Keeping Small Businesses Competitive through Sharing Best Practices of Global Leaders

Karen Lamkin’s BIO

Karen Lamkin

My childhood was influenced greatly by my father’s education and career. Although I was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts and lived for a few years in Danvers, Massachusetts, my family (my mother, father, older sister, younger brother and I) moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey in order for my father to get his Masters degree at Rutgers University, where we lived in graduate student housing. We subsequently moved to West Lafayette, Indiana in order for my father to get his PhD at Purdue University (living in three different graduate student housing projects). My father later advanced to become a Professor of Civil Engineering at Purdue; which allowed us to move into our own home.

West Lafayette was located one hour from Indianapolis and two hours from Chicago. The town had a population of approximately 20,000 and Purdue University had 35,000 students. Our holiday gatherings included many of my father’s foreign graduate students who, like us, had no relatives to spend the holidays with.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my father went on sabbatical. My brother and I lived in Israel with a family and attended the American International School near Tel Aviv, with the children of diplomats. My parents stayed in Israel for two months and then went to Europe where my father went on a lecture tour. In the summer my brother and I joined my parents in Scandinavia, living in Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Although, my entire family graduated from Purdue University, I was rebellious and instead attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana (Purdue’s arch rival). I was a history major and minored in French. During my junior year of college, I attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, in the Overseas Students Program. During the following summer, I worked as an au-pair for two French families and took care of their three young boys. I was treated as part of their families and spoke only French during the three months of my employment with them. I returned to Indiana University for my senior year of college.

The following year I enrolled in the two year Master of Public Affairs program in the School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University. SPEA is now ranked second in the U.S. for MPA programs. The Kennedy School at Harvard is number three in the country. I attended classes full-time and worked part-time, supporting myself during my Masters program. I was a Planning Intern with the City of Bloomington, Indiana Planning Department and the Graduate Research Assistant to the Affirmative Action Officer for Indiana University. During the summer between my two years of graduate school, I was one of twenty-five people selected by UCLA to be part of its Experiential Learning Center in Pomona, California. Each participant had an internship. I was a Student Intern at San Bernardino Associated Governments (“SANBAG”) in San Bernardino, California. SANBAG conducted the transportation planning for San Bernardino County.

Upon receipt of my Masters Degree, I was hired over the telephone by Mayor, Edward Hanna, of Utica, New York as a City Planner for the City’s 701 Planning Assistance Program. I obtained maps from AAA and packed my belongings in my car and headed out to Utica, New York to begin my new job. The only information that I knew about Utica was from the encyclopedia and the Utica telephone book, which I viewed at the Bloomington public library. I subsequently worked for Utica Community Action, Inc. where I developed and ran the first Urban Homesteading Program in the U.S. operated by a non-profit; with a $10,000 grant from Community Services Administration. Within six months, four families were placed in homes, the program received national publicity and a second year grant was received for $100,000.

After spending a year working in Utica, I moved to Boston to attend Suffolk University Law School. I went to law school at night and graduated in three full years; a year early (rather than the normal four years) by taking classes year-round during three summer sessions. I also worked full-time for the Boston Redevelopment Authority as the District Planning Officer for the Uphams Corner, Dorchester Planning District, which included approximately 50,000 people and extended from Columbia Point/Savin Hill to Blue Hill Avenue down to Grove Hall.

Following graduation from Law School and admission to the Massachusetts Bar, I thought that I would have a career in real estate law. However, I was offered a job at the office of the Middlesex District Attorney by John Droney, District Attorney. He allowed me a week to decide whether to take the job. I spoke to my criminal law professor at Suffolk Law School, who told me that, “whatever I did in law in the future, this job was the best preparation.” The “experience would teach me to think on my feet.” I accepted the position as Assistant District Attorney and served in and tried cases in six (6) different district courts in Middlesex Country before John Droney lost his re-election to Scott Harshbarger.

I was subsequently hired by Edward Swartz of the law firm of Swartz & Swartz. The nationally known products liability law firm received almost all of its cases from referrals by other attorneys around the country. The firm also garnered national fame because of its annual list of the 10 most dangerous toys and won multi-million dollar verdicts judgments for its clients as a result of severe injury or death from diverse defective products. I directed products liability cases pending in state and federal courts involving equipment, chemicals and machinery, consumer, household and food items.

During the above two legal positions, I was pregnant and gave birth to my two sons. After my brief unpaid maternity leaves, I returned to work full-time.

I left Swartz & Swartz and became an Associate at Kopelman & Paige, the largest Municipal Law Firm in Massachusetts with in excess of fifty (50) towns. I represented Emerson College, zoning and planning boards, conservations commissions and boards of health at meetings, hearings and trials. I also was Town Counsel on the stage at several Town Meetings.

At that point in my career, I decided that I wanted to be an In-House Counsel Commercial Lawyer in a company. In order to gain the requisite experience, I applied to small corporate law firms in Boston. By working for a small rather than a large firm, this would insure that I had direct interaction with business personnel. I represented small businesses as well as principals of those companies in their individual legal issues, which ranged from contracts, regulations and compliance, employment, real estate, software, environmental, insurance, stock purchase, corporate, litigation and bankruptcy matters.

In the early 1990’s a financial crisis took place across the country, including the greater Boston area. Banks were failing, foreclosures of homes and businesses were taking place, major layoffs were occurring with frequency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) opened its first Consolidated Field Office in Franklin, Massachusetts. I was initially hired as a Staff Attorney. In less than a year, I was promoted to Senior Attorney, was assigned the litigation, disputes and workouts for eight (8) failed banks and subsidiaries. I was subsequently appointed the Federal Torts Claims Coordinator and Alternate Dispute Coordinator for the Franklin Office. In addition, I co-wrote the Outside Counsel Fee Bill Guidelines and won six awards. After two downsizings, which I survived, my office was closed.

Thereafter, I was hired by BBA U.S. Holdings, Inc, the U.S. Holdings office handling the work in North and South America for two divisions, 1) aviation services and 2) manufacturing. This office was located in Wakefield, Massachusetts. BBA U.S. Holdings was a subsidiary of BBA Group, plc, a $3.5 billion British company, located in London, UK. The Manufacturing Division developed, manufactured, supplied and distributed medical, consumer, healthcare and industrial products worldwide. Although, I am not an intellectual property attorney, the first weekend in my new job, I attended a lengthy patent Mediation for three days in Dallas, Texas. I was responsible for the legal work in North and South America for the Manufacturing Division advising management and business personnel on domestic and international transactions, compliance and regulations, global sourcing, manufacturing, operations, supply, sale, distribution networks, construction, employment, risk management, insurance and litigation.

After a vote by the Board of Directors of BBA Group in London, the Manufacturing Division globally was put up for sale for $1.7 billion. After the Division did not sell, the Board of Directors, made a determination that the Manufacturing Division would be demerged (spun off). My office in Wakefield was closed and I was laid off. I consider myself both a business partner and a legal advisor collaborating with the business teams in a hands-on manner.

By 2008 when the U.S. was once again in a financial crisis, accompanied by layoffs, bankruptcies and foreclosures, banks once again began to fail and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was appointed Receiver of these financial institutions. The FDIC received permission from the Treasury Department to develop a special program. The FDIC retained recruiters to hire temporary business people who previously worked in banking, real estate and other aspects of the financial industry. In addition, the FDIC hired back former FDIC attorneys, that it had laid off in the late 1990’s, on a term basis to become the sole counsel in each of the FDIC receiverships. After each financial institution failed, the FDIC was appointed Receiver and the FDIC Closing Team left each facility; the Transition Team would arrive composed of business people (hired by recruiters from across the country) and one FDIC term attorney. The Transition Team stayed at the former financial institution to make it easier to assist the former customers and vendors of the facility. During the time that I worked for the FDIC in the above program, I was at three FDIC Receiverships in Pittsburgh and Horsham, Pennsylvania (outside of Philadelphia) and Ridgewood, New Jersey (outside of New York City). I would travel to the particular facility and stay for two weeks and then return home for three days. The cycle repeated itself every two weeks for well over a year. I had to learn Pennsylvania and New Jersey law and the rules of the jurisdiction, was legal advisor to the business team and was responsible for the legal work (contract and real estate transactions, financial, regulatory and litigation matters).

The first facility I stationed was the 120 year old Dwelling House Savings & Loan Association, a minority owned bank, located in the Hills District of Pittsburgh. The building was very narrow and built in 1962 with two tellers, a cellar and a small paneled conference room upstairs. The bank was located across from a vacant lot and next to a boarded up house. The Assuming Bank (the bank assuming the assets and the currently paying loans) was in this location for a month with a security guard with a gun monitoring the front door. After the Assuming Bank personnel left, we had a small sign on an outside wall stating that it was necessary to have an appointment to enter the bank. There was a paper curtain over a small window in the front door which allowed the downstairs secretary to speak to and screen persons seeking admittance to the bank.

The next bank, Citizens Community Bank in Ridgewood, New Jersey was in existence for only four and one-half years before it failed. We were located in the basement of the failed bank. The Assuming Bank occupied the upstairs facilities, which was accessed at street level. I traveled by air from Boston to LaGuardia Airport in NYC because it was over $500 cheaper than the fare from Boston to Newark, New Jersey, where the other staff commuted from. The portfolio consisted of residential, commercial and development loans.

The last facility was Advanta Bank, the second largest credit card company for small businesses. The Bank had over 800 contracts, which had to be reviewed and evaluated, including software, hardware and customer service in India. Thereafter, the FDIC ended the program that I was part of and I was laid off.

Upon my return to Massachusetts, I began my search for another in-house counsel position in a company, hospital, university or non-profit company. I found that the job opportunities for experienced in-house counsel were very limited. Very few positions in companies were seeking attorneys with over ten years of experience and I had over twenty-five. There are over 300-500 applicants for each position. In order for my job application to be noticed, it is necessary to be referred by people working in the company that I am applying to. Networking and relationship building became the key to meeting such contacts.

My approach in my legal career has been that of a business partner and legal advisor who is proactive in my ability to understand complex business issues and dynamics, identify critical issues and potential problems, build relationships, offer practical solutions and keep it out of trouble. My ability to balance compliance with promoting product development or providing services and commercial growth in a fast-paced environment was valued greatly by my previous employers. My expertise consists of: regulatory and compliance, complex domestic and international transactions and contracts, licensing, due diligence and integration, litigation, mediation and dispute resolution and substantial international experience. Although I am not an intellectual property attorney, I am generally familiar with this area of the law having worked on patent and trademark issues with outside counsel and business colleagues at BBA U.S. Holdings. I also provided legal assistance to three Human Resources Departments.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW

1. Please share with us what prompted you to become Attorney?

 

Karen: My interest in becoming an attorney originated back in graduate school when I was working as the Graduate Research Assistant to the Affirmative Action Officer of Indiana University. I enjoyed working with the University Counsel and the Affirmative Action Officer to utilize the law and implement changes to achieve equality in hiring practices. At the time, I also participated in social action initiatives to make changes in the laws. During graduate school, I took my first law course at Indiana University School of Law. After graduation, when I worked for Utica Community Action, Inc. (“UCAI”) in Utica, New York. I developed and ran the first Urban Homesteading program operated through a non government entity. I worked with two outside counsel who drafted the documents between UCAI and the program participants (“homesteaders”). However, I had to go through the documents with the homesteaders to explain the terms of the contracts and requirements of the program. I realized that as an attorney, I could be an even greater help to my clients.

 

2. There is no typical day in the life of entrepreneur. Please share with us a sample of your day, start to finish.

Karen: My “typical day,” due to the fact that I am in-transition and seeking a new career role, is not typical of the life which I led as an employed Senior Counsel. I now plan each week to include individual meetings, going to seminars, conferences and group events. I also include time to make telephone calls, do follow up correspondence by email or Linkedin with the people that I met at meeting, seminars and other events or with referrals from people that I know. I try to set up telephone calls or meetings with my new contacts and referrals. I belong to many networking groups and organizations which range from SENG and Hot Shots to New England Executives Executive Group, Medical Development Group, ALPFA, WHCM and in-house legal organizations ACC and NECCA.

 

3. What are your ‘can’t live without’ Smartphone or desktop applications?

Karen: I rely on my computer and cell phone to keep up to date with my email correspondence. I use Linkedin regularly and have almost 700 contacts that I have met and spoken to on least met occasion.

 

4. What are your tricks for time management?

Karen: To manage my time, I try to prioritize what tasks are the most critical to get done on any particular day or week. I rely on calendars and lists to ensure that I don’t forget.

 

5. What was the best advice you received when you started your career?

Karen: The best advice that I received when I started my career was when I was deciding whether to join the Officer of the Middlesex District Attorney as an Assistant District Attorney. I was told that, “whatever I did in the legal field in the future, the experience with the DA’s office would teach me to think on my feet.” This was true when I worked in a law firm and had to appear in court, at hearings or meet with clients. When I worked for Kopelman & Paige and was Town Counsel at Town Meetings, I had to answer questions on the spot before 100’s of people and sometimes the Boston press and television cameras were also present. When I was in-house counsel at FDIC and BBA U.S. Holdings, I had to advise business teams and management in person or over the telephone, where I did not have much time or any time to prepare answers in advance.

 

6. Given the current economic climate, what has been your strategy for building awareness of what you do for short-term and long-term growth?

Karen: My short term goal is to find another in-house counsel position, Assistant General, Senior, Division or General Counsel in a company, university, hospital or non-profit corporation. I would like to get on a Board of Directors of a non-profit and become a speaker at seminars and events. To date, my attempts to do both of the above have been unsuccessful because I am unemployed. However, I continue to volunteer at events and voice my opinions.

 

7. What is your proudest achievement as an accomplished entrepteneur?

Karen: One of the proudest achievements of my legal career was when I was working as an Assistant General /Division Counsel at BBA U.S. Holdings. When I was hired, my division had just acquired the Veratec division from International Paper tripling the size of my division. There were several previous and subsequent acquisitions. Many corporate legal departments are looked at by the business teams as a necessary evil that they must go through to get documents approved or get a legal opinion from. The business teams submit a legal request with a document, which Legal marks up and then send back to the requestor; without any discussion or interaction between the business and legal. In these cases, the business client has not even read the contract or document.

My approach in my legal career has been that of a business partner with a legal degree who is proactive in my ability to understand complex business dynamics, identify critical issues, potential problems and offer practical solutions. When I would receive a document or contract from a business client, I would speak with the individual and recommend that we work together on the document. This enabled me to understand the purpose of the document, the history of prior relationship between the other party which my company was doing business with and what were the business terms and risk parameters which it was willing to accept. The client benefited by learning the meaning of, ramifications and risks of the terms of the agreement and a relationship between us would be established. In addition, It was further cemented when I would go to the various facilities and speak with the business teams as well as develop and present courses. By doing the above, the business teams and management felt comfortable with me, listened to my suggestions and made me part of the business team to deal with various projects and problems.

 

8. How do you achieve balance in your life?

Karen: I achieve some balance in my life by spending time with family and friends, attending social events, volunteering and going to the gym for Zumba 2-3 times a week, I also love traveling for business and pleasure both domestically and internationally.

 

9. Your top 3 book recommendations?

Karen: “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” are two of my favorites books since I was a teenager. I would also recommend “Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer and a historical novel, “The Great Affair” written by my father, Milton E. Harr.

 

10. What are your most rewarding charitable involvements?

Karen: I have volunteered for many years for Combined Jewish Philanthropies at many of its events and for its fundraising efforts. I have been a member of its Healthcare Innovation Team for five (5) years. This Team plans and holds speaker events catering to the life science and health care industries. I also have been a volunteer for the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, which is a non-profit corporation with the mission of strengthening the relationship between patients and caretakers.

 

11. Who has influenced your career the most?

Karen: There is no one person that has influenced my career more than any others. There are people who have helped me by hiring me because they had confidence in my qualifications, skills and enthusiasm for the role or were a mentor to me in a job and provided me with suggestions, advice and feedback During this employment search, there have been many people who have reached out to me regarding a role, providing me with introductions to contacts, offering me encouragement or calling or emailing me to see how I am doing. I particularly treasure these people. I also continue to help others in a similar position.

 

12. What is your advice for someone interested in entrepreneurship?

Karen: Due to the poor economy, I do not generally recommend that candidates pursue law as a career. Law schools are churning out lawyers with very limited skills to compete in this economy and with few prospects for employment. Lawyers, such as me, with substantial experience are no longer valued and continue to be unemployed in spite of their efforts to find jobs. For those that have been accepted at law schools I make the following suggestions: a) Intellectual property attorneys are still in great demand, but a scientific background is needed. My former law school, Suffolk University, is providing excellent training in both its day and evening divisions. B) SEC Attorneys are also highly sought because of the increasingly complex regulations imposed upon public companies.

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