Melanie Klint Builds Legal with Collaboration and Strategy

As PFSweb’s first general counsel, Melanie Klint assembles a legal team that creates cost savings and collaboration the norm

Melanie Klint is interested in strategy. A legal career that started in-house, as opposed to in a legal firm, taught her the importance of strategic planning and partnering. More than that, her path has given her the skills to execute a good plan. In January 2019, PFSweb, an ecommerce company providing fulfilment services and professional digital commerce agency services that has been through several evolutions since the 1990s, brought her talents on board as its first in-house counsel.

Melanie Klint PFSweb
Melanie Klint, PFSwebPhoto: Courtesy of Texas State Bar

Klint arrived at PFSweb tasked with founding and building out the legal department. While her long-term goals center around business facilitation, she recounts that during her first month at the company, she employed a strategy of observation and restrained action. “I just spent some time determining what was what and how things were done before upsetting the apple cart,” says Klint, who knew change might be met with resistance. “I had no intention of turning over the apple cart.”

A wise choice for a general counselor who needed to prove her value from the moment she walked in the door.

The company’s primary intentions for Klint centered on speedy contract turnaround. They felt that her skills would be most valuable in that arena. When she arrived, Klint reminisces, the contract system had no uniform processes. “I started by questioning,” she says.

After that first month she began to ask for changes and get buy in. Leading off with revamped forms, she undertook the task of creating standardized materials. However, she made sure to build in fluidity and “best, middle, and worst” scenarios—characteristics that, she says, support clear communication and increased turnaround speed.

Klint also worked against the perception of her department being a roadblock within the company. Besides revising legal forms, she seeks cultural change. For example, to help move processes faster she asks her team to schedule calls, something that was uncommon at her arrival, to avoid getting caught in “email hell.” In-person group meetings solve problems more quickly, she observes. She continually looks for ways to push the company.

As Klint describes it, a career centered around direct business engagement means that collaboration excites her more than ridged protocol. It also means she is good at seeing the larger picture and concerns. “I see the forest. I see the individual trees,” she says. “I also see the weeds growing up.” She knows that keeping an eye on metaphorical weeds is critical in deterring metaphorical brush fires.

“Experience is a backdrop that can provide guidance but you still need good ideas to move forward—and having a team that is comfortable sharing ideas can be critical.”

This spirit of collaboration, and a desire to move faster on contract work, leads Klint to prioritize building a dynamic and skilled team—key to her strategy. Asking for face-to-face meetings and phone calls is just a beginning to the cooperation she seeks from her team of two attorneys and five contract administrators.

As she asks them to suit up for the team, she also provides them with an opportunity to practice skills such as drafting. The goal, Klint says, is a team where people can come together to solve problems and are empowered to think creatively.

“The only reason I’m where I am is [that I have] more practical experience of dealing with issues and assisting with the work-arounds based on that experience,” she says. “but I don’t want to stop people from having good ideas or contributing.” She also wants a team that can check each other. “You are always wrong sometimes,” she says with a laugh, fully aware that she is building backup as she supports the team. “Experience is a backdrop that can provide guidance but you still need good ideas to move forward—and having a team that is comfortable sharing ideas can be critical,” she says.

With her broad-based background, a network, and knowledge of resources, Klint offers ways for other employees outside the legal team to gain expertise and perspective. “I want to help them help themselves,” she says. “I want them to learn to mitigate risk.”

“I want to help them help themselves. I want them to learn to mitigate risk.”

Reaching out to other departments is having an effect, and her days are more than full. While the company originally intended her to focus solely on revenue issues, she says, her impact expands as departments begin to understand how she can support them.

“Don’t just call outside counsel” has been her advice throughout PFSweb. Heeding her advice, the human resources team has sought help from Klint’s in-house team with employee relations, litigation, policy, procedures, and handbooks. Klint’s in-house HR work, she explains, lead to cost savings.

While the general counsel and secretary continues to read and interpret contracts, she also looks at structures and policy to understand risk management. She supports quarterly reporting. As Klint begins to list her current duties, she pauses and then says, “basically every aspect of the company from contract renewal to commerce issues to HR and public company concerns.”

PFSweb launched as a wholesale distributor of computer and office automation supplies. It now provides fulfillment support, order processing, and ecommerce technology while keeping eyes on shifts in tech and consumer movements. With her multifaceted knowledge base, Klint is ready and able to jump in on a range of issues to support expansion and change, from security to M&A, and she loves variety.

New growth at PFSweb, and the new efficiencies she and her team will facilitate exhilarate her. “The foundation is laid,” the VP says. “Time to build the house.”

Rest assured Klint has strategies for raising the structure.