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2021 In-House Counsel Awards: Philip Kirkpatrick

Rabobank North America

Philip KirkpatrickPhilip Kirkpatrick’s nominator notes that one of Kirkpatrick’s first tasks upon assuming his duties as regional general counsel for Rabobank, North America was to merge a wholesale banking legal team in New York with a rural lending team at an agrifinance subsidiary in suburban St. Louis.

“He forged alliances with outside firms for outsourcing work that is successful for both the bank and the firms he is working with,” they added. “He also forged new and better relationships with the human resources team to manage litigation and day-to-day business.”

That’s all in a day’s work for the 45-year-old Troy, Ill. native and Syracuse University law graduate whose love of transactional work pointed to a legal career as early as his junior year of college. After beginning his career with four years at Thompson Coburn doing banking and commercial finance work, he went in-house at an oil and gas pipe manufacturing company. When that business was sold, he moved on to global packaging company Smurfit-Stone as a senior counsel. Finally, he went on to do mergers and acquisitions and real estate work for Bunzl Distribution.

Kirkpatrick has been with his current organization for eight years, four of them in his current role. He said his favorite part of the job is helping people to develop and build their dreams.

He says that an effective general counsel must understand both the business and legal sides of an operation so they can put the needs of the client first.

“I think it is the ability to take problems and solve them,” he said. “You have to be a creative thinker.”

Kirkpatrick’s philosophies of law are simple and grounded in basic moral principles. The important part of being a legal leader, he believes, is listening and being a team player.

“Treat people with dignity and respect,” said Kirkpatrick, who was honored in Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s Top Legal Innovation Awards in 2018. “You take a hundred percent accountability for your impact on people and the business and you talk honestly and transparently.”

He also believes passionately in the concepts of diversity and inclusion both in hiring and in leveraging suppliers.

“We don’t want everyone sitting around the table to be taking the same vantage point as we do so I talk quite a bit about diversity of thought with my team and making sure we have different perspectives,” he noted.

Kirkpatrick, who previously served as chair of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis’s Labor and Employment Committee, also is active outside the legal community at Heat Up St. Louis, where he acts as board secretary.