Abby Yates is a corporate general counsel, a tough negotiator, a business entrepreneur, and a skilled trial lawyer. She is a good listener, an articulate speaker – and humble when described in this manner.
Yates believes that her law school education, which centered on advocacy skills, is what developed these traits and prepared her for her career. “The best training for being in a business environment as a lawyer is litigation,” says Yates, who admits that her strong opinion on the matter is biased. She recently backed up that claim with a $100,000 pledge to the Professor Edward D. Ohlbaum Fund to support trial advocacy.
Yates arrived at Temple Law in 1990, where she starred on the school’s National Trial Team, winning regional championships and finishing as a finalist at the national championships in 1992 and 1993. Since graduating in 1993, she has served as a commercial litigator for firms in Philadelphia and Houston, the proprietor of a catering company she ran while living in Paris, France, and now, general counsel for EthosEnergy, a $1 billion plus joint venture between Wood Group and Siemens’ TurboCare.
Throughout her career, Yates says her advocacy background has been crucial. “I believe that handling litigation and being involved in advocacy, quite contrary to public opinion, actually teaches you how to avoid disputes going forward and to be a more precise and productive business partner as a lawyer.”
Yates says the primary reason for that is the way an education focused on advocacy develops highly sensitive listeners, allowing lawyers to push through the noise and figure out what it is that their counterparty is really concerned about. Armed with a better understanding of the negotiation, Yates says, lawyers can not only design a solution that may be missed by others, but present it in a way that makes it more likely to be well received.
I believe that handling litigation and being involved in advocacy, quite contrary to public opinion, actually teaches you how to avoid disputes going forward and to be a more precise and productive business partner as a lawyer.
And Yates would know. In her current role as general counsel at EthosEnergy, she and her team of lawyers and compliance professionals have traveled the world while negotiating large construction contracts in the Middle East, long-term service agreements in South America, operation and maintenance agreements in Australia, and sales contracts in Kazakhstan. Yates says that when negotiating these large contracts, they’re often negotiating not only with their clients, but with their clients’ lending banks as well. “And those goals are not always aligned,” she points out. “Where else can you get the training for that other than litigation, where you’ve got numerous counterparties and not everyone is on the same page?”
In her role as general counsel, she also serves as a trusted advisor to board members, CEOs, CFOs, and business unit leaders, reviewing deals and assessing risk to the company. “When I tell them about a risk and I tell them they really need to proceed with caution or in a certain way, I’m going to have to substantiate my case,” says Yates.
“I think that advocacy training,” she says before pausing. “There’s just no substitute for it.”