
The lawyer’s knack for taking on unusual projects would continue upon her arrival at David’s Bridal. “When I first came here, we had just started growing our online business,” Kinkade says. “Initially, many members of our senior leadership team were convinced that no one would ever buy a bridal gown online. Nothing could have been further from the truth.”
In her prior role at May Department Stores Company, Kinkade had worked with more than forty other lawyers with experience in all areas of the law. However, at David’s Bridal, she found herself and one other attorney responsible for advice and counsel for every area of the business and for any new, burgeoning projects that might spring up. “It quickly became clear that we did not have the expertise needed to provide the right advice for the e-commerce, data privacy, and marketing changes that were happening at the company,” Kinkade says.
The easy thing to do, she says, would have been to assume what many outside legal see as the “department of no” mentality and simply shoot down any prospective ideas that might place the company at prospective risk. But for Kinkade, easy was never even a possibility.
“I decided I was tired of being a ‘no’ person,” Kinkade says frankly. “I wanted my internal e-commerce and marketing clients to trust that I knew what they were talking about and that I would do everything I could to help them.”
The lawyer started attending seminars on data privacy, marketing, and e-commerce. She attended continuing education classes to learn more. When it came to marketing classes, she often found herself the only lawyer in attendance. “I didn’t care because I was starting to learn what was really happening out there,” she says. “I was learning about these issues in real time with marketing professionals, so when our own marketing and e-commerce teams came to me and wanted to try something new, I was much more open to really exploring how we as a company could utilize these new technologies.”
In the process of broadening her legal (and nonlegal) horizons, Kinkade became involved with a number of organizations, such as the Global Retail Marketing Association (serving as an advisory board member) and Remodista, a social think tank examining global retail disruption (nominated as a 2016 “Women2Watch” in Retail Disruption.) Kinkade is quick to point out that she doesn’t know everything, but she says she now has a much better idea of where she can go for answers. “I don’t tell a client ‘no’ without doing absolutely everything I can to get to ‘yes,’” she says.
Kinkade says her growth has extended to building her own legal team at the company, and it is one of her proudest accomplishments. The two young lawyers she hired have become true ambassadors for the legal department as a whole. “Everyone genuinely seems to love working with them, and it’s not often that you hear about an in-house legal team inspiring affection,” Kinkade laughs.
The corporate counsel says that she takes mentoring those both in and outside of her department very seriously, as she was herself a beneficiary of two female outside counsel mentors who wound up being incredibly important to her own legal approach at a time when she had no internal role models to go to. Kinkade has been the sounding board and mentor for many women looking to rise in their roles.
“I want to help women excel and grow in their positions,” Kinkade says. “It is easy to be discouraged and to simply stop trying to overcome challenges and reach your goals when you have no one from whom to learn.”
Kinkade’s willingness to make herself available to women at all levels of the organization just serves to underline the fact that she hasn’t forgotten those lessons from her law firm and early in-house days. She’s grown from them and helped others do the same.
What is your advice for the next generation looking to make waves in their fields?
Don’t forget the interdependence you have with the team of individuals that supported your journey to your leadership position. There is room for more than one person at the top and the same people that supported you on the way up will be an important part of your ability to stay there. One of my favorite books—Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant—sums it up beautifully: “A lot of people feel they’re diminished if there are too many names on a project, like everybody’s trying to share a dog bowl, but that’s not really the way it works. The thing about credit is that it’s not zero-sum. There’s room for everybody, and you’ll shine if other people are shining.”
Finally, self-deprecation is not a virtue. It often does not ring true when you do it and there are enough people out there who are willing to tear down your ideas, don’t give them ammunition. Take credit for your work, do not take credit for the work of others and use all criticism received as if it were given in the spirit of helping you to grow.
Strategic. Innovative. Trusted partner. Lori Kinkade is all of these, and more.
Lathrop Gage LLP congratulates Lori Kinkade on twelve years of legal leadership at David’s Bridal and nearly three decades serving the retail industry. We salute your dedication to David’s Bridal and your countless contributions to your company’s success.
Michael Best congratulates our good friend Lori Kinkade on this well-deserved recognition. David’s Bridal is lucky to have her legal savvy and tireless dedication. We are proud to partner with Lori to protect and enforce David’s Bridal’s rights in a broad range of areas, including intellectual property, privacy, and advertising law.