Bar News - December 16, 2015
Practitioner Profile: Timberland GC Combines Law and Design on a Global Scale
By: Carol Robidoux
Timberland Vice President and General Counsel Kristine Marvin stands next to a company timeline at headquarters in Stratham.
“It’s about figuring out how to marry what your interests and passions are with a company that’s in line with those.”
– Kristine Marvin
Vice President/General Council, Timberland
At the peak of the dot-com bubble, Kristine Marvin was in the thick of things, working hard and quite happily for Goodwin Procter in Boston, primarily representing companies interested in going public. And there were plenty of those to go around.
Nobody imagined that the bubble was just about to burst.
“It was crazy busy – the hours were intense but I was doing really sophisticated and interesting work – phone calls on a regular basis with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, all kinds of stuff I’d never seen before, with partners who were experts in their field,” says Marvin.
Despite the energy and excitement of those dot-com days, Marvin left that job right before the collapse – leading some to wonder whether she had somehow predicted it. She found out about a rare opening in the legal department at Timberland in 2000, and nearly 16 years later, she still works at the company’s Stratham headquarters.
“I’ve never looked back,” says Marvin, who serves as company vice president and general counsel, leading a team of in-house attorneys.
Marvin, who says she didn’t plan to attend law school early on, explains her unconventional pathway to corporate law, which began with an undergraduate degree in design and environmental analysis from Cornell University.
“Ideally, I wanted to work for a big architectural firm in New York City, but graduation coincided with the recession, and design jobs were few and far between,” she says. “So, I tried to figure out how to combine design work with something a little more predictable. My thinking was to combine a degree in law with my design training, doing something related to real estate, project management, construction – that seemed like the logical next step.”
She had spent a summer internship working for a full-service law firm where her “a-ha” moment came while doing corporate and finance work. She landed the job at Goodwin in 1997, and planned on staying about five years before seeking an in-house corporate position.
However, opportunity knocked much sooner than anticipated when an attorney from Timberland called to see if she had interest in a junior position that had just opened up.
“I was doing the round-trip commute into Boston, and loving every minute of my work at Goodwin. But I also knew the turnover at Timberland was historically low. After I interviewed I thought that if I didn’t take the job now, I might never have another chance. Plus, it was seven miles, door-to-door, from where my husband and I lived,” says Marvin.
“The core values of the company fit with my own core values, and 15-plus years later, I still feel that way,” she adds.
Timberland, which began as a small family boot-making business more than 40 years ago, was acquired in 2011 by the global giant VF Corporation, presenting Marvin with all sorts of new opportunities, including navigating regulatory fine print and digging into global trade issues.
As legal counsel for a footwear and apparel company that does most of its manufacturing outside the United States, Marvin was actively involved in supporting a legislative initiative known as the US Outdoor Act, which looks at how international trade agreements and duty rates are applied to outdoor performance apparel being imported into the US.
Marvin has also become an expert in the “grey market” – unlike the black market, she says the grey market involves a different kind of challenge, where distribution channels for legitimate manufactured goods, while legal, are not those intended or authorized by the manufacturer.
“True counterfeit also remains a serious issue in the marketplace. There are a lot of rabbit holes where counterfeit goods are concerned,” says Marvin. “People think of it as victimless crime, but it’s not.”
Not only is there evidence that money made on the black market is often funneled into support of terrorism and international drug rings, but also that the quality of the fake merchandise sold that way is highly suspect – posing the greatest hazard within industries like electronics and medication.
“We have a network of investigators, and we also work very closely with local law enforcement officials, and particularly customs officials, who are at the front lines of this, where merchandise is constantly coming in and out of different countries,” Marvin says.
But from a complexity standpoint, the most challenging – and fortunately rare – aspect of her work at Timberland is handling consumer complaints over product quality issues.
“There’s a lot of complexity to trying to find out the root cause of the issue. When something first comes up, you need to figure out a number of things right away – is there product in the market yet, or is it on the water somewhere, has it left the distribution center, or is it at a retailer? And how serious is the problem? Fortunately, quality issues for us are pretty rare, but with a global supply chain, those kinds of issues can be very complex.”
Her focus for the coming year, professionally, will be keeping a close eye on global trade issues, including trade investigations centered around South and Central American countries – vastly different territory from her days working in Boston.
But making the decision to become an in-house attorney was more of a lifestyle choice, Marvin says. On any given day, she and her team handle a range of legal challenges, from trade, real estate and social media law, to advertising, retail, e-commerce, regulatory and customs compliance issues, to name just a few.
“Pretty much the only thing we don’t do is litigate – however we do manage litigation issues. If we are sued, which thankfully seldom happens, we need to engage specialized local counsel that can represent us in that jurisdiction,” Marvin says. “That being said, our job is to do everything in our power to prevent issues from happening in the first place, and our team is very aware of where those pitfalls are.”
Going from a law practice to an in-house position may not be right for everyone, Marvin says, but it can allow an attorney to apply legal expertise in a field outside of law where they also have some personal passion. For instance, Marvin recognizes that her inner architectural designer connects with Timberland’s strong commitment to smart and sustainable design.
“It’s about figuring out how to marry what your interests and passions are with a company that’s in line with those,” Marvin says.
“Not that there are terribly many in-house positions, but there are resources for finding where those opportunities lie,” says Marvin, including the Association of Corporate Counsel, the in-house equivalent of the American Bar Association, and the New England Corporate Counsel Association.
“There are firm lawyers who really thrive on the deal culture, and all the excitement that comes along with that, so that the general practice nature of in-house may not feed their passion,” Marvin says.
“There are trade-offs to everything, and working in Boston was exciting and fast-paced. But what is your time worth, what things are important to you from a ‘life’ perspective – those are the decisions that led me here to Timberland. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me – I get to work with a smart and passionate team on really interesting business challenges, while at the same time staying true to my values and having time for family.”
Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer and the editor/publisher of Manchester Ink Link.