Karen Mayer: General Counsel of Penguin Group (USA) Inc by LawCrossing


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   LAW STAR                                                                                             www.lawcrossing.com     1. 800.973.1177

                            Karen Mayer: General Counsel of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
                            [By Charisse Dengler]
                            Ask any bookworm you can find, and he or she will tell you that Karen Mayer has a pretty cool job. As General Counsel of
                            Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Mayer plays an integral part in getting books into the hands of readers all across the country.
                            She is involved in negotiating author contracts, as well as dealing with issues pertaining to copyright law, trademarks, and
                            liability. In addition, Mayer said she works on corporate matters such as labor and employment, real estate, and acquisitions.

Mayer, who is a member of Penguin’s fully-          Mayer, who studied philosophy as an                to work as an associate in the litigation
staffed, five-attorney legal team, has worked       undergrad, wasn’t sure what type of graduate       department of Proskauer Rose, LLP.
for a number of other publishing companies          degree she wanted to pursue. She had               However, with three young children at home,
in the past, including Simon & Schuster,            never imagined she would want to become a          Mayer decided to transition to an in-house
Random House, and The Putnam Berkley                lawyer. In fact, she came upon her interest in     position.
Group. However, when Putnam Berkley                 a somewhat unusual way.
merged with Penguin in 996—a merger that                                                              “I wanted a more manageable lifestyle, and
Mayer said was one of the most gratifying           “I asked a friend, who was a lawyer and who        I wanted something that was more concrete
things she’s ever worked on—she became              seemed to have interests that were similar         and practical,” she said. “At the time, I had
the general counsel for the combined                to mine, if he would please loan me his most       three children, and I felt rather strongly that
companies.                                          boring casebook,” she said.                        the life of a litigation associate or partner
                                                                                                       was simply too difficult to combine with that
This merger was “very labor intensive but           When he loaned her his casebook on agency,         of being a suburban mother.”
also very rewarding,” she said. Mayer was           she found that instead of being bored, she
a key player in helping the acquisition move        was fascinated. She decided to go to New           Mayer enjoys her job immensely, and she
ahead because she “was able to answer               York University School of Law, and upon            especially loves the fact that every day is
questions that people had about the way             graduation from law school, she went               different and challenging. She said she
the company was being run and the legal                                                                likes that she gets to work on a variety of
issues it faced,” she said. “In the end, it           Q. What do you do for fun?                       issues on a daily basis. In addition, she said
was satisfying to see all the pieces fall into        A. Ballroom dancing, sailing, and reading.       her job is made even better by the talented
place.”                                                                                                colleagues and authors she interacts with
                                                      Q. What CD was most recently in your CD
Penguin Group is currently “the second-
                                                      A. Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Chopin.
largest English-language trade book                                                                    She said the most challenging aspect of her
publisher in the world,” boasting well-known          Q. What is the last book you read?               job is “simplifying complex legal issues so
authors such as Nick Hornby, Tom Clancy,              A. Snow by Orhan Pamuk.                          that people can actually act on some of the
Joyce Carol Oates, Nora Roberts, John                                                                  complex things that we face as lawyers in the
                                                      Q. hat is your favorite TV show?
Steinbeck, and Arthur Miller. As if that isn’t                                                         intellectual property area.”
                                                      A. Ugly Betty.
impressive enough, the company is also a
leader in the realm of children’s publishing          Q. Who are your role models?                     When asked if she had any advice for law
and has an author list that includes Judy             A. Gerald Hollingsworth, who was GC for          students who have their sights set on general
Blume, Ludwig Bemelmans, Tomie DePaola,               another publisher. When I was young,             counsel positions, Mayer advised students to
and Don Freeman.                                      it was Brenda Starr, an old comic book           “build their skills at the best law firms they

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   LAW STAR                                                                                        www.lawcrossing.com   1. 800.973.1177

can find because most in-house positions                                                           ON THE NET
                                                  Advance to Young Lawyers
require a good deal of outside experience
in related fields.” She said her experience                                                        Penguin Group USA
                                                  Mayer said that it is important for young
working for Proskauer Rose has helped her         lawyers to “first, get as much knowledge         us.penguingroup.com
tremendously in her current position.             as they can, preferably in an outside legal
                                                  position, to get as broad a base of training     Random House
“Working in a firm and understanding how          and preparation as they can, [and] to try        www.randomhouse.com
a firm functions has helped me to work with       and focus in on the industries that they’re
our outside counsel and to be a much better       interested in.”                                  Simon & Schuster
lawyer,” she said.                                                                                 www.simonsays.com
                                                  She also recommended that students
                                                  “build their skills at the best law firms that
She also encouraged students to gather as
                                                  they can possibly find.” Mayer said her
much information and experience as possible
                                                  experience working in private practice has
and to build a solid foundation in the areas of
                                                  contributed to her success as a general
law in which they are interested, both on the     counsel. “Working in a firm has made me
job and through volunteer work.                   a better lawyer, and understanding how a
                                                  firm functions has helped me to work with
                                                  our outside counsel,” she said.


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