Interview with Uzma Saghir, Senior Corporate Counsel at Liberty Mutual
Manleen Singh sits down via Zoom with Uzma Saghir, Senior Corporate Counsel at Liberty Mutual in Boston, Massachusetts.
Tell me about your current role.
I work on the corporate side, for two main clients – Procurement and Meeting Management and Event Strategy. For Procurement, Liberty spends over $12 billion a year with suppliers and service providers. Typically, the business side will work with our internal stakeholders, and select, engage, and manage supplier relationships to support the stakeholders’ objectives. These suppliers also have to be in line with Liberty’s ethical and cultural standards.
The second client is Meeting Management and Event Strategy – very simply put, think of event planners but for company-organized meetings and events. They will work with our stakeholders to plan the most secure and effective way to achieve a meeting/event objective but with a “wow” factor.
How did you get to Liberty?
After law school, I was a judicial clerk at the state trial court in Massachusetts. From there, I joined Greenberg Traurig, LLP where I was a corporate securities associate. But, I always knew I wanted to work in-house. I saw a posting and applied for a lateral private equity position at Liberty Mutual. I was open and transparent about not wanting to pivot from private equity to insurance law and was pleased to learn of the legal advice and support I would provide Liberty Mutual Investments. I had an amazing transition from big law to in-house – I was very lucky.
Especially in Fortune 100 companies, there is often opportunity to pivot, and you often have to pivot to grow. That’s how I was given the opportunity to transition my focus to procurement and meeting management, and they remain my passion.
Can you talk about your experience as a woman attorney of color in the legal and insurance industries?
I am engaged in board work, with a specific focus on minorities, whether women or people of color, such as the Asian American Lawyers Association in Massachusetts, and the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston. While I find my work rewarding, I am committed to ensuring access to justice, which I have facilitated as a board member of the Women’s Bar Foundation. Professionally, my pro bono representation and lobbying has provided hands-on training and collaboration with experts throughout the Commonwealth.
I always knew I wanted to be an attorney and that goal-oriented mindset was needed since, as you know, the legal profession is challenging, demanding many sacrifices to not only get accepted into law school, but further passing the bar and getting a job that grows into a career. I think there is added pressure, not only as a woman, but as a woman of color, to represent the best in professionalism, so I really needed that conviction throughout the journey.
Even today, I need to keep my career trajectory moving, moving higher. It is not about being limited, but staying in the climb and ensuring that you are growing. You need to have that room to grow within your workplace and create that higher vision for yourself, but also have people around you who are conducive to that vision.
What advice would you give to others to ensure that they have the mentors, sponsors, and allies they need to grow?
Change in business is inevitable, and the in-house legal department is no exception. I focus away from black letter law and become a resource for project management and strategy. I apply my skills to risk analysis or other areas broader than a purely legal context. This means that I need to understand the interconnection of the operation, reputational, and financial risk, in addition to the legal risk. I do that by collaborating with my colleagues in management and leadership, avoiding silos. I think that has been key for me being in the room when important decisions are made and advancing my career.
What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Change in business is inevitable, and the change in legal advice will match that of your business client, so change in the practice of law is also inevitable. When you’re in law school and people ask you what kind of law you want to practice, it is expected to create a label for yourself, say in family law or real estate law. But when you start practicing, you realize that you can be broader in your legal practice. It’s good to have a focus area, but you can add other practice areas to your portfolio, and I didn’t realize the value of that.
That’s great advice since our current environment demands more flexibility. How have you adapted to our new reality?
Continuing best practices from before the pandemic as much as possible. I still have to keep my relationships with clients and with my colleagues going, so I still keep all my check-ins, but virtually now. That’s been fantastic. On the opposite side, there have been new concerns from my clients, like validity of e-signatures. I’ve been asked to answer these basic legal questions where the answer is straightforward, but I find it important to acknowledge that the uncertainty of legal processes and change from the routine is another anxiety point with clients. Time has especially been of the essence in my post-pandemic counsel, most everything is “urgent review” these days. There are also a lot of considerations outside of legal, such as my clients’ business relationships with their service providers and suppliers, and doing the right thing continues to be a priority for both the business side and me as a responsible legal partner.
It’s not just a Boston pandemic or a Massachusetts pandemic; it is truly worldwide. Every time I come to the table with opposing counsel, we’re all coming from a place of reason. Both sides want to make a contract -- they want the relationship to work because it is a mutually beneficial relationship. We are trying to mitigate the risk evenly and the financial loss associated because we are all impacted.
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