Kathy O’Brien ’75: In-House Expertise at Limited Brands
Spending her entire career working as an in-house attorney for several companies, Kathy O’Brien ’75 has only represented one client at a time. But those clients have exposed her to countless challenges, opportunities, and experiences.
She currently is vice president of regulatory compliance at Limited Brands in Columbus. “You work for the same corporate client, but you have many individual customers,” she said. “One day you are working with R&D and the next day you are discussing product claims with Marketing. You support a wide range of internal departments with different responsibilities - all working toward a common goal. It is fascinating because every day presents new challenges and you never have to look far for clients. They are all around you.”
Limited Brands is the umbrella company housing six nationally recognized brands: Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, C.O. Bigelow, The White Barn Candle Co., Henri Bendel, and La Senza. A behemoth in the Columbus corporate landscape, Limited Brands was an obvious choice for O’Brien when returning to Ohio from working for years in Tennessee and New Jersey.
As someone who had spent many years in legal and regulatory compliance, Limited Brands grabbed her attention when it starting getting more involved with FDA-regulated personal care products. She began her career at Limited Brands working for Bath & Body Works specifically, but now is part of the general counsel’s office that works with all of the company’s brands. “I deal specifically with product regulatory compliance,” she said. “Not many companies had that kind of portfolio in Columbus when I returned here in 1995.”
As part of the general counsel’s office at Limited Brands, her primary role is to make sure that all the products the company sources and sell comply with product regulations. She also oversees the environmental health and associate safety compliance programs.
Limited Brands, compared to the previous companies she worked for, was a shift into a different channel of business. “Previous companies I worked for were vertically integrated,” she said. “Here it is different because we have deep strategic partnerships with various manufacturing partners around the globe.”
A native of Columbus and Buckeye through her entire higher education career, O’Brien said it was a natural move back when she started working for the retail giant. “The interesting thing is Limited Brands is the largest company I have worked for, but comparatively speaking it has a fairly small legal department.”
Having worked for individual companies since day one, O’Brien is very familiar with the corporate legal landscape. “In the past 33 years I’ve seen a change in in-house practice. In the early years, the in-house practice was a more generalist approach with an attorney often doing a bit of everything ranging from general contract work, to employment matters, and sales/antitrust counseling to licensing agreements with a bit of SEC compliance mixed in,” she said. “Now, it tends to be more specialized into narrower areas of expertise.”
What brought her into considering law school to begin with was an interest in political science and constitutional law. “I had thought about a career in appellate practice. That’s originally what drew me into considering a law career, but once in law school I realized that there were many interesting possibilities,” O’Brien said. “That’s something I always mention to people thinking about law school: be open to sampling a number of areas and be aware of what you seem to like and have a real talent for doing.”
During her time at Moritz she worked as a legal intern in the Pickaway County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. “I had a fascinating experience working in juvenile cases, handling some misdemeanor trials, getting experience on witness preparation an intake interviews and prepping cases for grand jury presentation. I even got to do some appellate work. I worked there for the summer after second year, during third year and while waiting for my bar results.
“Then right before getting the results, I started working for a local company Corco, Inc located in Worthington, Ohio,” she said. She has stayed in-house since, spending 16 years at Schering-Plough Corp, a global pharmaceutical company prior to joining Limited Brands.
“Law school is about acquainting you with basic legal principles, teaching you to better use your analytical skills, learning specific legal research techniques and fashioning written and oral arguments,” she said. “It’s about asking the right questions, thinking through problems, applying principles, doing research and arriving at a decision or answer. In law school we are looking retrospectively to cases that are already decided. In practice, we drawing on our experience, the help of our colleagues, and precedent to hopefully achieve a favorable result for our client.”