Alumni Q+A with Amanda Packel

August.30.2018

Amanda Packel is the Managing Director of the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and Stanford Graduate School of Business that supports research and hosts events and executive education programs related to corporate governance issues. She worked as an associate at Orrick in the White Collar group from 2005 to 2008.

1. What do you like most about your job?

I love bridging the exchange of information between academic researchers who study corporate governance, and the people who are grappling with corporate governance issues every day, including attorneys, boards of directors and CEOs. At Orrick, I conducted internal investigations where I saw what happened when there were failures of corporate governance. Now I get to be involved a lot earlier in the process, and give board members and executives practical takeaways that help them understand and anticipate governance issues and navigate likely challenges..

2. What’s different about your job today than your job at Orrick?

At Orrick, my view of corporate governance was fairly company specific. With any matter, I would learn about a particular company and a specific chronology of events, and there was a closed universe of what there was to learn. In my job now, it’s the exact opposite. I am trying to absorb the broader landscape of what is happening in corporate governance in our country today. The biggest challenge here, which also presents an opportunity, is that there is so much information to consume, including an abundance of research, the day-to-day news cycle, and the ongoing debate about the role of the corporation in society. It is a fascinating time to be studying corporate governance right now when investors, both activists and passive investors, are taking on a much more significant role in shaping these issues.. 

3. What’s something you learned at Orrick that is helpful to you now?

At Orrick, I worked on many investigations where companies were trying to understand whether any wrongdoing had occurred and what individuals, processes, or aspects of the culture may have been responsible for any corporate governance failures. Drawing on examples of what could go wrong has helped me understand the importance of having the right people, processes, and culture in place. My experience at Orrick of working with boards in the aftermath of a crisis has also underscored the importance of being prepared. Although it may be hard to predict the timing or nature of a crisis, there is a great deal the company can do to prepare to react to any type of crisis, whether it’s a cyber-attack, a government investigation, or a sexual harassment scandal involving the CEO. 

4. Tell us about some of your mentors at Orrick.

I am grateful for the many outstanding mentors at I had at Orrick, each of whom taught me lessons that I continue to draw upon in the decade since I left the firm. I came to Orrick to work with Walt Brown, whose work and style I had come to admire after working on cases with him at my former firm. But one of the best things about working in the white collar group at Orrick was the opportunity to learn from so many great Orrick partners, including Melinda Haag and Pam Davis, as well as others. The investigations often involved travel that allowed for a lot of time to get to know colleagues. Through the Stanford Directors’ College program that I run, I have had the opportunity to invite some of these Orrick partners to speak at our events, so we have been able to stay connected over the years.

5. How do you see the practice of law changing?

Since the financial crisis, I’ve seen companies cut their budgets for outside counsel, which has led to alternative fee arrangements, including a move away from hourly billing. Financial pressures and the advances in technology have also led corporate law departments to rethink their own staffing. I think we’ll continue to see more changes, especially in how technology will affect aspects of practice.

To flip your question on its head, one place where I think the practice has not moved the needle enough relates to diversity and flexible work arrangements among law firm partners. I’m heartened to see that firms are paying more attention to this. I see firms like Orrick and others experimenting to find the right solution to address this problem, but I also understand why it is more difficult for law firms to achieve great leaps. As a client service business, it is often harder to put the right boundaries on engagements when clients are in crisis mode. But I think there is much more progress to be made.

6. What piece of advice would you give young lawyers?

By nature, lawyers tend to be risk averse and imagine everything that can go wrong. Don’t let this stop you. Take on stretch assignments. Challenge yourself when presented with the opportunity to take depositions. Look for opportunities that can take you in a different direction in your career. 

7. What boards do you sit on and what are the rewards/challenges of that participation?

I sit on the boards of two organizations, each with a tie to corporate governance. One is the Thirty Percent Coalition, an organization that is working to increase gender diversity on corporate boards. Its members are corporations, institutional investors, advocacy groups and academics. I’ve written a few articles in this area, and I’m very passionate about the importance of diversity on boards and in corporate leadership more generally. Through the Coalition, I have had the opportunity to develop strong relationships with some of the thought leaders working to promote diversity on corporate boards. The second board I sit on is the Silicon Valley Directors’ Exchange (SVDX), an all-volunteer organization that provides corporate directors of Silicon Valley companies with a forum for education, conversation about current issues, and networking. Both of the boards have provided insight into some of the governance challenges that all organizations face.

I would recommend joining a board where you are passionate about the mission. It can be a challenge to try to find time for outside boards, but I am lucky to be involved with boards that have a strong connection to my day job, so the time spent helps to enhance my knowledge and expand my network. 

8. What are you doing outside of your job that you’re excited about?

I spend time with my two sons, ages five and seven. Both of their schools are very close to Stanford campus, so I am able to volunteer at their schools and with their sports teams.

I’ve been a runner since I started jogging with my dad as a kid, but I took the last several years off from racing. Last year I trained for a half-marathon, my first one in nine years! My husband and I are also avid sailors. We have a sailboat by South Beach Harbor, and we love to take friends out on the bay or over to Angel Island. Sailing is a great way to relax and escape from the stress of our daily routines. We’ve taken several sailing vacations where we sleep on the boat and visit different islands each day, and we took our kids on their first big sailing vacation this spring in the British Virgin Islands. It was an amazing family experience, and it was so inspiring to see how the beauty of the islands survived the hurricane and how resilient the residents were in the aftermath of so much destruction.