Legal Biz Whiz
“You don’t choose to be in-house counsel for the lifestyle,” said Cynthia L. Pevehouse JD’87, senior vice president and general counsel of Allianz of America Corp. “I work harder now than I did when I was logging thousands of billable hours at a firm. It’s a different career path in the law; I become a business partner in a company with expertise in law.
“I love the path I’ve taken, but when I got out of law school and entered the law firm environment, I thought I had made a mistake,” said Pevehouse, who initially wanted to be a writer. She studied journalism and literature at Eastern Oregon State College and served as editor in chief of the college paper. By the time she graduated, however, her career plans had changed.
“I started thinking about how I would make a living for myself,” she explained. “I didn’t know any lawyers, but the law seemed interesting to me. I thought a law degree would give me a great breadth of opportunity. Willamette was well regarded by my college professors, so that helped me decide where to go.”
Following graduation from the College of Law, Pevehouse accepted an associate position in the Portland office of Lane Powell Spears & Lubersky, where she worked primarily on Federal Employer Liability Act litigation. After several years, she left the firm to pursue her interest in international and comparative law. She was soon lured back to Lane Powell with an offer to work in the maritime practice group. “I took the job as a stepping stone to work in international transactions in Japan,” said Pevehouse, the daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer who spent her childhood in Tokyo.
Pevehouse spent more than a year in Japan before returning to the States and refocusing her career on in-house work. After whetting her appetite on a corporate counsel position with Canon Inc., she held a succession of corporate counsel jobs in the technology industry at the peak of the tech boom, including Compaq Computer Corp. She was appointed to her first general counsel position at Ask Jeeves Inc. and then moved onto a similar position with Polycom Inc.
“These jobs gave me a legitimate seat at the table with senior management,” said Pevehouse, who, unlike many in-house attorneys who perform back office functions in companies, takes a more strategic approach. “To be successful in today’s corporate environment, you need to understand the goals and initiatives of a company and be able to develop business solutions. I look at the big picture for larger business opportunities.”
After 10 years with high-tech companies, Pevehouse was offered a position with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., a subsidiary of Allianz of America Corp. “Working in the insurance industry just sounded so boring,” she said, “but it’s actually exciting because the industry is highly complex and heavily regulated.”
In January 2006, she joined Fireman’s Fund as vice president and associate general counsel. Four months later, she moved up to the top spot — general counsel. In February 2007, she was promoted again to senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Allianz of America Corp. “I am part of a six-member executive management team that oversees a $20 billion enterprise,” she explained. “I thought tech companies moved fast, but the insurance industry is just as quick and fascinating.”
Reflecting on her success in the business world, Pevehouse said that her career has followed a different path than she imagined when she first worked in litigation. She considers it a good life lesson: “You need to be open to all opportunities. You have to be willing to venture into the unknown and take risks. If you do, you never know what you might come upon.”
Cynthia L. Pevehouse JD’87
“I thought a law degree would give me a great breadth of opportunity. Willamette was well regarded by my college professors, so that helped me decide where to go.”