| Name: Matthew Lepore
|Job Title: Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary for BASF Corporation
|Drinker Biddle practice and years: Products Liability Group, 1999-2002
|Education: Mercer University School of Law, J.D. 1995; James Madison University, B.S. 1992
|Hobbies, Family and Civic Activities: Avid runner, painter and dad to three children; Board of Trustees member for Volunteer Lawyers for Justice
Although he will always be a litigator at heart, Matt Lepore has found that the in-house life, including mentoring and helping lawyers grow, is equally satisfying. Matt is Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary for BASF Corporation, the world’s largest chemical company. In his nearly four years with the company, he has successfully reorganized the legal department and streamlined operations, among other accomplishments.
“I really enjoy talent and development issues,” he said. “I get excited about trying to help people with their careers and figuring out how to grow people into great lawyers, especially for in-house.”
A close-knit team
Born and raised in Butler, New Jersey, Matt went to college in Virginia and moved to Georgia for law school. He started his legal career in Atlanta and eventually moved to San Francisco, where he became an associate for Preuss Shanagher Zvoleff & Zimmer. Drinker Biddle acquired Preuss Shanagher in 2001. Matt said his day-to-day products liability defense practice didn’t change, but the merger gave him access to more resources with the expanded Drinker Biddle team. It was a close-knit office, he said, and one of his favorite memories is playing on the office softball team in a law firm league in the Sunset District every week.
“We were a team before Drinker Biddle took over and we really stayed the same after the merger and it was great. It was a nice group,” he said. “We had happy hours, we went to each other’s weddings and had fun. I really enjoyed that time. It was a great office and good group of people.”
One of the best opportunities the firm offered was a chance to go to the IADC trial academy in Boulder, Colo., which Matt said trained him to be a great trial lawyer and prepared him for the next stage of his career. In 2003, Matt became a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division, Federal Programs Branch, which defends the executive branch against constitutional challenges to executive actions. It was a fast-paced, exciting job, and he spent the majority of his time in court handling numerous post-9/11 cases involving terrorism and national security issues under the George W. Bush administration. Matt said the opportunity to lead big cases, develop strategy and coordinate with all the different constituents was a terrific experience. The first case he argued involved the president’s authority as commander-in -chief to take troops into battle in Iraq without a Congressional Declaration of War.
“The great thing about being a DOJ lawyer is regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you defend the government and you defend the Constitution,” he said. “You may not always personally or politically support the issue that you may be defending, but you believe in the Constitution and you believe in what you’re doing. It was a really fun job for me. Plus, there is less partner/associate hierarchy in the government, so you really are on the front lines of the cases assigned to you.”
Investing in future leaders
Matt went back to private practice for a few years before becoming the Corporate Secretary and Chief Governance Officer for Pfizer, Inc. from 2008 to 2014. Today, Matt is head of BASF’s North American legal department, which is the largest regional legal department in the company. It has 120 professionals who handle a variety of matters including litigation, regulatory, intellectual property, government affairs, mergers and acquisitions, torts and products liability issues. Given the presence of certain global businesses in the U.S., Matt’s department also has significant global responsibility as well.
Since joining BASF, Matt has undertaken a significant reorganization of the legal department, adding 20 colleagues to the staff and working to revamp the outside counsel program to increase efficiency and improve relationships. His philosophy is to focus on what’s best for the company through maximizing talent, succession planning, and empowerment. Matt added sub-groups within the department to create opportunities for more managers, and he opened new office locations to co-locate staff with the businesses they support. He has also sent people to non-legal roles within the company, such as site management and positions in BASF’s environmental health and safety section.
“I spend a lot of time making sure people have opportunities to grow and not just sit and stagnate, and get tired of what they’re doing,” he said. “I really do enjoy that aspect of my job.”
Another of Matt’s priorities is diversity and inclusion, both for his in-house team and outside counsel. For in-house positions, half of the candidates presented have to be diverse candidates and half of the interview panel must also be diverse. Including women, the BASF North American legal department is more than 60 percent diverse. BASF has signed onto ABA Resolution 113, which requires firms to complete a diversity survey in order to be considered for outside counsel legal services. Matt said they are also actively involved with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and this year they partnered with a law firm to allow a diverse summer associate to split the summer between the company and the firm. BASF is also signing onto the Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule, which requires law firms and legal departments to include diverse candidates in at least 30 percent of its candidate pool for senior leadership, equity partner and governance roles. Matt said these different initiatives are a good approach and are informing his work on developing more outside counsel requirements focused on diversity.
His advice for lawyers seeking to move from private practice to an in-house role is to tap into your network for referrals and find ways to distinguish yourself from others. It never hurts to ask, he said, and lawyers shouldn’t feel guilty about reaching out to their networks. Matt said he is drawn to candidates who care about efficiency, organization and responsiveness at a top level.
“My communications are short and to the point. My boss is the CEO and he needs to know something from me in two sentences,” he said. “So many times I’ll get something that is 25 pages. Lawyers need to get that. If they’re looking to move in-house they need to convince that in-house team that they know what’s needed and they’re ready to make that big shift over.”