It all came down to perfect timing.
Happily ensconced as a partner in Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office, Brad Berenson always assumed he would retire from the firm. Aside from an intermittent two years as associate counsel at the White House for George W. Bush, Berenson, who focused his practice on white-collar criminal defense, government investigations and criminal and civil litigation, had been with Sidley for most of his career, from 1993 to 2012.
Then came a compelling call from a headhunter.
“My wife and I were on the verge of becoming empty nesters, so we had more geographic flexibility than we had had previously,” recalled Berenson of when he learned of the available in-house position with General Electric, headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut. He says he was intrigued by the diversity of GE’s geographic and business operations, and the challenge of overseeing litigation, investigations and compliance at such a formidable corporation.
“It seemed very exciting—the opportunity to stretch my wings a bit, expand my skills set and renew and reinvigorate at the midpoint of my career,” he said.
Yet Berenson, who considers himself first and foremost, a trial lawyer, had some apprehensions about switching landscapes. “I was worried about the political dimensions of in-house work—the role is so different from the hands-on work of litigating cases. I wasn’t sure I would be well-suited for it.”
That concern wasn’t borne out, said Berenson, who joked, “I would not say that corporate life is either paradise or hell compared to law firm life. But it was fun to trade the advantages and disadvantages of practice for a different set at that point in my career.”
He points to the global component of the GE job as being one of its great attributes. Berenson spent nearly a month in 2015 in Brussels, handling litigation and hearing aspects of GE’s efforts to gain the European Commission’s approval of the company’s largest-ever acquisition of Alstom Power. He planned and participated in an oral hearing before the commission last summer.
Berenson then pivoted to a trial in Washington, D.C. against the U.S. Department of Justice in litigation over GE’s efforts to sell its appliances division to Sweden’s Electrolux. From there, he said, he entered into an effort to resolve a large dispute with a customer, which took him into the executive offices of a leading company in the Middle East. He estimates that 60 percent of the matters he handles are not connected to business in the United States.
Although Berenson says the time he spends on the road for GE is similar to that of his travel time when he was a litigator with Sidley, “The big difference is, I have much more control in this role of where I go, when I go and why I go.”
Berenson also finds the full-circle aspect of the work attractive. “Inside a law firm, it’s really your clients’ problems that you take on for a short period of time and assist with,” he said. “But once those problems are over, you leave that client and its story behind. So there’s more of a continuous organic feel to serving a single client—the company you’re part of.”
At the moment, Berenson is juggling a diverse mix of cases for GE, including a tax matter, a labor union dispute over retiree health benefits, construction arbitrations and government investigations. “When you come in-house, you trade depth for breadth, and never more so than in a place like GE” he said.
Despite having left Sidley, Berenson admits, “The single thing I worried most about coming in-house was leaving behind such wonderful colleagues, many of whom became close personal friends.”
Luckily, those friendships have endured. Berenson continues to indulge his love of hiking with some likeminded partners from Sidley. “I call on my buddies Richard Klingler from the Washington office and Dave Anderson in San Francisco. They are part of a regular group of guys that do a big climbing trip each year. We really have a lot of fun,” he said.
Published May 2016 - UPDATE General Counsel, TPG Holdings (January 2017 – Present)
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