Miguel Pozo, the head of litigation and deputy general counsel for Mercedes-Benz USA, has joined Duane Morris as a partner.
Pozo, 45, went in-house at Mercedes, which had been a client, two years ago from New Jersey Am Law 200 firm Lowenstein Sandler, where he had spent his 17-year legal career. Mercedes’ general counsel at the time, Marco DeSanto, recruited him, Pozo said, to assist with its relocation to Atlanta.
“I never wanted to go in-house necessarily, but it was Mercedes-Benz. I did not want to turn it down,” Pozo said. “It was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Mercedes announced in January 2015 that it would relocate to Sandy Springs from Montvale, New Jersey, where it had been headquartered since 1972.
Pozo joined Mercedes that June and helped organize the move and build the Atlanta team. “It was a very busy time in the company’s evolution—a whirlwind. You don’t move a company that big every day,” Pozo said.
Pozo said Duane Morris was not a known quantity to him before he came to Atlanta, but he got to know the firm’s lawyers, since Mercedes is a client. With Pozo, the Philadelphia-based firm has 27 lawyers in its Atlanta office.
“I worked with a lot of firms as head of litigation, so I got a sense of not only who the good lawyers are but a firm’s culture and its commitment to clients,” he said. “Duane Morris stood out to me.”
Before joining Mercedes, Pozo focused on brand protection and employment disputes and had built a roster of luxury goods clients, including LVMH Moët Hennessy—Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and TAG Heuer.
Pozo said Duane Morris has an automotive practice, representing Jaguar-Land Rover, Ford Motor Co. and Mercedes, as well as a luxury and retail goods practice.
“From a practice perspective, that made it a no-brainer,” Pozo said. “It is plug and play.”
“I like that the firm is not just doing lip service to diversity,” Pozo added. “They have a lot of female and diverse partners.”
He said Duane Morris partner Joe West, whom the firm hired as its chief diversity and inclusion officer in 2016, was one of the main reasons he joined. West had been the CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association after top roles in the legal departments at Walmart Stores Inc. and Entergy Corp.
“I’ve known Joe a long time,” Pozo said. “So that made the firm attractive. They’re not just talking diversity—they’re living it.”
Pozo started out as a commercial litigator but soon realized, he said, “that for every company, no matter how big or small, the most important things are their intellectual capital and human capital.”
He said a small trademark matter for Liz Claiborne years ago sparked his interest in brand protection, and he went after companies with high-value brands. Mercedes became a client about five years ago, he said.
Pozo said he met DeSanto at a Hispanic National Bar Association event. Pozo was the bar’s president in 2013-2014. He was asked to present some CLEs for Mercedes’ legal department, which led to handling several matters for the company.
DeSanto last year became the GC of Federal-Mogul Powertrain, an auto parts-maker in Detroit. His successor, Matt Everitt, had been the senior legal officer for Mercedes’ U.S. manufacturing operations, based in Vance, Alabama
Mercedes’ factory in Tuscaloosa County produces about half the vehicles it sells in the United States. The carmaker announced a $1.3 billion factory expansion, adding 300 jobs, in September 2015, just after relocating its headquarters to Atlanta.
When DeSanto called in spring 2015 to offer the newly created position of litigation head, Pozo had just moved to Washington, opening an office there in 2014 for Lowenstein Sandler.
Pozo and his wife packed up their new D.C. house and relocated to Atlanta in July.
Pozo said DeSanto brought him in to help with the transition from on the ground in Atlanta, which included handling a reduction in force.
Mercedes USA issued a WARN notice in May 2015, saying it would lay off 259 employees at its former headquarters, where it had about 1,000 employees. Only 203 of 375 employees accpeted the offer to relocate to Atlanta, the company said at the time.
Pozo also was responsible for all U.S. litigation, including class actions, product liability and other employment matters. The department has 12 lawyers and 22 total employees, he said.
After two years helping Mercedes get established, Pozo said he was ready to return to private practice, adding that he started calling old clients last week as soon as he joined Duane Morris.
“If you stay out too long—these things are all about relationships—it’s harder to resurrect that. I think two years is the perfect amount of time,” he said.
Pozo said he didn’t realize when he went in-house at Mercedes how much he’d learn about being a good outside counsel. “Outside lawyers have no idea what goes on in a corporation. When you’re there, you know what the pain points are. The pace is very fast,” he said. “I think it will better situate me to provide service to clients.”
Pozo said he and his wife, who’ve just had their first child, wanted to stay in Atlanta. His wife, Julia, has a job here as senior legal counsel for labor and employment at AT&T, a Duane Morris client, he added.
“We need to stay put for a little while,” he said.