The number of Arkansas-based publicly held companies to hire a female as top legal counsel grew Monday (June 4) with the announcement of Katherine Knight as vice president-general counsel at Van Buren-based USA Truck.
Knight recently was employed by Nissan North America Inc., where she worked as senior counsel and provided guidance in areas of labor, employment, benefits, and compliance to the North American subsidiary of global auto manufacturer Nissan Motor Corp. Prior to that, she held a similar position with Dollar General Corp.
“Katherine brings a whole different level of expertise and experience to the table for us as our General Counsel. Her experience in National issues in labor law, litigation, and contract expertise coupled with experience on a broad array of legal matters make her a great addition to the team,” James Reed, USA Truck president and CEO, said in a statement. “As with all our executive team, we expect her to play more than just the GC position, but to be a key contributor on all facets of the business. She is a great addition to our team.”
Knight earned a law degree from Vanderbilt University and began her career as a law clerk for the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee. She later worked as an assistant attorney general for Tennessee and assistant general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. She also worked as an associate in Commercial and Financial Services Litigation and Labor & Employment for Burr & Forman LLP and Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, & Berkowitz, PC.
USA Truck joins a notable group of Arkansas companies with women as their top legal execs.
In December 2012, Walmart Inc. hired Karen Roberts as executive vice president and general counsel, noting she was responsible for “all legal matters affecting the company in its domestic and international markets.” Roberts, a graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law, previously worked as executive vice president and president of Walmart Realty, where she was responsible for Walmart’s real estate operations and a portfolio of close to 1 billion square feet.
In February, Walmart hired Rachel Brand as executive vice president for global governance and corporate secretary. She replaced the retiring Jeff Gearhart, While not solely focused on legal matters, Brand’s duties involve oversight of the retailer’s legal operations.
Other top women in legal roles at Walmart include Phyllis Harris is senior vice president-general counsel for legal operations at Walmart, and Kerry Kotouc, general counsel at Sam’s Club.
On Dec. 1, 2017, Springdale-based Tyson Foods announced the hiring of Amy Tu as executive vice president and general counsel. Tu previously worked at The Boeing Company as chief counsel for global law affairs.
Just up the road at Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport, Jennifer Boattini is the senior vice president and general counsel.
“I see the practice of law at being really good at not caring about what someone’s gender is,” said Anthony “Tony” Hilliard, president of the Arkansas Bar Association, and a tax lawyer with Pine Bluff-based Ramsay, Bridgeforth, Robinson and Raley, when asked about the growing number of women in top legal jobs.
Hilliard also said prior to the call from Talk Business & Politics he had not stopped to think about the growing number of women in top corporate jobs.
“I’ll confess, I had not thought of that, because, as I said earlier, it doesn’t matter,” Hilliard said. “I mean, it’s excellent, I’m glad to hear it, I really am. … but it (the growing number) really recognizes lawyers for being quality lawyers.”
Hilliard said he doubts any of the hires are “token” hires for the purpose or meeting a diversity metric. He said of all the women he knows in senior legal positions, they all are “well qualified and deserve” the job.
“As a general rule, we don’t care what the gender is when we’re sitting across the table from each other. Gender really isn’t important in the practice of law. … I’ve seen plenty of lawyers, effective and aggressive in the court room, and it didn’t matter that they were male or female, they were just really good,” Hilliard said.
He also noted the executive director of the Arkansas Bar Association is female (Karen Hutchins), and the incoming Bar president is female.
Also, the two newest deans of the two law schools in the University of Arkansas system are women. The University of Arkansas announced April 27 that Margaret McCabe would begin July 1 as the dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law. She will be the third consecutive female dean and the 13th dean since the law school’s founding in 1924.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law announced Dec. 15 that Theresa Beiner would be the school’s first female dean. She also begins her duties on July 1.