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As chief legal officer at Schlumberger NV, Diane Ralston oversees a team of 400 lawyers and compliance professionals operating in 60 countries who handle all regulatory, litigation and transactional matters for the oil field services giant.
Ralston, who previously served as the general counsel of two other energy companies – Weatherford International and TechnipFMC – took over the top lawyer job at Schlumberger in December 2020, as the Covid pandemic raged and the energy industry faced some of its most turbulent times in decades, resulting in some severe staffing reductions.
Mark Curriden, founder of The Texas Lawbook had a chance to ask Ralston about the path she took to get there, and how she deals with the demands of the job.
Texas Lawbook: Any life or career mentors?
Dianne Ralston: I haven’t had mentors in the traditional sense. I do think it is important to surround yourself with people who model strong values, share their experience and can guide you on your path – those are your life coaches. I have a great group of lifelong friends like this; they are accomplished, intelligent women who are also loving and kind wives and mothers, and they give me invaluable perspective.
In my career, I have always looked for opportunities to grow from people around me and to learn from the way leaders respond to difficult decisions. Those are situations where you can take something from the experience, even though it is not a typical mentoring situation. And I have also worked with people who may not have set a good example, and those can be equally important lessons to take away.
To read Mark Curriden’s full profile of Dianne Ralston, CLICK HERE.
Lawbook: What do you look for in hiring outside counsel?
Ralston: Great outside counsel bring deep expertise that is complementary to me and my team. Outside counsel should add that expertise in a particular area to our breadth of knowledge about the complex fabric of related legal issues and the trade-offs that may be necessary between those issues. Bringing that expertise without arrogance, but a willingness to learn about the Company and how we make decisions is key for me.
Of course, I am looking for creativity in exploring potential solutions. I rarely take a recommendation at face value; I push for innovation to find a more optimal solution – such as an alternative, data-driven business model where both parties benefit.
Lawbook: How important is pro bono and diversity in your hiring of outside counsel?
Ralston: It is very important to me that the firms I work with focus meaningfully on diversity in the profession. There are firms that talk about commitments to diversity, and then there are firms that are thoughtful about compensation, origination credit and how teams are constructed to ensure that there are career progression pathways for diverse candidates.
Seeing firms contributing to our communities in significant ways is also very important to me. Pro bono is only one avenue for firms to support the community, but it is essential for firms to seek out ways to give back.
Lawbook: What skills does a general counsel need to be successful?
Ralston: In the past, there was a perception that securities experience was the pathway to becoming a GC, but companies today want legal leaders who can understand and enable the company’s strategy. That requires knowledge in many areas of the law to recognize issues or to make connections across multiple legal disciplines that can help push the business forward. There is no single background that qualifies someone for the role. What is required is intellectual curiosity; creativity to find solutions to difficult problems; integrity to stand up and say when there is no viable path forward; business acumen to understand and help evolve corporate strategy and the leadership to help teams not only identify risk but to also pragmatically evaluate the actual impact.