Jennifer Rochon, the first-ever General Counsel of the Girl Scouts of the USA, discusses her role with the iconic institution, and how the organization is remaining on the cutting edge in the 21st century.
CCBJ: Before joining the Girl Scouts of the USA, you spent more than a decade with Kramer Levin in its litigation practice, and you were the first woman to sit on the firm’s executive committee. What was that experience like?
Jennifer Rochon: It’s a great firm. I had many terrific opportunities there, working on all different types of litigation. I worked on some of the largest bankruptcies out there. I litigated false-advertising cases. I did arbitrations and trials for pharma companies, as well as criminal investigations related to LIBOR setting and OFAC compliance. I had a very diverse litigation practice. The other thing I loved about my work at Kramer Levin was that I was co-chair of the women’s initiative committee with Kerri Ann Law, where we worked toward the hiring, retention and advancement of more women in the legal profession. That was critically important to me. I also learned a great deal about executive management and the business of law during my time on the firm’s executive committee.
Finally, my two wonderful children were born while I was at Kramer Levin – in fact, I was promoted to partner while I was on maternity leave with my second child. It’s a place where you’re respected and supported as a whole person, and I was really happy with my time there.
What brought you to the Girl Scouts?
The most rewarding parts of my job at Kramer Levin were, like I said, learning new things and supporting the advancement of women lawyers. So when I was approached about becoming the first general counsel of this iconic women and girls’ organization, I just couldn’t pass it up. I had an opportunity to create the legal department and help chart the strategy, as part of the executive leadership team, for services and programs that touch millions of girls’ lives.
And I have to say, it’s an incredible organization. There are approximately 57 million alumni of the Girl Scouts, who are represented in all facets of leadership in this country. Seventy-four percent of all women senators were Girl Scouts, 56 percent of women governors were Girl Scouts, 100 percent of women secretaries of state were Girl Scouts, as were 80 percent of women tech leaders. And we’re working to create the next generation of leaders. The programs for these girls are cutting edge: from outdoor adventures to cybersecurity and computer science, to entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
When I joined the organization, I also started a Girl Scout troop for my daughter and some of the other girls in her school. We’ve done badges ranging from sports to forensics to camping to civic engagement. I know they’ve really enjoyed it.
Describe your leadership style. Who are your influences?
I’m a collaborative leader. I try to surround myself with smart, mission-driven people and make sure that their talents are used and developed to the fullest. I encourage my team to be very analytical, logical and rigorous in their analyses of various things, but I also think it’s important to be able to see many sides of issues and to be open to input and work creatively toward innovative new ideas. That combination is an important one for in-house lawyers.
In terms of who has influenced me, I’ve had some great mentors. One of them was Harold Weinberger, a partner at Kramer Levin. He’s very smart but doesn’t sweat the small stuff. As a leader, he taught me that it’s really important to think strategically about next steps, but when things go wrong to focus on the bigger picture.
As the first general counsel of Girl Scouts of the USA, how has your role evolved and what are your primary areas of focus?
It’s been very invigorating and exciting to come here and create the organization’s first law department. I oversee several areas: legal obviously, which includes litigation as well as transactional work, contract work, intellectual property to protect our very trusted brand, exempt organization issues, employment, and all other legal issues that come up. I also oversee corporate governance and support the work of our terrific 30 member national board. And I supervise risk and insurance.
As a member of the executive leadership team, I work with the other executives on strategic initiatives and the overall business imperatives of the organization. For example, I’ve worked on large real estate transactions, cybersecurity readiness and training, and sophisticated technology initiatives.
What are some significant initiatives or partnerships that the organization has going on right now?
Technology is a big focus. A few years ago, we launched the Digital Cookie program, where girls create web pages and tracking mechanisms and goal-setting for managing their Girl Scout Cookie Program activities, which is a fun new twist on the program.
As you move into the technology space in different areas, you have cybersecurity challenges, obviously. We don’t just teach our girls how to be safe when they use technology – we also want them to be the next generation of leaders in this area. So another initiative that we have is working with Palo Alto Partners to develop cybersecurity badges and learning activities for our girls.
We also have partnership initiatives related to the outdoors. For instance, we have one with The North Face to highlight all of the great outdoor programming that we do, including adventure programming and camping. We have partnerships with state and national parks, as well as partnerships around STEM and civic engagement.
We see all of our great programming ultimately highlighted in the projects that girls do to achieve the Girl Scouts Gold Award, our highest award for Girl Scouts who work on society’s grand challenges. Gold Award Girl Scouts do things like help get legislation passed, roll out environmental sustainability initiatives or create important documentaries on veterans’ stories. Just amazing things that are changing the world.
Talk about the culture within the Girl Scouts organization overall.
It’s like a 100-year-old start-up. We were founded in 1912, but the types of things that are going on here, and the pace at which we’re doing them, makes it feel like a start-up. We always say that we have to move at the speed of the girls and that’s fast!
The culture is centrally focused on the girls, making sure everything we do is about empowering girls and enhancing leadership, which I love. Our mission statement – “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place” – truly permeates everything we do. We have a Girl Scout Research Institute. We have child development experts. We’re committed to giving girls avenues to exhibit all of their wonderful skills and traits, while also giving them new experiences and opportunities to try things that they’ve never done before. Our culture is focused on making sure that we do everything possible to create the next generation of girl leaders.
Published May 17, 2019.