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Patricia Petty

Senior Counsel
Conservation International Foundation

What is your specific role, and what does this entail?

My primary responsibility is the management of all legal risk and activity related to intellectual property (including IT, branding, production, clearance and licensing of visual assets). Additionally, I provide legal advice related to governance matters, complex grant transactions with multilateral and bilateral donors and the protection of the organisation’s tax-exempt status.

How is the legal team structured locally and globally?

The general counsel’s office is responsible for managing all institutional legal and compliance risk and consists of four attorneys, four internal auditors, and four risk and compliance professionals who all report to the general counsel. Two additional attorneys in our Ecosystem Finance Division handle the organisation’s transactional matters related to ecosystem investments.

What are the key challenges and opportunities facing your legal team at the moment?

Programmatic budget realities and uncertain legal environments in the regions in which we maintain operations.

Are there unique challenges for your legal team in dealing with multiple jurisdictions or cross-border business? Do you have an international panel?

The legal framework for foreign NGOs who maintain global field operations is not always clearly defined in foreign jurisdictions. Employment laws are prone to frequent change, which adds to the complexity of immigration and double-taxation questions for international assignees. We maintain an extensive network of foreign local counsel whose expertise we draw upon for non-routine local matters.

How significant are legal issues in your company’s international strategy?

Legal issues are an integral part of Conservation International’s risk management approach and all attorneys and risk management professionals collaborate closely to help the organisation make smart and risk-balanced decisions as part of its strategic and programmatic focus.

When would you typically enlist external counsel rather than doing the work in-house?

For non-routine matters or matters with a significant risk exposure, we commonly rely on additional external advice.

How do you instruct external counsel domestically and internationally?

All external counsel are managed through and instructed by the general counsel’s office to avoid fragmentation of the overall legal strategy and risk management.

What are the key elements in making a decision about which external counsel to hire?

Relevant expertise as evidenced by references from peer organisations, responsiveness, solution-oriented and practical advice, willingness to provide discounted fees or pro bono advice due to our non-profit status.

What are your best and worst experiences in hiring external counsel?

The best experience in using external counsel is when the firm understands its role as an early warning system that we can rely on before legal risk materialises. The worst experience is when external counsel provides long-winded memos that lack a focus on solutions and concrete next steps.

What makes a great in-house counsel?

A great in-house counsel adds clear and measurable business value by guiding business units from the structuring to the execution of a transaction, by offering legal alternatives and solutions, and facilitating balanced risk decisions that correspond with the organisation’s risk appetite.  

Conservation International Foundation

  • HQ Location: Virginia, United States
  • Industry/sector: nonprofit
  • Year of foundation: 1987
  • Number of employees: 800+
  • Company reach: 30+ offices worldwide
  • Visit website

All statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual and not the organisation.

Published July 2016

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