CBRE General Counsel discusses with Law360 the influence that Lev Berlin & Sousa counsel and founder Bruce Lev had on his career

Laurence H. Midler is executive vice president and general counsel at CBRE Group Inc. Until 2014, Midler also served as the company’s chief compliance officer, overseeing the ethics and compliance program, which he designed and initiated upon joining the company in 2004. He is also the executive in charge of global risk management, internal audit and corporate responsibility efforts for the firm. Prior to joining CBRE, Midler served as general counsel to Micro Warehouse Inc. Earlier, Midler was an associate at Latham & Watkins LLP.
Midler is active in giving back, both through work and in his personal time. At CBRE, Midler established a pro bono program under which the CBRE legal department offers free legal services to Goodwill Industries of Southern California, on whose board of directors Midler serves. He also spends time supporting other nonprofit organizations, including Bridge to Skate and the Jewish Grad Student Initiative.

As a participant in Law360's Q&A series with leading in-house counsel, Laurence Midler shared his perspective on five questions, including:

Q: Outside your own company, name an attorney who has impressed you and tell us why.

A: My first mentor was Bruce Lev, the former general counsel of Micro Warehouse. Bruce hired me as his assistant GC in 1998 for reasons that were a mystery to me at the time. I had no public company experience. He taught me that the GC should be a leader in a company, for reasons that have little to do with what they teach in law school. He showed me that the person in the GC chair has the power to influence the organization to do things the right way, if you are assertive about advising the team to do what’s right as opposed to what’s strictly legal.

Bruce taught me some very important lessons, including how you need to empower the team to own their jobs, and that means backing off of some issues or deals where otherwise you would take the lead. Bruce also demonstrated why it is important to create a safe environment in which your people feel that mistakes are not fatal. Bruce once told our CEO that he had made a big error on a document, when in fact the error was mine. That engenders loyalty and an environment where our lawyers feel empowered to do their best without fearing failure. Bruce also taught me the balance between being part of the senior team and yet standing apart from it to safeguard the interests of the shareholder when required.

Bruce was certainly the heartbeat of our company. Bruce walked in every morning with a big optimistic smile and said something positive to everyone he would interact with, even though he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. Within the department, Bruce would always build up our confidence with statements like: “You are the real lawyers around here.” I think every organization needs a Mr. Blue Sky and when that person is the company’s lawyer it is sometimes a shock to the system ... in a positive way. I try to model my work style around Bruce’s example.

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