The Legal Department

Leadership Development In The Legal Department With Jeannine Taylor, Deputy General Counsel Of Keck Medicine Of USC

The Legal Department | Leadership Development | Jeannine Taylor

 

Jeannine Taylor of Keck Medicine of USC shares her journey into a senior leadership position at a top 20 academic medical center in this episode of The Legal Department podcast. While leading the legal team at a $3 billion health system, Jeannine also serves as president of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, California’s largest women’s bar association. Her leadership development in the legal department showed how she values the feedback from her team, which paved her growth. Jeannine also touches on coaching, retreat sessions, techniques, and experiences she walked through with her coach. Join Jeannine Taylor in this captivating episode and be an inspired woman to stand in a leadership position today.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Leadership Development In The Legal Department With Jeannine Taylor, Deputy General Counsel Of Keck Medicine Of USC

Jeannine Taylor’s baseball stats.

My name is Jeannine Taylor. I am Deputy General Counsel of Keck Medicine of USC and also President of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles. A fun fact about me is I have a love for a variety of hot sauces. At our installation dinner, many guests were surprised and grateful that we had many bottles of Tabasco sauce to accompany their meal in case they were lovers of hot sauce the way I am.

In this episode, I’m excited to welcome my longtime friend and colleague, Jeannine Taylor, who is the Deputy General Counsel of Keck Medicine of USC. Jeannine and I worked together for many years. I am excited to hear about her career journey since we parted ways a few years ago and she stepped into the lead role at the health system. Jeannine, how are you?

I’m good. Thank you for having me, Stacy. I’m excited.

It’s going to be fun. I talk to people that I know but not people I know that well. I’m excited to have a conversation where we talk about things we haven’t talked about before. I appreciate you doing this. In particular, I wanted to talk with you because, in addition to leading a legal team of a $3 billion-plus organization, you’re also leading the second-largest bar association in LA County. You’re doing both of those things at the same time. I am in awe of that. I also think you’re a great example of what in-house lawyers can do. I want to hear more about how you balance those two big roles.

What a very dedicated, hardworking team on both sides. For WLALA, like several other bar associations, there’s a ladder theory. You have to serve at the bottom of the ladder as secretary or treasurer and move your way up. After you’ve been on that ladder for years, you’re pretty dedicated to the organization. I’ve got a team of people who are working with me that make that manageable and fun. Similarly, on the work front, I have a dedicated, loyal, hardworking, and bright team at Keck. Without them, I could not do either of those successfully.

I would also bet that time management is a huge part of it because I was on the board of Women Lawyers, not in one of the officer positions but I saw the president. You’re affiliated with other bar associations so you have to go to a lot of events. You have to produce that president’s message. You got to go to many of the Women Lawyers events. USC has a busy event schedule. You don’t clone yourself. How do you manage all those different commitments?

I try and calendar everything as early as possible. If there are some things that I can’t go to, I can rely on the team. The other things I rely on steadily are our checklists and to-do lists. I still do the old-school ones by hand. I reference every day what I have to do that day, what I would like to do, and what I might need to go to tomorrow. Those aren’t tricks but those are my two studies that I go to.

Let me ask this. Do you have trouble saying no? Everyone wants the head of the office or the head of the organization to make an appearance. Do you feel pressure to do that? Are you getting better at saying no?

I do have a hard time saying no. Usually, what I’ll do instead of saying no is not committing right away. I’ve developed a habit of always thanking them for the invitation and then saying, “I’ll need to look into it and check my calendar.” That gives me time to think about it like, “Is this something that I’m necessary for? Can someone else fill in? What’s the value that we’re going to get out of this?” Yes, it is hard to say no but that’s my way of managing it.

I like that you said you look to see the value like, “Do I contribute to this?” What are those things you’re weighing as you decide whether to do it yourself or delegate?

One of them is, will there be students there? Will there be junior associates there? Is this an event where the opportunity to talk to someone in a leadership role will make a big difference for someone? I find that whenever I talk to students or junior associates, I end up happy that I was at that event and got that time with them because they seem to appreciate it. There’s a lot of confusion and overwhelming feelings when you’re looking back in those positions of, “What should I do? I don’t know anyone who’s done those things. How did you do it?” It makes me feel better about myself and the organization that I can do those things.

I bet that’s fun.

It is. That’s one of the best parts about being able to be in this role.

You weren’t always the president of Women Lawyers and the Deputy General Counsel of Keck Medicine. I’ve admired you’ve put a lot of effort and introspective work in to get where you are. I want to learn more about that. We started working together in 2009 and then has been a steady stream forward. Along the way, can you think through things that you did to help you progress in your career?

One of the biggest things is staying in touch with people. I remember hearing early on that the people who graduated from law school who would stay in touch were going to be leaders of companies and firms. It seemed like that would never happen but it’s true. There are people who you like to have relationships with so that should make it easy.

Making the time to do those things has been important. You’ll let each other know about good opportunities because everyone wants to work and be involved with someone who they know the backstory and that they’d enjoy working with and having a cup of coffee with. Networking is joining organizations like WLALA where you get to know a whole new group of people you might have never interacted with. It’s a lot of bang for your buck. Our board itself is over 50 lawyers, not counting the hundreds of women who are members.


The Legal Department | Leadership Development | Jeannine Taylor
Leadership Development: Let each other know about good opportunities because everyone wants to work and be involved with someone they know.

 

Trade organizations, keeping in touch with folks, and also trying to stop yourself and think strategically. We do it at the end of the year, thinking of our New Year’s resolutions. What do I want to focus on? What are my goals? What are my career aspirations? What do I like about my position? Do I want a new one? Trying to force yourself into having those conversations with yourself and others about that is something that you have to do. Sometimes, we put it to the bottom of the list and put other things, especially as women and mothers. We’re taking care of everyone else and we forget to take care of ourselves.

I wonder, on the checklist that you talked about, are there things on there that are professional development for you?

There are. I have an executive coach so there are things that will come up or sticky situations where I feel like, “Maybe I could have handled that better. I need to figure out how to prepare for this.” I’ll add to my notes my agenda for the coaching things that I want to think about. Those are my bigger picture areas. I felt like I didn’t lead that meeting well. It felt disjointed afterward. I want to focus on better presence and leadership presentation skills. It’s been effective. I don’t have to do it all right then. I jot a note and I know I’m going to get to it.

That’s intentional. I’m impressed with that. I’ve worked with a coach for a long time too. Usually before those sessions, I’m thinking about it and preparing for the session, like remembering some things. I’d probably put myself in a better position if I wrote it down at the moment as opposed to trying to hurry up and say, “What are we going to talk about this time?”

I want to hear more about the coaching relationship. This is maybe the second or third episode where I’ve talked to somebody about coaching. I’m a big cheerleader for it because it’s made a major difference in my life. Maybe you could give the audience a little glimpse into how the coaching relationship works and what you’ve gotten out of it.

I’m a huge advocate as well. It’s one of those things that is undervalued, overlooked, or not known about. People aren’t aware of what a coach does or the value they could bring. I didn’t think about it until I was actively trying to become promoted and realized that I needed to do something different. I wasn’t 100% sure where my blind spots were or what might be holding me back. I tried to throw everything into it. I found a coach. One of the things that was helpful when we started working together was she encouraged me to go to the folks I was working with and get feedback from the bottom, the top, and my peers.

We did a comprehensive 360 and asked things like what am I doing well, what I could be doing more of, where I am falling short, how I can be more helpful, and what I am missing or not thinking about. I did that initially and then followed up with her and them to track my progress and see how things were adding up and if changes were being made. I wouldn’t have done that without the guidance of a coach and her holding my hand on how to do that as well.

There are also things along the way that she’s brought to my attention or suggested that I wouldn’t have thought to do that has helped my relationships, like acknowledging we’ve got great leaders at Keck and taking the time to thank them or acknowledge them when they do a good job. They appreciate that. I hadn’t thought about it before she pointed out that it’s very lonely at the top. Usually, people tell CEOs all the crap that’s happening and what they need to be fixed. They don’t say, “That was an amazing presentation. I learned about X, Y, and Z from you.”

We've got great leaders at Keck Medicine. They appreciate it when you take the time to thank or acknowledge them when they do a good job. Share on X

Let me ask you, in your role, you’re leading two big teams. Do you feel like you relate to those leaders a little differently because you know what it’s like to be in the top chair?

I do, especially from the experience with WLALA. There were a lot of behind-the-scenes, things that were happening to keep the organization running and humming. I didn’t have that level of awareness. It does feel sometimes like, “There are always problems that need to be addressed.” Having a solid, supportive team who could make going through that process fun and support you makes all the difference in the world.

I want to go back. I have been a little apprehensive of the 360 process because you want everyone to think you’re awesome. To hear feedback from folks that you see day to day and maybe we have a nagging sense of whether we’re hitting the mark or not but it’s a different thing to have somebody ask or you ask yourself and then get that straight-on feedback. What was that like?

It is a little scary. I’ll tell you, when I was getting the results, I was holding my breath like, “What are people going to have to say?” We want to hear positive feedback. What helped me grow and develop were the areas where I was lacking and where they wanted to see more of something and those were the areas where I was able to make the quickest changes and show progress. People know that you’re hearing them and lining up with what they’re asking for, which builds the relationships. It is a win-win. It is a scary thing. One of the important things with the 360 is picking who gives you the feedback.

Be real with yourself, though. You want the people who are important and are going to make a difference but you also want people whose opinions you value. There are certain leaders who I would say, “They don’t have a leadership style I would want to mimic anyway so maybe their feedback may not be that helpful.” I would not pick them. Be very methodical about who it is that you want to hear from.


The Legal Department | Leadership Development | Jeannine Taylor
Leadership Development: Being very methodical about who you want to hear from everybody who did it also helps.

 

When you’re having those conversations, I would imagine it deepens the relationship with that person.

It does. They feel invested in your progress as well. The fact that this started as part of a promotion process and said, “Be straight with me. Do you think I have it? Do you think I have the skillset? If I don’t, what do you think I need to work on and can I get there?” The folks I was working with got invested and said, “I want you to be able to do this. Here, let me help you.” It was scary but it was a big group win when I got there.

They’re invested in your success. I would think also that type of relationship that you probably got closer to, which makes it easier to deal with hard situations in the future.

I already practiced being very candid. I’m out there exposed. Tell me what you think.

Were you scared doing that?

I was but I had to remind myself, “You have nothing to lose. Worst case scenario, you’re still where you are. I could only go up.” That’s what I told myself.

I’m impressed with the whole process. You took it on as something that you wanted and approached it, not just through an achievement lens but like, “How can I improve? I need to address if I’ve got blind spots or areas I need to level up. I’m going to do that and hear about it.” That’s cool.

It’s also helpful for my entire team in a way because I shared my journey with them. They were some of my reviewers for my 360 so they knew I was addressing negative feedback and how to correct it. I was coming to them and saying, “Are you getting what you need? Am I communicating more with you? You noted that you felt like there wasn’t follow-up on certain issues. Do you feel like that’s still happening? Where are the misses?” It helps show them, “I don’t do my job 100% perfect. You’re not going to do yours perfectly but we can work on it together.”

I would imagine it makes you a closer team.

I think so. I valued the feedback that they gave me and they were invested as well.

You said that we’re not going to do everything 100% perfect. That’s an important message for all lawyers to hear because we all have high expectations of ourselves and we perceive that there are high expectations from clients. When there is something that doesn’t hit there, that you have a mistake, being able to do an after-action or own those mistakes with the team is another thing that you’ve done from a leadership perspective to strengthen yourself and your team.

When my team looks good, they make me look good. When there’s a miss or a mistake, it’s our mistake. It’s not just theirs. We have to work collectively on how we’re going to fix it and address it. Mistakes are going to be made and that’s fine. We’re doing our best. I can say that with the team I have, we don’t make the same mistakes so we learn from them and move on.

We have to work collectively on how we will fix and address mistakes. Mistakes will be made, and that's fine. Share on X

You don’t necessarily do that if you growl and move on without debriefing and figuring out what went wrong. You’re not necessarily going to avoid the mistake in the future.

We have weekly meetings and our team huddles. A big part of that is sharing things that may have gone wrong but also cautionary tales. We talk about successes and high-profile things that folks should know about. We also talk about, “This person asked me to give an opinion on X, Y, and Z. I could tell they wanted me to say X. I didn’t feel comfortable so here’s how I managed it.” We can talk as a team like if someone else has that problem, maybe they’ll use that approach. There’s no perfect way to do these things and we have to respond in the moment.

The team has to have a little bit of muscle to lean on. It sounds like you’re workshopping those different situations while working in those huddle meetings.

We’re doing some role-playing, workshopping, and whatever might be helpful because it’s not an easy position to be in. Being in-house, if folks are going there to have a stress-free legal career, that is not the landing spot.

I was talking with another general counsel colleague who was new to the role and they said to me they were surprised how much they worked. They had come from a law firm. They perceived that an in-house role would be much more 9:00 to 5:00 or manageable. They said something like, “At the firm, I used to have time.” I was like, “What are you talking about?”

They should have read your show first.

It was before. Otherwise, they would’ve been prepared. It sounds like the way you worked through your leadership journey has helped inform how you lead the team and the team dynamic as well.

It was helpful that that was my foundation, to start and enter the position, looking back on where I’ve been, where I needed to grow, and what I do well. It helped me to think about that for each of my team members.

Have you had folks on your team want to pursue coaching themselves or do they perceive it’s just for the boss?

I’ve had my coach come in and do a retreat, a three-hour session. There was very positive feedback. We did ask for topics and tried to involve everyone. We modified it when we did it a second time. A large part of my job is helping to support my team with their problems. They may have tricky situations and I’ll say, “I need to talk to my coach about this and see if she has ideas.”

She’ll send me different tools like inquiry versus advocacy or SBAR. In a way, I share those resources and I’ve also shared time with my coach and said, “Maybe you should talk to her directly, do a role-playing session with that, and see if she might be able to help you next time that comes up with this person because it probably will.”

Tell me about the retreat sessions. I haven’t talked with a lot of folks about what they do for team development but I’ve done a couple of retreats myself and you went to some of them. I always felt like, “This is what I think but I’m not sure if other people are getting anything out of it.” My perception of lawyers is that we want to get stuff done and why are we in this meeting instead of I’ve got work.

What we did for the retreat was we tried to make it fun. We did icebreakers. One of the things that I enjoy about my coach is that she has these different types of tools and skillsets, skills that you can practice. I asked her if she would do an overview of those and I also asked everyone to tell me something they were challenged by that they wanted to work through as a group. They didn’t have to name them and this is their issue. At least I knew when they left, they would leave with something that they wanted to have addressed. That was the best part.

Were you able to get to everybody or is that why you did a second one?

They asked to have a second one. We did the second one with a slightly different format. We spent more time on the hypotheticals because that’s where we felt like we were receiving the most value.


The Legal Department | Leadership Development | Jeannine Taylor
Leadership Development: We spent more time on the hypotheticals because that’s where we felt like we were receiving the most value.

 

I feel like there’s a theme that you’ve woven in, which shows up for both you in a leadership role and the team. That’s client relations and dealing with personalities and people pushing the envelope. Back to my friend who came from a law firm, that is something that folks moving into in-house situations need to be aware of. You don’t get to be the robot lawyer and give the law, and yes or no, but there are going to be interpersonal conversations. Many times, people came into my office, shut the door, and talked about their colleague or so and so, or they were mad at the CEO. It can be such an uncomfortable role. Can you share some of the techniques or experiences that you’ve walked through with your coach for these types of issues?

Some of them sound very elementary as I say them or think through them but at the moment, sometimes your mind goes blank and you want to tell them, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll get fixed. You’ll get through this.” That’s not helpful. One of the things that she has helped me to focus on is let’s start with what you agree on, try to find that common woven theme through where there’s agreement, and build from there.

The other thing is what you see depends on what your vantage point is. Try to help them see what the other side is. A lot of what we do is counseling and mediating. We are the ones where when there’s a problem, it’s not a legal problem per se but they want us to fix it. It could be a relationship issue. “What do you think the real underlying problem was here? How can we help them get to the same point or see what point you’re trying to make? How do we make room and space for that?”

The other thing is when we build relationships with our clients, we can’t be that robot, “No, this is risky. Don’t do it.” We have to find a solution. If the answer is, “This is risky,” we have to say, “You can do it but here are all the things we have to watch for. Here are some ideas of how we can mitigate that and make it better.” Once they see you as a problem solver, they want you to solve all their problems.

Once they see you as a problem solver, they want you to solve all their problems. Share on X

That’s a good way to look at it. That’s why they come in with all these other therapy needs. Have you had to say no? I always tell people I’ve maybe on said no one hand’s worth of times.

Probably the same. Luckily, I work with clients that are reasonable and think big picture. They appreciate the risk. They may not be happy with the recommendation or why the risk is created and think it’s nonsensical or don’t like the law but they haven’t shut the messenger yet.

All those techniques are working. They’re not blaming you. You’re in the big girl’s seat. Any surprises or did you have perceptions about it before you got into the leadership role?

The surprise is the number of behind-the-scenes work to get folks aligned. Our executives usually present this united front. We assume that it exists and that everybody agrees. There are all these meetings before the meetings and pre-work that’s been done to make that happen that we may not fully appreciate. I see that and I’m involved in them.

It’s good that they appear to be all aligned, even if there’s chaos behind the scenes. We’re getting to the end of the time. I wanted to ask what your goals are in the leadership position at Women Lawyers. It’s such a big platform and an important organization in the Los Angeles County area. I was struck when I read your November President’s message to be the change you want to see, which is a great quote. What are your goals for that role?

There’s a couple of things. I would say the main priorities are collaborating more with some of the other trade associations, the sister bar associations we refer to them as, because we do have that huge platform. We want to be able to leverage it and combine our programming, networking, and mentoring with other associations who are doing that as well so that we’re both getting more value and more exposure. That’s one of my big priorities, to continue and grow it.

The other thing is to increase awareness for junior associates and law school students because they can benefit the most from the mentorship, experiences, and knowledge base of the lawyers who are our members. It’s an easy way for them to tap into all this knowledge. We’re publicizing that a little bit more. We’re going big on our socials. The main reason we are making such a big push on social media is because we want to find where they’re at, and that’s where they’re at. We’re going there.

It’d be so different to start your career in law because the office environment has changed. People are more hybrid. Talking on the law firm side, as rates have gone up, and I know you manage a big budget too, I don’t like to pay junior law firms to train their junior lawyers on my matters. It’s harder for them to get experience. Having a way to connect with established attorneys in the field is important for development.

I can’t imagine starting. There’s a shortage of in-person connection time. I’m hoping that WLALA can help fill some of that gap.

Thank you so much. This has been super interesting. I took some notes along the way of things I want to do with my team. Maybe I’ll do a 360 review. You should probably tell me. We could do that. That could be the next conversation. I always end each episode by asking the guest a little fun question. It’s grounded for me. I have used music throughout my life and career. You’ve been with me. I use a song to change my mood or get me ready to do something hard. I ask every guest what their pump-up song is.

There are so many good ones. Religiously, a fail-safe is Uptown Funk, Bruno Mars. How can you listen to that and not be pumped up?

You cannot be low listening to Uptown Funk. That’s a great one. Jeannine Taylor, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation. I appreciate it.

You are welcome. Thank you for having me.

 

Important Links

Share this blog: