Experienced Environmental Lawyer and Thought Leader Jean Helps Companies Put the “E” In ESG
By Axiom Law
“All the Axiom lawyers I’ve met bring a lot to the table. We all have depth of knowledge and expertise, in addition to a willingness to jump in and solve problems. I think Axiom is unique.” Working at Axiom has brought many welcome changes for Jean, including the ability to utilize her experience as a commercial and environmental lawyer and thought leader to assist companies in several projects while also focusing on areas she never expected, like privacy.
Jean began working with Axiom in 2009 after a history that included law firms, in-house roles, and even managing her ongoing private practice. Since joining Axiom, Jean enjoys the consistency and quality of the work and the flexibility of being able to work with clients she loves. In addition, she appreciates being able to focus on practicing law while Axiom’s business teams take care of the administrative heavy lifting she came to find burdensome with her own practice.
Combining her love of science with a passion for law
Jean’s unconventional educational journey to a law degree surprised her. As an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr College, Jean majored in chemistry because she aspired to have a career in science. Her inspiration to change her plan and become a lawyer came during her junior year, when she studied abroad at the University of Leeds in northern England. There, Jean met classmates who were studying law as undergraduates. “It really hit me that year how differences in law have tremendous impacts on our daily lives. I wanted to be part of that,” says Jean.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Jean worked at firms providing patent and general litigation services before moving in-house and gaining experience in environmental law at the Swiss chemical company Ciba-Geigy. Like many other working mothers, Jean found that her career aspirations changed following the birth of her child. It was at this point in her life that Jean began practicing independently and split her focus between environmental and general commercial law.
Embracing Axiom’s flexible career opportunities
Axiom’s engagement model has permitted Jean to bring her expertise to many different clients, while enabling her to focus squarely on just the legal side of her work. “Most people don’t need full-time environmental lawyers like me, so it’s perfect to work through Axiom," Jean says. "I am relieved of a lot of the administrative nonsense. All I have to do is focus on the work, which is, at this point in my career, exactly what I want to be doing.”
Jean appreciates the flexibility of her work at her Axiom engagements, and the quality of her work has been consistently high. “I consider my Axiom engagements to be personal clients,” Jean says, “and you don’t have that level of appreciation of your clients when you’re at a law firm and someone is saying ‘Guess what? You’re working on this.’ As an Axiom lawyer, you walk into every engagement with the assumption of being highly qualified because of the Axiom screening process.”
A career rooted in environmental law
Jean manages a wide portfolio in her legal work, including manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies. “What I’m doing right now is what suits me best,” she says. “I can translate between the science and the policy-makers. Environmental lawyers have to be jacks-of-all-trades because environmental law covers so many general business issues in terms of risk, liability, and contracting.”
Jean enjoys working with many different clients on many different types of projects: “One of the reasons Axiom is such a good fit for me is because the environmental work is episodic, and the commercial work is steady. Some of my old engagements call me twice a year for specific types of liability questions on the environmental side. I always have something interesting to do, but I’m not always swamped. And my workload isn’t always too light, either.”
The flexibility of Jean’s schedule also allows her to take on pro bono environmental cases and pursue her hobbies, which include glasswork, cooking, and gardening. “I have two apple trees on my terrace, as well as jalapeño plants, lots of herbs, and lots of flowers,” she says. “While being a lawyer can mean being very creative, it’s a mental creativity.” Jean balances that mental creativity with more tactile ones to round out her intellectual experience.
Finding holistic solutions for the contracting puzzle
Like other Axiom lawyers, Jean appreciates that the Axiom model allows her to work with great clients to tackle big problems and consequential legal work. “Law firms do very good work, but often they are in silos,” says Jean. “If you look at legal issues without the overarching context, you’re just not going to keep the clients happy. If you look at them in the totality of the company – which is what Axiom allows us to do, since we come in as quasi-in-house – we can be much more effective.”
One area in which Jean likes to help clients solve these problems is in the area of contracting. “I think it’s like sitting down and doing a crossword puzzle,” she says. “You work with the client to help them figure out what their priorities are and what pitfalls they might face, and how they can make an informed business decision. There’s a legal role of advising with respect to risk, and a client function of deciding how much risk tolerance they have. You put it all together and it feels like solving the New York Times crossword puzzle, which I don’t do anymore because I satisfy that urge by writing contracts. I used to be addicted to puzzles.”
Making her mark on the legal industry
While working in-house at Ciba-Geigy Jean met her mentor, Miriam Gold. Together, they saw an opportunity to compose a treatise that help companies integrate the Toxic Substances Control Act into their processes. Since then, they have published annually updated editions with LexisNexis. Jean reflects: “I think it’s important to create your own advancement when you have developed expertise that extends beyond the job you are in. Writing is a great way to share knowledge and experience and burnish your own credentials in a way no one else can do for you.”
Each year, the book is updated with experiences and lessons she’s learned through engagements with clients at Axiom and her private practice. “I’m constantly learning,” Jean says. “This area is very nuanced, and different industries have different relationships with this law.” When updating the book with Miriam each year, Jean reads extensively on the EPA website and published articles. “Often, I will find something that helps an Axiom engagement and will send out alerts to help clients plan for the next big thing. One time, I remember an Axiom client called with an esoteric question. I could share from my recent reading that the answer was in a Federal Register notice from 1977.”
Jean loves that Axiom enables her to continue writing while balancing her legal work. She notes that Axiom leverages the credibility that independent lawyers need to find the very best clients. Additionally, her book bolsters her experience, proving that she has the necessary knowledge and has been vetted by those who believe in the power of that knowledge.
Jean recalls, “During one of my engagements, a chemical manufacturer had to submit chemical storage data to the EPA to comply with a rule implementing an international treaty. When we started gathering data, we realized that we had some chemicals stored in laboratories, but the rule itself did not say when lab chemicals had to be included in the totals, so I engaged with the EPA. After some back and forth, the EPA issued guidance that clarified the issue.” Not only did Jean help her client address this concern during that engagement, but she has made countless others aware of which lab chemicals have to be included in future reports by adding to her book, making a larger impact on the legal industry.
The evolving legal landscape
The legal industry continues to change, especially as the need for equity takes center stage for companies. “All lawyers benefit from discussions about equity, inclusion, and diversity,” Jean observes. “We can become so busy that these issues are not at the forefront of a legal practice.”
Jean believes that “true thought leaders recognize that failing to nurture talented individuals because they may not have been selected by central casting leads to stymied careers and a great waste of talent.” Jean knows that Axiom's model helps legal talent break barriers by offering a diverse group of lawyers who are vetted for their experience and courted by corporate law departments as important contributors. “I applaud this model because it helps lawyers overcome sexism, racism, and ageism more than other traditional models of legal practice.”
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