Hilary Sledge-Sarnor is Director and Assistant General Counsel at MUFG Union Bank, N.A. She sat down with Jennifer Hagle to discuss recent collaborations and how her career and interests have taken off in unexpected directions. In addition to balancing a busy work and family life, Hilary recently launched a food blog.
Jennifer: Can you briefly share your path to your current role?
Hilary: I worked with Pam Martinson for years – first at another firm, then at Sidley in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Around five years ago, Pam asked if I was interested in going to New York for three months to work with MUFG Bank, Ltd. (previously known as The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd.) and MUFG Union Bank, N.A. At that time, I was dating my now-husband and he lived in New York, so I jumped at the offer. While I was there, a position opened up in the Legal Department and I was asked to join the Bank. My boss at the Bank had to ask Pam for forgiveness, as he had originally promised he would not poach me from Sidley. I then relocated with the Bank three years ago to Los Angeles to be closer to family.
Jennifer: Has there has been anything surprising about your role as in-house counsel?
Hilary: My internal clients come to legal for a wide variety of questions, even if they are not legal in nature. A lot of my work is helping my internal clients sort through business and legal issues, as well as explaining the risks associated with each decision. I have clients that span many industries—from entertainment to manufacturing—and the depth with which I am able to learn their respective businesses while working with them is extremely interesting. I was also pleasantly surprised by the degree to which I am encouraged to pivot to new areas – recently that has included bankruptcy and data privacy and data protection.
Jennifer: We’ve just been working on an exciting case that I know was a new area for you.
Hilary: The bankruptcy case of The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein’s former company, is a landmark matter that I know I will talk about for my entire career—not only because of the novel legal and reputational issues, but also the fact that Harvey Weinstein was the impetus for the #MeToo movement. The fact that we as lawyers, and I representing my institution, had such an active role in the restructuring of this company made it the most exciting deal I’ve ever worked on in my career.
Because this transaction was so interesting, everyone on the team dove in head first to really understand it. It would have been easy for me to say, “I’m not a bankruptcy lawyer, I don’t need to be on these calls. Somebody just give me an update every week.” But it was such a complex transaction and I really wanted to learn its ins and outs and the implications for my institution. Because of this case, my business clients realize—to a greater degree—that I can be a real value-add to their business and that I’m not just a legal gatekeeper, but I’m protecting them against potential risk, which has strengthened our relationship.
Jennifer: Are you still in touch with colleagues you met at the firm?
Hilary: Definitely. There are quite a few lawyers and staff that I stay in touch with, and alumni, too. Palo Alto is such a small office; it’s like a little family. We went through a lot together and we bonded.
Jennifer: Switching gears completely: Tell me about the blog!
Hilary: I love to write and I’ve been trying to think about how I would channel my love of writing. I also love cooking. I mean, I love cooking. I started posting things that I cooked on Instagram and a lot of friends, and my husband, told me I should start a blog. So I did! I named it Hungry Hungry Mama partly because I’m always hungry literally, but also figuratively. My blog talks about my hunger for life and for food, but also for family and for travel, and healthy eating. It’s been fun. It’s more enjoyable than I actually even anticipated.
Now that I’ve started to send it out to my friends, their first question is always, “How do you have time?” I have a full-time job; I have two kids under two; I have a 16-year-old stepson; I have a husband; and I try to cook dinner almost every night. My life is crazy, but I don’t think it’s crazier than anyone else’s life. As soon as we get the kids in bed, I spend about 45 minutes doing a little work on the blog and then I close the laptop. It’s almost like carving out “me time” in my own way because it’s something I’m passionate about.
Jennifer: You have such a flair for writing. You sent me your review of a steakhouse and three days later I followed your advice and had a phenomenal meal there. I think it’s great that you are having that immediate impact on people.
Published October 2018 - UPDATE: Currently Executive Counsel to General Counsel of MUFG Union Bank and MUFG Americas
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