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Meet America's Most Powerful Women -- and Their Legal Departments

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 11, 2015 12:40 PM

Fortune magazine released its annual Most Powerful Women list yesterday. The list surveys 50 successful female business women who represent $1 trillion dollars in stock and include over 27 female CEOs (with a bonus shout out to Taylor Swift).

Sadly, none of the top 50 are lawyers. But all of them have robust legal departments that would make a great home for any ambitious in-house attorney. Here are the top 3 most powerful women in America and an overview of the legal departments that support them:

1. Mary Barra, General Motors

Number one on Fortunes' list is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors and the first female CEO of any major automaker. This is the third time Barra has been listed as the world's most powerful woman (sorry, Beyonce), so you know her success isn't an anomaly.

If you want to work for number one, now is an interesting time to be part of GM's in-house legal department. The legal department was overhauled after GM's recent ignition switch crisis, which saw millions of cars recalled and lead to over 100 deaths. GM's legal department had been warned of the risks several times and failed to act, an all-out failure to protect the company.

Now, many of those lawyers are gone. The company reshaped its legal department, bringing in new GC Craig Gilden in March. In July, He was joined by another powerful woman (but not most powerful), Deputy GC Jill Sutton, who left the Canadian donut hole company Tim Horton's to join GM.

2. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo

One day, Pepsi will be number one. But for right now, second place will have to do. That's where Pepsi stands next to Coke, blind taste tests be damned, and it's where their CEO falls on the list of most powerful women. Indra Nooyi runs the world's second largest food and beverage company and is the world's second most powerful woman, according to Fortune. Nooyi, who has been at the head of PepsiCo for nine years, was praised for beating back activist investors, landing deals with the NBA, and even raising Pepsi's organic revenue.

If you want to work for Nooyi, though, you might want to start at the Department of Justice. That's where PepsiCo GC Tony West was before he left the big government for big soda. West, then Associate Attorney General, was the third-highest DOJ official and was involved in prosecuting big banks, ending the government's defense of DOMA, and fighting state immigration laws. When West took over as GC, he replaced Larry Thompson, another senior DOJ attorney who had left the government for Pepsi.

3. Ginny Rometty, IBM

Coming in third is Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM. It's Rometty's tenth year on the list and just her third year in charge of IBM, where she's the first ever female CEO. Rometty has spent considerable time and money to modernize IBM, adovating for the expansion of its cloud computing and data analytic businesses.

IBM's in-house legal department is also the only one in the top three headed by a woman. Michelle Browdy took over as GC this year. And though IBM is an old tech company, it might soon by leading the way in legal innovations. IBM's artificial intelligence, machine learning program Watson was championed by Rometty and may soon be taking over the legal world.

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