This blog post is part one of “Innovative Legal Leaders” - an ongoing series spotlighting top legal minds from various industries (F500, non-profits, F100 law firms).
Our very first profile is on Allen Waxman, the President & CEO of the International Institute of Conflict Prevention and Resolution. Allen’s expansive legal career entails everything from working as a partner in multiple law firms, to general counsel in the life science industry, and his current role at CPR, a non-profit organization and think tank dedicated to conflict prevention and resolution.
What interested you in conflict prevention and resolution? What does your day-to-day at CPR look like?
First, I should probably tell you about my initial interest in managing conflict. Ever since my days as a law student, I equated lawyering with advocating for a client or a cause. Perhaps, this was from getting a healthy dose of Perry Mason, Owen Marshall, LA Law. So I started off wanting to go to court. I thought I wanted to be a prosecutor and worked as a law clerk during law school in prosecutors’ offices. However, when I graduated from law school, I received a terrific offer to join the law firm of Williams & Connolly. I thought I would practice there for a couple of years, receive the benefit of their training and then become a prosecutor. Little did I know how engrossing working at W&C would be. I stayed for nearly 15 years. One of the first cases I was put on was a defense of a first-degree murder case. I became a criminal defense lawyer! I loved going into court and defending my client. I then gravitated to civil work and defending other clients.
After I left Williams & Connolly, I went in-house at Pfizer. I started observing that litigation was not always or even mostly the best option for resolving conflict. It is expensive, draining of resources and mindshare, and poses a great deal of uncertainty for reaching an outcome. It was at Pfizer that I was first introduced to CPR. CPR’s mission of finding more effective and efficient ways to resolve disputes really resonated with me.
Now I find myself leading this small but rather mighty organization. We cover a lot of ground. The CPR Institute, our think tank, has over 200 member organizations – companies, law firms, practitioners, neutrals – whom we convene in committees and task forces to help us innovate and develop tools that can be used in managing disputes. We seek to do this with an emphasis on the end-user perspective. We also publish cutting-edge articles on dispute management through our award-winning journal, Alternatives, and our blog, CPRSpeaks. We host events all over the world (and online) to bring people together to network and share best practices. At the same time, our other division, CPR Dispute Resolution, offers dispute management services, where anyone can come to us with their dispute for help in getting it resolved by tapping into our Panel of Distinguished Neutrals – 650 strong, as well as the rules and procedures generated by the CPR-Institute and the case management team.
As CEO I work with our highly dedicated team in all of these areas on a daily basis in addition to constantly evaluating how we can best continue to fulfill our mission. The day goes by very quickly!
You’ve held a series of different positions in the course of your career - from partner and GC to Executive VP and now CEO. Can you take us through your transition from law firm partner to general counsel? What motivated you to make this transition, and what were the attendant challenges and rewards? Increasingly, the GC role is becoming a stepping stone to the CEO position and other positions in the C-suite. What qualities and skills do GCs bring to the table that make them the right candidates for the top job?
I am curious by nature. I was doing a lot of work on mass tort pharmaceutical cases, and the opportunity to go in-house at a pharma company found me. I was intrigued about being part of a single mission alongside my colleagues. Pfizer did not disappoint. It is very mission-oriented, and it’s amazing and personally fulfilling to see – and be a part of -- thousands of people working together inspired by the same mission.
I think the General Counsel role offers a unique perch that serves the move to the CEO role well. It provides an enterprise perspective for the organization much like that necessary for the CEO role. The successful GC really has to understand all aspects of the business if the role is going to support the success of the business. It also places a premium on taking a long-term view of the business – not just what will make us successful in this quarter’s earnings report but over the long term. Ultimately, it is this long-term perspective that helps companies win.
You previously worked as a General Counsel at multiple biotechnology companies. What were some of the challenges unique to this industry?
Like some other industries, it is highly regulated, very competitive, and reliant upon preserving its intellectual property. I think this makes the GC role mission critical in any biotech company. But even more unique to biotech is the nature of the issues at stake and the understanding that you can be dealing with issues that impact the health of human beings. Evaluating the risks and benefits of medicines is at the core of much of what these companies do. This often poses unique and difficult questions. I love those questions, and they make the GC role particularly interesting and important.
What role does technology play in the practice of law today? How can legal professionals leverage technology—particularly AI—to better represent their clients and distinguish the role they play in their organization?
To paraphrase the line from the Clinton Administration, it is all about the data, stupid! Certainly, healthcare recognizes that. And, increasingly, so does the law. I recall when we relied upon hunches to make enormously important decisions. Now, with the help of AI and other data algorithms we can test those hunches against the data, we can understand trends, and we can more smartly work to prevent disputes – which is a central objective of CPR.
What is your proudest career moment?
I really have had many career moments of which I am proud. But what always fills me with the greatest pride is assembling a team to work toward a common mission, and achieving it! That is a great feeling.
What are you most excited to do after the pandemic? What do you do in your free time?
Be with people – at dinner, at a sports event, in the park, at home. I like to exercise – hiking and biking top my list. I am a big fan of Peloton. My hashtag is #LessConfMorePurpose. Come ride with me.
What’s your favorite legal drama (it can be a streaming show, movie, or TV)?
A Few Good Men – I can handle the truth 😉
Huge thanks to Allen for taking time out of his busy day to answer some of our questions. To stay up to date at Text IQ and see whose up next in our "Innovative Legal Leaders" series, subscribe to our blog posts below.