Blog post | In conversation with Lori Middlehurst
In this guest blog post, we speak to super-lawyer Lori Middlehurst, Senior Director and Associate General Counsel, Global Lead- Employment and Immigration Law (or as she puts it more succinctly, she runs the global employment law team at US based software company, VMware). She is also on the national board of ACC (Association of Corporate Counsel) Australia, and serves as the NSW president for the Australian chapter. As you’ll see, Lori has had a fantastic and rich career so far in a range of legal and non-legal roles, including private practice, in-house, being a sole practitioner, working in HR, and even being a small claims judge (and we love her story about a 70 year old woman suing a dating service)!
TLC: What made you want to study law?
LR: I got to the end of an undergraduate degree in Biology and needed to go to grad school in order to get a job, I had a friend who was studying for the LSAT (law school entrance exam in the US) and it seemed to play to my strengths. When I told my parents I was thinking of going to law school, my father, a university Biochemistry professor asked me, “why the hell would you want to do that?” (he wasn’t a fan of lawyers). I didn’t know any lawyers and didn’t know what they did, so it was a little random!
TLC: Tell us about your journey to how you got to where you are.
LR: I did really well in my first year of law school and so got a clerkship at a well established litigation boutique in San Diego where I ended up working for the partner who handled employment cases, both plaintiff and defense. I received a huge amount of motion and trial experience, at one point spending virtually every day in court. My firm was merged into the global giant Baker Mckenzie and I was given the opportunity to go on an exchange. As a trial lawyer, I was given the choice of the UK or Australia and headed to Sydney. I met my husband, who was also a lawyer at Bakers my first day in the office. After my exchange completed, we got married and moved back to San Diego. My husband was offered an in-house role in Northern California around the same time that my daughter was born. While my daughter, and my twin sons who followed were little, I did a little bit of a lot of different things. I worked with a small firm who had a lot of start-up clients to set up their policies, processes and training. I handled some litigation which lead into opening my own practice out of my house. I volunteered as a small claims judge pro tem. I did a certificate course in HR. I met the employment lawyer at Sun Microsystems, a growing hardware multinational where my husband was working and we got along well. I would send him articles and discuss legal developments with him. When he had an opening about a year later he reached out to me and I did a contract role which then turned into a permanent one. About 5 years after I started at Sun my husband was offered a role in Sydney. This was November 2001, not long after 9/11 and it seemed like a good time to leave the US, so I went to my boss and asked him if I could work remotely (REALLY REMOTELY). He trusted me, so we gave it a shot. I actually handled US work as well as regional work, but because I had the same phone extension a lot of my clients had no idea where I was. I moved in to an HR business role in 2006, but was closely aligned with the legal team until I left Sun in 2010 when it was bought by Oracle. My next role was another HR role, but without the connections with legal I found it frustrating. I then moved back into legal, handled a backfill role for Accenture and then was hired into an Asia Pacific and Japan role for VMware. Last year a spot opened up for the first global lead position for the employment law team and I was selected. I manage a team of employment lawyers based in UK, US, Costa Rica and Sydney.
TLC: What is the funniest or weirdest moment you've had in your legal career?
LR: As an employment lawyer we see the weirdest stuff, because people don’t necessarily behave better at work than they do outside of work. So my role can involve talking about pornography, elaborate fraud schemes or sex at work. One of my favourite stories is actually from when I was a small claims judge and a 70 year old woman was suing a dating service for her money back when there were no suitable dates. The dating service tried to argue that there were lots of men, but they actually couldn’t prove that they had any men her age. It was my pleasure to award her that money.
TLC: What is your one piece of advice to law students of today?
LR: Try to get as broad a perspective as possible. Rather than just heads down study, understand what is going on in the world and technology and try to figure out how what you want to do might fit into what is trending.