Life of a General Counsel
Deborah Solmor has been around the block a few times as an in-house attorney and an experienced litigator. In her current role as General Counsel (GC) & Corporate Secretary at TCS Education System she leads the legal and compliance functions, managing a wide variety of legal, regulatory, and compliance issues. Deborah has successfully navigated the awkwardness and challenges of being a new GC to become an integral and strategic member of the TCS leadership team.
Since I’ve put a lot of thought recently into what it takes to quickly move from newbie status to strategic partner in a new GC role (you can get the New GC Playbook here), I reached out to Deborah, one of Lexion’s newest customers, to get her take on the subject of life as a General Counsel.
Here’s how that conversation with Deborah went:
Any actionable advice to a GC to do during their first 90 days in a role?
When you arrive at your new organization, there is so much to do, and it can seem somewhat overwhelming. The key is to stay focused and prioritize. The first 90 days are critical to integrating yourself into your new organization and establishing a relationship with your team. Three top priorities should be:
(1) a deep dive to understand all aspects of your business including any immediate business objectives and legal needs, the industry, your competitors, the financials and any regulatory framework with an eye towards identifying risks to the business;
(2) assess your team both in terms of their strengths and opportunities and the way in which they interact with each other and try to understand how your clients view the team; and
(3) learn the “people” and culture to understand relationships and the way things get done in the organization.
As the GC, I am an integral member of our leadership team and a critical advisor and partner along the path to implementing our strategic initiatives. I like being at the table and seeing an idea go from conception to execution.
What do you enjoy most about being a GC?
Almost everything! I especially enjoy being part of building something. I am a “reformed litigator” but recall when a case was over, clients were generally looking forward to not having to see me again (for a while anyway)! As the GC, I am an integral member of our leadership team and a critical advisor and partner along the path to implementing our strategic initiatives. I like being at the table and seeing an idea go from conception to execution.
For example, I spent much of the last three years working with our organization to stand up the first osteopathic medical school in the state of Kansas. We recently got authority to recruit our first class of students and will move into our new space in a few weeks.
Being a part of building this from the ground up is a true highlight of my career and being a partner to help the business accomplish its strategic objectives is what I enjoy most about being a GC.
What's the hardest part of being a GC?
Being responsible for so many diverse issues and the expectation that I know how to solve and manage an increasingly wide range of legal challenges. While I am fortunate to have such a talented in-house team, there is often pressure to be able to solve for such a wide variety of legal, regulatory and compliance issues, often quickly and with limited available information. While that is sometimes difficult, it is also one reason that my job is so exciting and challenging. It took more than the first 90 days to gain the confidence to make tough decisions based on the available information and advice from my in-house team. But I have learned to trust my years of experience and instincts and rely on those of my team to provide my best legal advice to my clients.
More about the awesome Deborah
Deborah G. Solmor is the General Counsel & Corporate Secretary at TCS Education System, a nonprofit system of colleges advancing student success and community impact in higher education. TCS’s institutions include the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Saybrook University, Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School, the Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law, and Kansas Health Science Center. Deborah leads the legal and compliance functions within this innovative model that focuses on supporting mission driven non-profit institutions. Prior to joining TCS, she served as Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Litigation and Chief Compliance Officer at Perdoceo Education Corporation, a publicly traded provider of post-secondary education where she led a combined team of ten attorneys and compliance professionals.
In addition to being a highly adaptable and strategic business partner, Deborah is also a seasoned litigator. Prior to moving in-house, she spent many years as Counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP where her practice focused on complex commercial and consumer litigation. Deborah is a CCEP certified compliance professional and is often invited to speak on topics including best practices in regulatory and internal investigations as well as issues related to compliance and marketing in higher education.
Since 2014, she has co-chaired the in-house counsel committee of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. In 2019 and again in 2021 Deborah was included as a Crain’s Notable General Counsel. She is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Women’s General Counsel Network and the founder of Ready. . . Set. . .GC . . ., a program that brings together new women general counsel to share content and build networks.
She holds a Juris Doctor from the DePaul University College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Northwestern University.
In summary, Deborah is awesome. You should follow or connect with her on LinkedIn. Get more tips on how to start and love your job as an in-house attorney in this Playbook I wrote just for you, The General Counsel Playbook.