Bell Techlogix is proud to celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring women in leadership at Bell Techlogix. Meet Michelle Fleming, General Counsel for Bell Techlogix.
What is your role at Bell Techlogix? I lead the legal function with a focus on drafting, reviewing, and negotiating commercial contracts. I also provide direction on compliance, ranging from privacy to labor law.
What was your career path prior to joining Bell Techlogix?
My family owned a small business and had a local law firm advising them. I worked at that law firm as a legal secretary and a court runner during a few of my college breaks. One of the attorneys, in particular, mentored me, taking me along with him to court and the jail (he was primarily a criminal defense attorney). I stayed in touch with the firm over the years. When I graduated from law school, the attorney who mentored me had moved on from the firm, but I was offered space there and wound up taking my old mentor’s office. I primarily did criminal defense (my undergrad major was criminal justice) but needed a change, so I left and started working as the attorney for the family business while I figured out what was next. I was talking to my best friend, also a lawyer, and she told me about in-house careers, specifically about Contract Specialist jobs. It sounded right up my alley, but in-house legal jobs were very rare in Madison County. One day in 2006 I heard about a Contracts Administrator position with a technology start-up called Digium. I looked past the title and looked at the job description and qualifications, and it read like an attorney position, so I applied.
That decision changed the course of my career and my life. Digium offered me the job subject to a 90-day probationary period. They didn’t believe they needed an in-house attorney as the work was handled by external law firms, but I thought they did and started doing some of the work that the law firms had been handling, simple things at the beginning like NDAs. At the end of the 90 days, I was promoted to Contracts Manager, and I met my future husband, who also worked at Digium. Later, I worked my way up to General Counsel.
In 2018 we were acquired by a company called Sangoma, which had a fantastic General Counsel. I moved into an Associate General Counsel role and viewed this as a promotion because I’d gone from being General Counsel of a small domestic, privately held company to being Associate General Counsel at a large global publicly-traded company. I had a lot of opportunities in that role, including leading the HR department. In the spring of 2021, we acquired another company and through that merger, the legal team grew to include five attorneys. Later that year, I was contacted through LinkedIn by Ami Hall, Vice President of Human Resources at Bell Techlogix. The opportunity at Bell Techlogix checked every box for me and I’m excited to be here.
What is your greatest career accomplishment to date? Something I pride myself on is being a business partner. I would probably not be a lawyer if it hadn’t been for my family’s business providing for my education and it wouldn’t have been able to provide if they’d had a lawyer around saying “No, no, no” all the time. I make a conscious effort to attend presentations and read books on the topic. I attended a great presentation in November given by Heather Stevenson, Deputy General Counsel for Boston Globe Media titled “How to Cultivate a Business Mindset” and Heather said a couple of things that stuck with me. One of those was that our goal as lawyers is not to win on every single point. Our goal is to advance the business’s interests forward. I think about that a lot when I’m negotiating contracts. I also read a great book called “The Inside Counsel Revolution: Resolving the Partner Guardian Tension” that Noah Webster, General Counsel at Zix, recommended to me. It talks about how to balance being a business partner with being the guardian of the corporation. It’s a great read, both for in-house attorneys and for employees working with attorneys, and is especially a great read if you’re struggling to find the balance.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a leader? Learn from everyone! I have learned something from every single person I’ve worked with and continue learning. I took a week off before starting my role at Bell Techlogix, but that week off was packed with video conferences with GCs, other attorneys, and a few C levels who I’d reached out to because I thought I had something to learn from each of them that I could bring into my new role as GC at Bell Techlogix. I think of their advice often and pay it forward by having calls with attorneys and law students who reach out looking for advice. Always be willing to learn and pass along your knowledge to help others.
Best advice for women starting out in their career? Don’t disqualify yourself. Years ago, I read that most women only apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the requirements, but men apply if they only meet 60% of the requirements. That is a sure-fire way to guarantee your career is going to stagnate since the only way to grow is if you do things you’ve never done before! If you’ve got a solid grip on how to do 60% of what would be involved, and you can plug the remaining 40% knowledge gap with research or trial and error then do it. Michelle Fleming circa 2004 was sitting in a courtroom hoping the judge would appoint her a few criminal clients. She would have never believed 2022 Michelle Fleming would have been on a legal team handling a $437 million acquisition and a NASDAQ listing. That came from years of signing up to do new things and getting comfortable being uncomfortable!
Read more insights from women in leadership at Bell Techlogix.