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Indianapolis bottle cap company creates global legal work

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In-House Counsel

A soda or water bottle on the desk at work or a jug of juice in the refrigerator at home might be merely a refreshing drink for most people.

But it’s a day at the office for Stephanie Blackman, a corporate attorney in the business of bottle caps or, as they are known in the food and beverage industry, closure systems.

As a vice president and general counsel at Closure Systems International (CSI), the Vanderbilt University Law School graduate works as the sole legal counsel for the Indianapolis-based company that has 31 manufacturing sites in 20 countries worldwide.

Though her position may entail some of the same legal responsibilities that other corporate counsel face in their jobs – human resources, contract review, corporate governance, and product review – Blackman’s position is unique in that it was created specifically for her about three years ago when the Indianapolis office opened.
 

Blackman-Stephanie-15col Stephanie Blackman is vice president and general counsel for Closure Systems International (CSI) in Indianapolis. She has worked at the company since 2008. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“This has really been different from private practice, but it’s been eye-opening, rewarding, challenging, and fun for me,” Blackman said. “What I’ve noticed most is that with in house, there are a lot of balls in the air all the time.”

While in private practice she was able to focus on one case for a long stretch of time, now Blackman said her days involve much more project management and she must be diligent about keeping all of the balls in the air.

After graduating from law school in 2001, Blackman and her husband decided to move to Indianapolis despite not having any family or personal connections here – they just liked the city and what it offered, she says now. She began her legal career in Indianapolis working as an employment and labor law associate at Barnes & Thornburg.

On March 1, 2008, Alcoa completed the $2.5 billion sale of its packaging and consumer businesses to the private New Zealand company Rank Group Limited that included CSI, Flexible Package, Reynolds Food Packaging, and others. At the time, the packaging businesses had approximately 9,300 employees in about two dozen counties worldwide.

But there wasn’t an Indianapolis office, and within three months Blackman had traded her private law firm office for the new corporate counsel position. It was one of many other jobs created because of that sale, but Blackman says hers was and remains the only legal position here.

Her boss, CEO Lance Mitchell, said the legal position was created specifically because of the sale and subsequent revenue growth that’s meant new products, geographic expansion, and acquisitions.

“As one would anticipate, that growth has created a higher legal workload in intellectual property, customer contracts, purchasing contacts, and manufacturing footprint agreements,” he said, pointing to the first reason for the job’s creation. “The second reason is that Stephanie earned the opportunity for increased responsibility and career growth due to her demonstrated performance since joining our company.”

Responsible for all of CSI’s international business, Blackman’s scope of business includes the type of labor and employment work she once did privately, along with commercial and real estate issues and general corporate governance.

The nature of this closure business has changed dramatically during the past decade as the industry has been transformed by economic and environmental changes. These changes have translated to the creation of smaller, more lightweight caps and a growing trend to be more “green.” A standard 20-ounce bottle now has a closure about two-thirds to one-half the size of what it used to be, while a bottle of water might have a cap that’s half the original size. For those in the closure business, that means making caps with less surface area for someone to grip when opening or closing – a focus that gives Blackman much to do in the area of patents and intellectual property.

That IP area is one that Blackman says she’s found to be among the most intriguing aspects of her job.

“We’re talking about plastic closures – bottle caps – and they are surprisingly complex. There’s a whole range of IP issues wrapped up in any closure because we’re trying to create the best, lightest, smallest, and most tamper-resistant closure,” she said.

The company holds patents across the globe, and that means exposure to many differing cultures and laws within those countries, Blackman said. Most of the time, she deals with one specific geographic location and doesn’t need to compare laws between that region and the U.S., since the manufacturing sites and offices are located as close to the customer as possible.

“This company has such a global footprint, I don’t see much interplay between the U.S. and foreign laws,” she said. “I’m more able to make comparisons between our laws and theirs, and there have been a lot of surprises. Nothing radical or bad, just some things I didn’t expect and make this work even more interesting.”

For example, Blackman pointed to China where legal documents have to be signed in a certain type and color of ink – something that doesn’t warrant differences in legal strategy or policy but offers a twist that must be kept in mind when dealing with legal issues in that country.

“A seemingly easy task of getting something signed becomes a little more complicated because of different customs,” she said.

To keep up on some of those differences, Blackman said she tries to make at least one international trip each year. The company is divided into regions, and she goes to one of those spots to visit. This year, her plan is to visit the Asia-Pacific region.

No matter what she’s doing or where she’s at, Blackman said she tries to keep a sense of humor and good attitude about the work. An open-door policy making the legal department accessible and pleasant for everyone is very important to her, she said.

A resource Blackman said has helped her through the years has been the Association of Corporate Counsel. Blackman has been a board member for the Indiana chapter since 2009, giving her the chance to network and participate on the national level.

That has helped her to learn some of the nuances of the corporate counsel world that she is not able to learn from a mentor or fellow in-house lawyer at her specific company.

“The thing I love the most about being in house is that everyone within the company is on my team,” she said. “I’m very focused on creating solutions to any issues and trying to prevent problems that might come up.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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