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Lily Hughes on Making Waves as a Great Leader

W here do you see yourself in a year? For Lily Hughes — senior vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary — she expects herself to be a better leader and person than who she is today. Hughes is a life-long learner who is always curious, seeks new challenges and continuous improvement, and her resume shows it. Apart from being CLO, she is also the trusted advisor for two public company boards, Public Storage and PS Business Parks, and has been a dedicated leader of the ACC Southern California chapter for seven years.

Lily HughesBut as impressive as these accomplishments are, her life goal isn't to collect titles or material wealth. Hughes would rather focus on living a purposeful life, making a difference, and enriching lives. Her passion and calling in life is to inspire and leave a legacy of empowerment and excellence in others. She hopes to create waves of positivity that spread to the people around her, and they in turn do the same for others around them. And throughout her career, the ripples have surged into unceasing waves of encouragement for others to rise higher.

Hughes doesn't believe that you need to have an official title or have a high role within an organization to be a mentor or a sponsor. Nevertheless, as the head of the legal department, she uses every opportunity to help her team grow by being a "great leader." That's not to be confused with being a "good leader." The difference between the two, according to Hughes, is not focused on winning your team's admiration for what you do; it's about being focused on "helping them accomplish what they can't see in themselves."

She listens, observes, and coaches. She builds trust and encourages the development of strengths and career dreams. She nudges her team to network formally and informally with colleagues from other departments — to really learn business opportunities and risks and the needs of the company, for now and for a future state. That way, the legal team can develop deeply and broadly — by working outside their comfort zone, be exposed to different functions and senior-ranking business leaders, and truly earn the coveted trusted business advisor status within the company.

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Hughes makes sure her team has the opportunity to shine. "I make sure my team has face time in meetings with C-suite executives, and I encourage that they proactively have those meetings even without me there," she explains. However, she ensures their success by taking extra time to help prepare them and guide them before they are "thrown into the lion's den."

But to get a seat at the coveted executive table, in-house counsel shouldn't rely only on their managers to advocate for them or to push opportunities to them. They also need to advocate for themselves and look for challenges — the things that no one wants to deal with — to create new paths and solutions wherever they are. Hughes believes that everyone should actively seek to learn, stretch and grow, daily. Aspiring CLOs should speak up and share goals they want to achieve at the company and in their career. Too often well-suited lawyers are overlooked for a promotion because upper management didn't know their lofty aspirations.

The same is true for lawyers seeking to join a board. If you're interested in board membership, "let everyone you know of your interest," Hughes states simply. "It's important to plant networking seeds, and ensure your reputation continues to be impeccable." But the competition is fierce, as there are lots of lawyers who would like to join a private or public board one day. Hughes recommends continuing to develop expertise that sets you apart from the other candidates, whether it's governance, privacy, cybersecurity or compliance — and to be persistently passionate.

I make sure my team has face time in meetings with C-suite executives, and I encourage that they proactively have those meetings even without me there.
— Lily Hughes; SVP, CLO, and Corporate Secretary; Public Storage

Hughes is not only a trusted advisor for the board of two public companies, but she also considers herself a trusted advisor for the ACC Southern California chapter's board. She shared that her involvement with ACC started on a small scale: "Frankly, I got involved just as anyone else would — by attending events." Then someone asked her to help plan an event, and it required a little more effort.

At first, she was convinced she wouldn't have enough time to volunteer. But then she realized that it was worth carving out time in her day to create events that mattered to and resonated with the members. Within time, she was elected to the board, then elected to serve on the executive committee, rising from chapter treasurer, to secretary, vice president of services, vice-president of programs, and finally as president for one of the largest chapters of ACC. Hughes has also been active at the national level, serving in leadership roles on ACC advisory boards and as vice chair for the Securities Law Committee.

Hughes' volunteering with ACC goes deeper than event planning chapter or leading board discussions. Hoping to make a bigger wave, Hughes joined her chapter's pro bono program and offered her legal expertise to those in need. There, she found herself surrounded by other enthusiastic lawyers on a mission to help their community. "The drive of our pro bono program is infectious," she says.

She caught the pro bono bug and eventually became co-chair for the Street Law program under the leadership of ACC Southern California Chapter's Pro Bono Committee. It's one of the most impactful and enduring service projects that she led. They encourage low-income students to pursue legal careers. Most of these students don't know where to begin, as they don't have the resources or family members who are lawyers to show them the way.

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That's where Hughes and the Street Law program come in. Partnering with the University of California, Irvine Law School, they spend two days introducing local high school students to the fundamentals of law, including criminal, contract, and constitutional law. The program ends with the students presenting a moot court case, and the volunteers saying goodbye and wishing the students luck in whatever career path they choose.

Hughes and the Street Law Program volunteers continued to motivate a new fleet of potential lawyers each year. They don't typically hear from former students. But remarkably, one came back to them, only this time as a volunteer law student.

The Street Law alum was from one of the first classes that Hughes and the Street Law program taught in Orange County — and it left a lasting impressing on her. Hughes was ecstatic. "You don't think you have much of an impact," she says. "It's a day or two of their lives, but it changed somebody's life."

Not only did she pursue law, but she also enrolled at the University of California, Irvine Law School — the same school that emboldened her when she was younger. As a law student, she volunteered for the Street Law program with Hughes and her Southern California chapter. Together, they inspired even more students, making waves that will reach generations to come.

About the Author

Karmen Fox is the web content editor of ACC Docket.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.