Chief Counsel – Employee Benefits and ERISA | International Paper Company
How have you and/or company helped others since March?
International Paper is the world’s largest manufacturer of fiber-based packaging (think brown boxes). Fairly early in the pandemic, we noticed a particularly hard-hit sector was nonprofit food distribution centers; they’re seeing huge increases in demand from needy populations and they need boxes to distribute food to people. In May, IP committed to donate more than two million boxes to organizations in Middle Tennessee (e.g., Second Harvest, Mid-South Food Bank) and we launched a social media campaign — #HelpFillTheBoxes — to raise awareness about food banks’ needs.
COVID-19 has changed so much about life and your company has been on the forefront of those changes. How has your job changed or role become different in 2020?
Benefit lawyers usually get a lot of advance notice before new rules go into effect, but we weren’t spared from the COVID-19 legislative onslaught any more than others. We had to shift gears pretty quickly. The federal CARES Act made it easier for employees to access their retirement accounts while working and we saw a lot of changes in how employees were asking for medical benefits to be delivered, too. The rise in telemedicine was just one example. I think it will be interesting to see whether that lasts. Like a lot of Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys (current and former), I’m also wondering how permanent the change in how we deliver legal services will be.
How did your time at Bass, Berry & Sims prepare you for facing the challenges we see today?
The firm really taught me the importance of brevity in addressing legal issues (“Be brief, be bright, be gone”). Clients want practical advice they can act on even when there are no (or many) “right” answers. To the degree COVID-19 puts a greater premium on nimbleness and agility from lawyers (e.g., as we all work dispersed from one another), I think that will become more pronounced.
What is your one ‘work from home’ item you can’t live without?
A new coffee bean grinder…COVID-19 has transformed me from a fairly casual coffee drinker, usually grabbing something on the go, into a minor connoisseur. From what I can tell, there’s not yet a word for this (something parallel to oenophile?).
If you could pick one person to be quarantined with for the next six months, who would it be and why? Living or dead?
Ok, I have to go with Liam Gallagher, but only if the Lionel Messi transfer goes through at Manchester City. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll say Forrest McDonald (the musician…although his father, Forrest McDonald the historian, would also be interesting).