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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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