ABA Women in Antitrust Spotlight
This ABA Women in Antitrust spotlight features Alanna Rutherford, Vice President in charge of Global Litigation & Competition at Visa. Alanna is based in New York City and was interviewed by Lindsey Vaala, counsel at Vinson & Elkins in Washington, D.C. and co-chair of the Antitrust Law Section’s Cartel & Criminal Practice Committee.
- Being a lawyer was NOT the plan – After graduating from Georgetown University’s renowned school of foreign service, Alanna planned to join the U.S. diplomatic corps (a great way to see the world); she even passed the notoriously formidable Foreign Service exam on the first try. But as luck would have it, the Government instituted an 18-month hiring freeze just as she became eligible for an appointment. To keep busy while she waited, Alanna applied for other jobs and to law school. By the time the Foreign Service called a year later, she was happily ensconced at Columbia Law School and has never looked back.
- Globetrotter – Move over, Carmen Sandiego! Bitten by the travel bug at an early age, Alanna has circled the globe, visiting 104 countries and counting. The trickiest destination so far? Seychelles, which at 24 hours of travel time each way, was no small feat! She has visited every continent but one, and Antarctica is on the bucket list.
- Antitrust everywhere she looks – Alanna noticed recently that several of her outside pursuits (unintentionally) involve an antitrust bend. One of her current favorite podcasts, “Capitalisn’t” examines the economic principles underlying many of the topics and stories in the news – from the #MeToo movement, to the decline of print journalism, to the sale of human organs. Her current reading list also features competition musings: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit (exploring Teddy Roosevelt’s relationship with journalism, among other things) provides a history of the Sherman Act, and The Making of a Justice delves into some of Justice John Paul Stevens’ seminal antitrust cases. She does manage to escape antitrust some of the time, including a podcast she highly recommends – “Lend Me Your Ears” – which examines the influence of contemporaneous political and cultural events on Shakespearean plays.
- Lessons in leadership – Among her many role models, Alanna admires the ability of Kelly Mahon Tullier, Executive Vice President & General Counsel for Visa, to address conflict and deliver feedback in a disarming and productive way. “Constructive comments seem much more friendly coming from Kelly.” During her years at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, Alanna witnessed master strategist Don Flexner employ an inclusive and thoughtful leadership style that maximized the individual strengths of each team member while giving each person an opportunity to grow. Everyone on Don’s team came to the strategy table together, receiving the same information at the same time. “Not every manager appreciates how important it is for each member of the team to be fully included and plugged in – Don gets that and leaves no one out.” Alanna tries to carry on Don’s example as she works with teams and leads more junior colleagues.
- Adventures, big and small – On any given weekend, Alanna might be found planning her next adventure or wandering around exploring her adopted hometown of New York City. No junket is too big or too small, but she tries not to repeat destinations. She recently researched how to score a seat on Qantas airline’s test flight for its new long-haul route from NYC to Sydney. When it turned out the opportunity was open only to airline friends and family, she just moved on to the next idea; she’s already been to Sydney, after all.
- New role, new challenges – Nearly 18 months into her first-ever in-house position, Alanna is struck by the number of interesting and unexpected questions that come across her desk. On a near daily basis, she wrestles with issues she never expected to be tackling when she was in private practice. Whether its sussing out the state of antitrust enforcement in Mauritius or grappling with civil procedure quandaries in Poland, the diversity of legal questions to untangle in-house is both daunting and exciting.
- Careers are long, be nice to everyone! – While at Boies, Schiller & Flexner (where she was at one point the youngest and only African-American equity partner), one of Alanna’s most high-profile matters resulted in record multi-billion settlements for Amex – in hard-fought litigation against Mastercard and, ironically, Visa, where she now works. At the time, it never dawned on her that she might one day work for one of her litigation foes. And yet, joining Visa has opened up a world of new experiences and cutting-edge issues, keeping Alanna on her toes and refreshing her enthusiasm for antitrust law.
- Build teams that don’t look like you – For senior lawyers and leaders looking to increase diversity in the profession, Alanna suggests focusing on a junior colleague’s skills when building project teams, not whether he or she looks like you. Cast your net broadly for people to mentor and sponsor and be cognizant of your own inherent biases, as unintentional as they may be. Taking the time to be thoughtful about how work is doled out helps to guard against giving choice assignments only to lawyers you spend the most time talking with socially or to those with whom you feel the most kinship. And if you need extra incentive, remember that empirical evidence confirms that diverse teams deliver better results.
- Standing up for youth justice – Alanna chairs the Board of NYC-based non-profit Avenues for Justice, which offers juvenile offenders and at-risk youth the chance to build new lives without prison and free from crime. Recognizing that to stay out of trouble, kids often just need a safe place to live and play, food, and clothing, AFJ works hand-in-hand with the court system to provide a reliable, effective and inexpensive alternative to youth incarceration, intervening at pivotal moments in kids’ lives to help divert and reclaim them from a dangerous path. As Board Chair, one of Alanna’s key priorities is focusing on how to expand the program to save more kids. The cost to keep a child in AFJ’s program for a year is less than 2% of the cost to put that same kid in juvenile detention for a year.
- Stop! In the name of love – In kindergarten, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Alanna always drew a picture of Diana Ross. While her classmates never gave the same answer twice – doctor, teacher, athlete, astronaut, Alanna was unfailing in her vision of a future performing. Just one small detail thwarted the plan – she can’t sing! Although she did not pursue performing arts professionally, it remains a key passion. Alanna serves on the Board of New York Live Arts, a non-profit that provides work space and financial support to emerging performance artists trying to find their footing in a difficult profession. In addition to volunteering her time and support, she regularly attends programs and performances featuring artists involved in the organization.
- BONUS: Advice for women lawyers: Be the Wonder Woman you were meant to be! Uncomfortable moments bring growth; lean into them without fear of failure. Be willing to try new things, even if they seem scary or push you outside your comfort zone! Don’t be afraid to forge your own path; the safe bet is rarely the most rewarding. Find an approach to networking that works for your individual style and commit to connecting with other lawyers in a meaningful way. Develop your own “power pose” for life – something that focuses you and reminds you to be confident, whether it be a physical pose or taking a moment to give yourself a pep talk before an important meeting or event.
This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.