Lori Schechter, General Counsel, McKesson Corporation

From long-time private practice litigator to general counsel, Lori Schechter shares her personal perspective on moving in-house, as well as how legal teams can transition from business inhibitors to value generators.

When I was in private practice, I represented McKesson in a number of significant litigation matters. About 2010, the general counsel approached me and asked me if I would ever consider going in-house, because the head of the litigation group was planning to retire. I hadn’t been thinking about going in-house, so the question came to me out of the blue. I was very flattered to be asked, but I didn’t think that was the right move for me at that point. But he kept talking to me over the course of the next year, trying to intrigue me on the notion and finally, in 2012, I came on board as head of the litigation team and associate general counsel.

I had to really get a deep understanding of McKesson, because even though I’d represented the company in multiple cases beforehand, I really could not have imagined the rest of the issues and products and services the company was involved in until after I came on board. It was certainly a learning curve to understand all the different ways that McKesson was adding value to the healthcare system.

For me, that was a great opportunity to feel like I could be a student again in a way I had not been for so many years, because I had become so familiar with so much of the work I was doing, it became second nature. Now I was in a great position where I could learn and develop new knowledge and new skills.

In June 2014, I became general counsel a little bit unexpectedly. I learned in the middle of June that the GC was leaving the company and that I, along with two of my colleagues, would be interviewed as the potential replacement. Two weeks later, I became GC and she was gone. It was a fast transition, but a wonderful opportunity for me to add value at a level that I had not known beforehand. As daunting as my two weeks’ notice was, I could really dive in and help the decision-making for a much broader audience than I had been facing before.

One of the first things I had to do was meet with a variety of people to make sure I had the full breadth and understanding of what my role would entail. The general counsel organization that I head up is not just a legal department, it’s also the compliance department, the public affairs group, the corporate secretary function, and I had soon also formed a legal operations function. So initially it was a deep dive into making sure I understood the roles, responsibilities, goals and priorities, and really got to know the people who would be on my leadership team even better and understand what their teams were working on.

I was helping the company digest what it would mean to be much more of a global enterprise.

But then obviously I was now also a member of the executive committee of the company, and I had responsibilities towards our board of directors. On a daily basis, I was managing a variety of legal and business issues, working with the business leaders from across the company, working with the HR team and the leadership team to help drive employee engagement and career development, dealing with outside counsel and the like. My world had expanded dramatically.

All of this was happening at a time of great transition for the company itself, which was about to go global. We had just acquired Celesio, a public company with employees and operations in multiple countries across Europe – countries that McKesson had not ventured into before. So at the same time as I was digesting the organization that I was going to run, I was helping the company digest what it would mean to be much more of a global enterprise with distinct regulatory landscapes in Europe and all of the new issues that we would be facing. On top of all that, over the previous three years there had been significant changes in the healthcare world globally – our customers and suppliers in our traditional markets were undergoing massive consolidation and disruption, and government oversight was increasing everywhere. So my transition to becoming general counsel was really at a transition point for the whole healthcare environment as well.

If I were to advise anybody else who was about to make a transition similar to mine, the two things that come to mind are agility and prioritisation. When I started, the issues were constantly changing and the challenges we were facing and decisions we had to make were accelerating at a pace that I don’t think we had seen in the three years before I became general counsel. In light of that, I really do think it requires nimbleness and an ability to move from one issue to another with a keen sense of how one has to prioritize.

When I came to the company, I had always understood that the mission of the general counsel organization was to be trusted advisers that the company would turn to for help in mitigating and managing legal, reputational and competitive risk arising from existing laws or laws we were seeking to advance or change in some way. But as we began to see the landscape changing, I was very much inspired to start thinking about forward-looking values that my organization could contribute. I changed the mission statement to be a vision statement, and in addition to the important role of mitigating risk, I really started thinking about whether there were more active and strategic ways that we could help the company. We thought about ourselves not just as the team that got called when the company wanted to tackle a difficult issue, but we wanted to be the team they called when they wanted to innovate in what they were doing or think about new ways that they could add value to the healthcare system.

We wanted to be the team they called when they wanted to innovate in what they were doing.

In the course of that, over the last three years we’ve done a number of things to demonstrate to the company that when we have a seat at the table, we can help them think about new ways to deliver value to our customers and our shareholders. We’ve been brainstorming about innovative processes and technologies, like having a standardized process for how the businesses will enter into contracts – a contract library that will reduce contract review time and improve how quickly our businesses can enter into contracts with their customers and their suppliers.

Another example is when, over a year ago, some folks on my team thought it would be a great idea to form a task force across the company to bring together subject matter experts from a variety of different areas to help brainstorm possible solutions to the opioid crisis that the US is facing. People from the law department, the public affairs department and the compliance departments started working with some of our business leaders, including some that are doctors and pharmacists with a deep knowledge of the different points that a patient navigates when seeing a doctor, dealing with insurance companies, dealing with pharmacists and so forth.

Over the course of many months, they published a white paper, which they’ve now shared with legislators. It contains ideas for ways we could change laws, or get better training or tools to help pharmacists or doctors manage some of the tough issues that the opioid epidemic has created. The company has made a number of recommendations, some of which have been adopted or touted as good ideas by state and federal legislative policy makers. Most recently, we helped the company form a foundation dedicated solely to addressing issues surrounding the opioid epidemic. Having a legal team that understands what it takes to put a foundation together and the expertise across the team is another way of transforming what the general counsel organization can do going forward.

Being a part of advancing ideas like these has been an incredibly rewarding part of what my team has been able to participate in, and I do think it stems from the fact that we all got together and embraced changing the role of our organization from just risk mitigating to being risk mitigating plus value adding.