For Premium Subscribers: A chat with Sempra Infrastructure’s chief legal officer
From being the first African American elected to be Queen Cardinal at Harlingen High School in 1980 to leading one of the most successful corporate diversity efforts at one of the world’s largest corporations to being named the new chief legal officer of Sempra Infrastructure earlier this year, Carolyn Benton Aiman has earned a global reputation for leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The Lawbook’s Mark Curriden asked Aiman about the kinds of relationships she expects with outside counsel and what they might need to know about her.
The Texas Lawbook: After 19 years in the legal department at Shell, you made the jump to Sempra Infrastructure this past summer. Why?
Carolyn Benton Aiman: I joined Sempra about six months ago after going through an extensive interview process. I lead the legal teams in the U.S. and Mexico, and I’m responsible for the legal, compliance, regulatory, and governance functions for the company. I was very attracted to Sempra because of its approach to leadership, the moment in time and what Sempra Infrastructure is doing in the industry – meeting the expected growth in energy demand from emerging and developing countries. Our infrastructure platform works to create scale, unlock portfolio synergies, drive growth and help facilitate the global energy transition through three growth platforms: clean power, energy networks and LNG and net-zero solutions. We continuously innovate and explore opportunities in new technologies while supporting the energy needs of our customers in the U.S., Mexico and around the world. Given my 20-plus years in energy, including renewable energies, it’s a great fit for me.
For Mark Curriden’s full profile of Carolyn Benton Aiman Click Here.
Lawbook: What do you see as the most important legal and business issues facing corporate legal departments such as yours in the year or two ahead?
Aiman: We are in the midst of a great change right now with the energy transition, climate change, social movements, just to name a few. So there’s a changing legal and regulatory landscape, and also technology and innovation are creating shifts and opportunities. As a legal team, we need to stay abreast of these changes that can impact our business, deepen our abilities to be agile and keep pace with the changes and continue to learn so that we support our company’s success. Just five years ago, we were not talking about some of the challenges we face today. Just two years ago, no one contemplated a global pandemic. Legal teams must maintain and expand their skills and grow their knowledge and ability to make connections to help solve problems.
Lawbook: What do you look for in hiring outside counsel?
Aiman: At Sempra Infrastructure, we live our belief that diverse points of view are critical to success. We understand that diversity sparks innovation, creativity and that diverse perspectives help us find solutions to tough problems and look at challenges in new ways.
Strategic thinking, creativity, a commitment to developing people and talent. It’s important for me to understand how a firm and its partners are showing up. Do they foster diverse points of views, are they inclusive, how are they reflecting an understanding of the importance of looking for talent across all groups and understanding viewpoints from different experiences. My career has been about building diverse and inclusive teams and creating space for alternative perspectives. That has resulted in great ideas and outcomes. Smart, vibrant, creative people who bring their different perspectives to the table, that’s what works, and it’s what I expect when I look for law firms. The best lawyers understand the sector and our businesses and how to develop the kind of relationships that facilitate the conversations you need to drive business and how to bring forth different views to create the best outcomes.
Lawbook: Do you have pet peeves regarding outside counsel?
Aiman: Most of the firms I deal with understand the importance of partnering and providing counsel. I want straightforward advice and to hear what I need to hear. The best outside lawyers are thought partners and think beyond the specific questions. The good ones understand our business well enough that they reach out about the things that may impact our business without being asked. One advantage that outside counsel has is seeing issues from several perspectives because of their different clients. Being able to extrapolate (keeping confidentiality in mind) and connect dots that help drive value is critical.
Lawbook: Have you ever fired a law firm for its lack of diversity or would you under what conditions?
Aiman: I have not fired a firm because of its lack of diversity, but I have not hired one because of its approach to diversity and inclusivity. I like broad thinkers and strategic minds, so when I hear things like we can’t find or keep talented women, people of color, fill in the blank, I don’t think I am hearing a person who has really thought about diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way. It makes me question how they think generally. It is important to us to partner with law firms that share our values. Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be difficult, but it does require being intentional.
Lawbook: What do other general counsel and law firm leaders need to know or understand about DEI efforts?
Aiman: At Sempra, we recognize that diverse points of critical to our success. For example, I heard someone say that things can be simple but not easy. I think that applies here. I think it’s simple, but it does take intention and attention. Ensuring a diverse and inclusive legal profession should be a critical part of how legal departments and law firms operate.