Law students often ask Juliet Stone how she got to where she is today. “I always say that no one would ever choose my journey,” the general counsel for Motorcar Parts of America (MPA) says with a laugh. “On one hand, if you can learn from your experiences and apply lessons to the next, then each position is worthwhile and ultimately allows one to be a more well-rounded general counsel.
“On the other hand,” she continues, “most people who want to be a general counsel won’t purposely change specialties from tax to corporate to nonprofit work to financial institutions to SaaS to manufacturing.”
Empathy as Counsel
In the midst of a handful of GC positions that would ultimately lead to a decade of financial institution expertise, Stone made the choice to go into nonprofit work. At the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Stone’s responsibilities included managing client advocates who were routinely speaking with people that needed help in the most desperate of times.
“These were calls about domestic violence or people who were being forced to leave their homes or their country,” Stone remembers. “Our advocates would internalize these experiences and would need someone to talk to. It taught me a lot about empathy and service.”
Stone is a lawyer who takes a customer service mind-set to another level, no matter the industry. That focus has landed her attention, sometimes unwanted. In a previous role, Stone was tasked by the CEO to help bridge the gap between banking branch staff and the administrative team.
“I had no idea why I was put in charge of this,” Stone says, laughing again. “But likely because I had developed a strong reputation for customer service, and so we formed a taskforce to bring a customer service attitude to the entire company. We helped the branches understand that we were there to serve them as customers along with the bank customers we all serve.”
“If you’re not customer focused as an in-house employee, you’re not going to find out what’s really happening. That will increase risk and will increase your workload in the long run.”
Considering a bank teller’s challenges, Stone says, it is imperative for all staff to see each other’s perspective in order for everyone to better serve customers together as a team.
Just over six months into her new role at MPA, Stone had endeavored to bring that service mind-set to her team. “As I’ve been learning the business and our culture, I’m also trying to find ways to improve the customer service environment across the board,” says Stone, who joined MPA in September 2019.
A big part of customer service is open communication. “We spent a great deal on trademark issues over the past two years, but the marketing team had no idea the level of legal spend,” Stone explains. “A simple email raising the issue of whether we were getting more value than the spend helped refocus our efforts and ultimately save money. Mostly it helps the business folks see legal as a partner rather than an impediment.”
Taking a Breath on Day One
Stone’s desire to make an immediate impact at MPA isn’t a recent development. It’s one she’s actively had to work to dial back. “My mantra for the past decade has been ‘positive, incremental change,’” the lawyer says. “You don’t—and shouldn’t—try and do everything on day one. Most people don’t like change, and you really need to build buy-in over time to help colleagues see that different isn’t automatically bad.”
Working to build that buy-in is just another aspect of walking a mile in her colleagues’ shoes. “If you’re not customer focused as an in-house employee, you’re not going to find out what’s really happening,” Stone explains. “That will increase risk and your workload in the long run.”
The attorney has had success tamping down her impulse to figure everything at once and immediately. And her proclivity for frugality—one that included coupon clipping and bargain hunting for which her sister still teases her—hasn’t dulled.
Whether it’s reducing outside legal spent by more than 50 percent in her first year, which she done on more than one occasion, or taking on projects that would normally be outsourced, her frugality is bordering on legendary.
“You don’t—and shouldn’t—try and do everything on day one.”
The GC had just spent multiple weeks working on the production of a third-party subpoena because getting outside resources to handle it wasn’t worth the legal spend. It’s grueling work, but even after the head of budget and finance worried that she’d burn herself out, Stone’s response was simple. “I’ll suck it up.”
Now, more than ever, it’s important to embrace a customer service mind-set like Stone’s.
“Given the crazy time we are living through currently,” she says, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic, “we could all learn the lessons of empathy and listening to each other with openness and care.”
Baker McKenzie congratulates Juliet Stone on this well-deserved honor! We are pleased to support her, as we help clients solve complex legal problems across borders and practice areas. With seventy-seven offices in forty-six countries, we understand local markets and multiple jurisdictions, working together with GCs like Juliet as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients. For more information on our firm and our services, visit www.bakermckenzie.com.
—Perrie Weiner, Partner-in-Charge, Baker McKenzie (Los Angeles)