Eric Eissenstat spent twenty-seven years representing Fortune 10–level clients all over the country. He first- or second-chaired hundreds of cases and tried more than fifty cases to verdict that focused on antitrust, bank and securities fraud, D&O liability, and business torts, amid an exhaustive list of others. Eissenstat’s trial accomplishments include a $30 million punitive damage jury verdict on a tortious interference claim, setting a new tort standard, and a $75 million fraud judgment. On the defense side, examples include reversal of a $17 million verdict making new law in Oklahoma and a defense verdict in a $90 million fraud case.
Eissenstat was the trial-seasoned litigator every law student with aspirations of courtroom action dreams of being. And then he decided to go in-house.
“I was just always curious what it might be like to have one client, to be on the same team and really get to know the company from the inside,” Eissenstat says of joining Continental Resources, one of his former clients and beneficiary of the $30 million punitive damages verdict.
Three years after the company went public, CEO Harold Hamm offered the lawyer the chief legal officer role out of the blue, Eissenstat says.
“When was I going to get another opportunity like this?” the lawyer asks. “I was wondering if God was pushing me in this direction, and after talking with my wife, we decided we thought He was.”
The Litigator Becomes a Leader
Despite a best-in-class litigation record, Eissenstat said there were still a great many lessons to learn when it came to actually leading an in-house team. “I’ve been fortunate Continental is big on leadership development, investing in its people, and grace,” Eissenstat says.
While engaging in a number of internal and external leadership training opportunities, the GC focused on getting his head around the idea of serving one client with a multitude of perspectives and needs.
“We embrace the idea that every person is our client and important. This has allowed us to develop relationships with everyone—from entry level to CEO,” Eissenstat noted. “I’m a firm believer in servant leadership and integrity; I’ve tried to bring a value-centric approach to this role.”
While it might be easier to get the litigator out of the courtroom, it was a little tougher to get the courtroom out of the litigator.
“My wife often reminds me, and I’ve learned, that I can’t cross-examine people all of the time,” the GC says with a laugh. “I have high expectations of myself, and sometimes you have to approach things differently with your team. Fortunately, I am blessed to work with some of the best lawyers I’ve ever worked with here, and our team is second to none.”
Part of what makes the legal team at Continental Resources so special, the GC says, is that while the team is incredibly lean for a company of Continental’s size, it is able to handle a considerable amount of work in-house.
“We are very active in managing our litigation,” Eissenstat says. “We are also knee deep in all major transactions and lead the risk, compliance, and governance functions. Our financial metrics are truly top-tier by any measure.”
The team’s efforts are reflected in high client satisfaction. A client survey of SVPs, executive team members, managers, and other relevant stakeholders rated the team’s performance, service, and results as “excellent” and said the team “frequently achieves” its vision and mission “to provide world-class legal services in a timely, cost-sensitive, and innovative manner.” “We try to figure out how to resolve problems and not just throw balls and strikes,” Eissenstat explains. “As a strategic department, we find solutions, not just options.”
As Eissenstat came from a litigation background, his expertise is still a vital part of his overall leadership over the past nine years.
“We win most of our litigation, so that helps,” Eissenstat says in a way that seems like an afterthought, an assumption of a high-performing legal team. But when you add examples such as “analysts stating Continental should be teaching other companies how to do related-party transactions due to best-in-class governance, it says a lot about how terrific our team is.”
“I’m a firm believer in servant leadership and integrity; I’ve tried to bring a value-centric approach to this role.”
Faith and the Right Thing
“I think they say that service is the rent you pay for the price of being on this earth,” Eissenstat says. “I’m a big believer in trying to help serve others.”
The GC has always been drawn to issues of restorative justice, and his résumé of giving back to both the legal community as well as those in need is, he says, just a reflection of his faith. Early in his career, Eissenstat served in leadership positions with the Oklahoma and American Bar Associations. Thereafter, he has focused on giving back to his community.
He became heavily involved (and the eventual chair) of the Oklahoma Lawyers for Children organization, representing children who do not have a voice in parental separation or termination cases. He handled a three-week jury trial pro bono, representing the interests of a child who had suffered an extensive complex skull fracture and subdural hematoma—one of the most emotionally challenging cases he’d ever faced.
Eissenstat and his wife also support organizations such as the Trinity Legal Clinic, a Christian legal clinic that offers pro bono services for people who cannot afford legal representation. Eissenstat is involved in a number of other organizations and has received numerous awards.
In an already storied legal career, Eissenstat says he’s learned the privilege of practicing law means being a giver, not a taker—to try to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
“It is a privilege to work with Eric Eissenstat and Continental Resources. We have worked together for years to protect and strengthen Continental’s leadership position in the American energy industry. I admire Eric’s integrity and his leadership abilities.” —Poe Leggette, head of BakerHostetler’s National Energy Team
Phillips Murrah law firm is proud to have a longstanding partnership with Eric Eissenstat and Continental Resources. Our firm empowers our clients with the insight and strategic legal counsel necessary to maintain a competitive edge. Through our multi-disciplinary team of skilled attorneys, clients are supported by across-the-board transactional legal representation and in all areas of general, civil, business and complex litigation. With offices in Oklahoma City and Dallas, Phillips Murrah is more than an exceptional legal team, we’re your strategic partner. Phillips Murrah is a member of ALFA International. For more information on our practices and attorneys, visit phillipsmurrah.com.