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GC Spotlight: A Conversation with Kermit Lowery of LexisNexis

June 03, 2021 (6 min read)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of one-on-one interviews with leaders of corporate legal departments in the U.S. This month we spoke to Kermit Lowery, who is retiring in June 2021 after a 33-year career at LexisNexis. Kermit has served as the Vice President of Legal for LexisNexis North America since 2016 and has made an indelible mark on both the business success and the culture of the company over the past three decades. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your personal life journey and the path that led to your career as a lawyer.

A: I grew up in Cleveland and was raised primarily by a single mom. We were poor and didn’t have the resources as a family for a lot of things, but my mom always encouraged me to dream big. I knew from an early age that I either wanted to be a fighter pilot or an attorney, two things that aren’t as different as they might sound. I joined the Air Force right out of high school but soon learned that my eyesight was too poor to fly planes. I eventually was discharged from the U.S. Air Force and used the G.I. Bill to put myself through undergraduate school at Wright State University. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I attended the University of Dayton Law School.

Q: What were the career tracks you considered after graduating from law school?

A: Well, I was thinking about the standard routes — maybe a law firm in Ohio, possibly a corporate job — but I was still a member of the Air Force Reserves during this time and my primary focus was to return to active duty. I was aware of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps for all military components, so I applied to the Air Force and Army. I was an Assistant Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army JAG Corps for three years and absolutely loved it.

Q: So what led you to LexisNexis?

A: I suppose it was mostly the desire for stability. In the JAG Corps, you are expected to move around quite a bit and it’s not very conducive to raising a family. I was offered a job at LexisNexis — or Mead Data Central, as the company was named then — in 1988 and started as a Legal Analyst, working on content for the Military Law Library. I transferred to the corporate legal department in 1991 and have been here ever since, working underneath and alongside some amazing colleagues.

Q: Walk us through the roles you have played at LexisNexis and your primary areas of responsibility.

A: I am currently Vice President and Head of Legal at LexisNexis Legal & Professional for North America, but over the years I have served in a variety of corporate counsel roles. A key milestone for me was working under former LexisNexis General Counsel (and CEO) Lou Andreozzi, who saw something in me that he thought was valuable to the organization and promoted me to a director-level corporate counsel position that really paved the way for my advancement as an executive. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some other terrific GCs — including Ken Thompson, who promoted me to Vice President, and Ian McDougall, who promoted me to Head of Legal for North America. During my career, I’ve been responsible for all aspects of customer contracting for LexisNexis online products and services, global content licensing, intellectual property issues, copyright compliance, customer bankruptcies, litigation and other legal matters for the businesses I’ve supported. I am retiring on June 1st with a lot of wonderful memories and a heart full of gratitude.

Q: What lessons have you learned along the way about how in-house counsel can be of greatest value to their companies?

A: I’ve always loved that old Milton Friedman line: “The business of business is business.” When I first started as an in-house lawyer, my focus was to just be a great business attorney, to work hard to support our business managers. As my career evolved, my main objective became to help develop the LexisNexis legal team, through training, mentoring, support, and generally making sure the other attorneys had the necessary tools to do their jobs — which is, of course, to be great attorneys who support their business managers.

Q: What specific accomplishment stands out as a career highlight for you at LexisNexis?

A: I am most proud of the relationships I have built with other attorneys on my teams over the past three decades. I’ve had the privilege of mentoring a number of great lawyers and helping them develop their skills to better serve their business clients. Those personal relationships and the joy of watching other attorneys flourish has been my greatest satisfaction.

Q: How did your military service and later employment in the JAG Corps influence your lengthy career as an in-house counsel?

A: I think there are three key illustrations of that influence. First, it taught me the value of discipline, of staying focused on the task at hand. Second, it taught me the importance of punctuality in everything you do. My approach has always been that I want to be early and, if I can’t be early, I can at least be on time. Third, it taught me the necessity of preparation. I earned a reputation years ago of being the first lawyer in the office and the last one to leave, which was all about being prepared for providing the best counsel I could to our business managers. My military service was foundational for me and I stayed connected to those roots. In fact, I was a career Army officer and eventually retired in 2012 from my position as a Colonel in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, with nearly 40 years of active and reserve duty.

Q: Members of the U.S. legal profession often associate you with your commitment to pro bono legal service. You have received both the Ohio State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Award and the American Bar Association’s prestigious Pro Bono Publico Award, and you are a past president of the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project. Where did this passion for pro bono service come from and what stands out for you from these experiences?

A: My mom never had much money, but she always taught me to help people when you can and pay it forward someday if you’re able. While I was in the JAG Corps, I saw that most soldiers — many of whom had really difficult legal cases — couldn’t afford to hire an attorney and that inspired me to get to a point in my career where I could do pro bono legal service. I’ve personally handled more than 100 pro bono cases over the years — ranging from divorce and adoptions to landlord/tenant and debt collection matters — and I consider it one of my life’s great honors to help people in their most difficult moments find a way out of their legal challenges.

Q: Do you have any advice for the new generation of in-house counsel dealing with the challenges of today’s business environment?

A: Today’s in-house counsel need to be change leaders as they look to the future. Don’t be afraid of emerging technologies such as AI or worried they will make you less relevant. Embrace these new technologies and understand how they can make you more effective as lawyers, so you are leveraging them to your company’s advantage. And above all, there is no substitute for being disciplined, prepared and on time!