Lee Reichert’s almost 10-year tenure at Molson Coors has been filled with impressive leadership and a thoughtful effort to make positive, lasting changes in the company and the legal profession. One such effort was the creation of an 18-month law department clerkship which has created additional opportunities for diverse law school graduates. It exposes young lawyers to in-house legal work, providing them with a powerful – and highly marketable – experience straight out of law school. Below, Lee talks us through his company’s innovative clerkship program and its goal to impact DEI for Molson Coors and in the legal profession.
But first – eight “fill in the blanks” with Lee:
Lee Reichert: Eight Questions
The best thing a GC can do for the company is:
“Develop the next generation of leaders.”
One big change in the corporate legal sector by 2025 will be:
“AI becoming more commonplace. It’s coming for sure, and it’s going to be a gamechanger.”
The hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally was:
“Going through the repercussions of the tragic shooting at our Milwaukee facility last February, followed immediately by the pandemic shutdown. Truly the most challenging and biggest learning experience of my career.”
I love it when law firm lawyers:
“Really understand our business and our industry.”
Three things I love about my team’s culture:
“We put our people first, we strive to learn something every day, and we celebrate our victories together.”
One thing I should really change about the way I work:
“My team keeps reminding me not to send emails at all hours!”
One sentence of advice for my 25-year-old self:
“Slow down and enjoy the journey.”
The thing in life I’m most proud of:
“Two teenage kids – and they’re both professional actors!”
Lee Reichert: In His Own Words
The Best of Both Worlds
Many law students want to become in-house lawyers, perhaps to be the GC of a company someday. But in-house jobs are slim pickings for young lawyers, and especially those just graduating from law school. So you have these smart, eager-to-learn new attorneys out there – they want some experience and a well-informed view on in-house practice. Hiring them is affordable, but a company wouldn’t usually hire someone straight out of law school to stay on indefinitely. And it might not be best for their professional development anyway.
So we thought, what if there was a way to experience the best of both worlds, learning strategies and elements of business as an in-house lawyer while also building lasting relationships with outside counsel, right out of law school? That’s how we created our clerkship program – it’s like a judicial clerkship, it runs for a defined period. In our case it’s 18 months. The clerks create a lot of value for Molson Coors – our business partners and legal department staff love them. And when the 18 months is up, these young lawyers are very sought-after because of that experience.
The clerkship program has also allowed us to lead and drive change on diversity, equity and Inclusion (DEI) issues. DEI is a major priority for our company and the outside firms we work with, so we aim to recruit mostly diverse candidates. The opportunity for young diverse lawyers to work and develop relationships with both an in-house legal team and outside counsel is a rarity that I’m proud to be a part of.
From Idea to Execution
When the idea came up, we wondered what reception it would get from in-house counsel, business clients, law firms and the like. We really didn’t get resistance from anyone – everyone at Molson Coors was thrilled about this initiative and saw it as an amazing learning opportunity for dedicated new attorneys. And it brought a sense of innovation or novelty to how we approach our business – a willingness to do things differently.
Our law firms were just as supportive. Our outside counsel have the opportunity to create working relationships with the clerks, and the clerks often receive offers to work at these firms after their clerkships are up. It’s not the usual direction talent travels – from an in-house department to a law firm. I know that law firms really appreciate getting lawyers coming their way who have marketable skills based on their time with Molson Coors as well as a better understanding of how our company and in-house department function. The program also helps the law firms recruit talented diverse attorneys they otherwise would not have gained exposure to.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t give a huge shout out to my supportive legal team. It takes a commitment from the whole team to make an initiative like this work. The team has to be willing to invest the time, training, and oversight necessary for these young attorneys to succeed – and they have truly delivered.
For the team and the clients, the hard part is sticking to the commitment to let these folks go at the 18 month point. It’s not that they couldn’t come back in the future, but to make the program work long term we believe we need to stick to the commitment up front to make it a great 18-month experience and to send that young lawyer off to learn even more somewhere else. Having transitioned to remote work during the pandemic, we’ve had to temporarily pause the program since most of the magic happens in the training and mentoring that takes place in the office, but as we move back into our offices we are excited to pick back up.
Why This Matters
The program opens the door for diverse law school graduates to experience a series of important opportunities. We can provide exposure to a range of projects and practice areas – contracts, procurement, IT projects, client counseling and policy development. The areas we don’t cover are often touched by our law firms. For example, we rely on our outside firms anytime we had M&A projects or long-term litigation. We try to get the clerks involved in working with the law firms on those things, and that range of practice areas builds their portfolios and gives them a chance to find out what they genuinely like to do.
What really excites me is the impact we’ve had on DEI efforts, both for our team and the DEI journeys of our law firms. Our diverse attorney candidates shine when it comes to making connections within our company and with our outside firms. They’ve had good employment opportunities, and as I said – internally, there are always people who want them to stay. Maybe some of them can migrate back to us in the long run. We would hope that they will come back later in their careers if we are the best career choice for them, but that’s up to them. They’re fantastic people! But it’s also the rewarding part – you see these people succeed and have a great path forward.