Career Spotlight: Joe Kern
Next time Darden Restaurants, a Fortune 500 Company based in Orlando, develops a site for its next Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, Longhorn Steakhouse, Seasons 52 or The Capital Grille, chances are Joe Kern (JD 87) is involved in the project.
Kern, a senior associate general counsel for Darden Restaurants, first started working with the company while at Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor, and Reed, PA, in Orlando, where he was a partner specializing in real estate and land development law.
“While working at my old firm, one of the clients was Darden Restaurants, and I got to know the company well,” Kern said. “After working with them for awhile, they asked me to join them in-house and I decided it could be a great opportunity.”
After being with a firm for his whole career, Kern says the opportunity to represent a Fortune 500 company, while taking part in business-related projects as well is very rewarding.
“I had been at the firm for 14 years after law school, and it’s a great firm that I had not really thought about leaving,” he said. “The chance to be involved with the business aspects of a Fortune 500 company and explore management opportunities was not something I could experience while with a law firm.”
In his role with Darden Restaurants, Kern reports to the General Counsel, manages the in-house real estate legal teams for development of new restaurants and works with outside counsel, he said.
“I enjoy the real estate practice, and this position gives me an opportunity to practice law and work closely with the senior leadership team as a business partner as we work together to meet our new restaurant opening goals,” Kern said.
The characteristic that sets the best attorneys apart is the ability to understand the client’s entire business situation, not just provide basic legal services, he said.
“Whether it’s in a firm or as in-house counsel, the way you communicate and strive to learn about your client’s issues, rather than simply providing legal service is the thing that separates the best attorneys from the rest of them,” he said. “When I work with outside counsel, I look for people who want to understand the business and want to be part of the business team.”
Kern, who interviews local law students looking for internships, says a background in business is very important in his field of law.
“If I could have done anything differently, I would have taken more business classes,” Kern said. “While I have learned on the job, having a business background would certainly have been helpful in my practice, and it’s easier to take those classes and get the background while still at school such as the joint business and law degree programs offered at UF.”
For current law students who are interested in getting involved with the in-house legal department of a company, they should get some well-rounded experience at a quality law firm first, Kern said.
“Getting a good base of experience is easier to do at firms as most companies do not have the resources to train and develop young lawyers,” he said.